Visiting Saint Petersburg, Russia

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What do you first see in a city? 

Its structures? Its high-tech transportation? Its nature? Or the smile of its people? 

Before coming to Russia, I have this artsy impression of Saint Petersburg. In Google photos, it seems to be the more touristy Russian city, being home to more UNESCO-recognized heritage sites and being the world's ballet capital. My conscious self expected that the old capital will be more laid back than Moscow. Perhaps, I would see less strict-looking guards and men in uniform on its streets. 

True enough, Saint Petersburg is a friendlier city than Moscow. Friendlier in the sense that it has more street signs in English, its people seem to smile more, and you can here more music at the subway. Violin, harp, piano, you name it. They have the more sophisticated musical instruments being played on subways and streets by locals who would happily indulge you on great renditions of classics in exchange for a few Rubles. 

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The Saint Petersburg's charm made my 4-hour and 15-minute bullet train detour to this beautiful city worth it. You see, I don't have any business to be in Saint Petersburg. I came to Russia for the World Cup (Read my article on entering the Russian visa-free for the World Cup here) and my matches are in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Thanks to reading blogs before this trip and I convinced myself to squeeze in some three days for Saint Petersburg in the 12 days that I spent in the Russian Federation. 

Too bad ballet is only showed once a week and only every Saturdays. I have to miss it to take an overnight train to Nizhny Novgorod on a Friday, just to make it on time for my World Cup match. The tickets to the ballet are kind of costly too. The world famous Mariinsky Ballet Company, which are holding its shows in the scenic Mikhailovsky Theatre, have its cheapest seat priced at 15,000 in pesos. I'm sure it's going to be worth it if you're after a complete Saint Petersburg experience. For now, I have to reserve it for my second visit to Russia. 

I stayed in a backpacker's hostel while in Saint Pete's. Station 21 Hostel is really fun. It's small but its brightly-lit rooms are perfect for young travellers like myself. What I miss though are the American TV channels. Looks like Russia is not a fan of CNN or the BBC. They don't have these news stations even if their cable networks hold over a hundred channels. They have Arirang and Al-Jazeera! But no Star World, E! or HBO. You can also forget about Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. For someone like me who is used to leaving the TV on while sleeping alone, you have to have to be content with having only a visual understanding of a Russian TV program. 

My hostel is so close to a metro station. Just less than 40 steps and I'm good! Just like Moscow, Saint Petersburg's subway stations are already tourist destinations! They each have different characters but each are beautifully adorned with fine architecture. You don't need to ride a lot of trains though. All of the sites to see in the city are walkable. Plus, Uber is also affordable. 

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What are the places to see in Saint Petersburg? The Hermitage Museum is number one on the list. Although I skipped it due to long lines. You can read more of the State Hermitage Museum here. You also have to visit Saint Isaac Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fort, and walk along the Nevsky Prospekt. I just learned from a Moroccan guy that prospekt means "wider road". Of course, you can't miss the Palace Square. 

My favorite in Saint Pete's is the Church of Savior on Spilt Blood. It has many names. So don't be confused with the many references. It can be written down as Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood or Church of the Savior on Blood. Just look for its colorful domes which is very similar to St. Basil's Cathedral and you'll get the right church. I spent one afternoon there just to marvel at its architecture. It's one of the most stunning buildings I've seen in my life. 

My next favorite would be the Peterhof Palace. If you watched Disney's Anastasia and listened to its wonderful soundtrack, this place would be nostalgic for you. The palace is built by Peter the Great, the first line of Russian royalties. Anastasia belongs to the last blood line of the royals. It was said that she spent her childhood days here before she was reported to have been killed together with her family by Russian insurgents. Of course, the animated film, which was only loosely based to the Russian sovereign's history, showed you a happier story. Regardless, it's a perfect place to listen to "Journey to the Past". 

For a photographer, or in these days, an Instagrammer, there are so much picture-friendly locations in Saint Petersburg. Around 90% of the city is photogenic! Don't forget to rest from all the clicking though. You have to lay down and free yourself from distraction to marvel at this great and amazing city. Until next time, Saint Petersburg! 


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