Thursday, March 24, 2016

St Petersburg - Glance through visited place

Date of visit 21st October 2015

I am smiling inside out for being able to start writing about my most favorite city visited during the last leg of the train rides. This city has brought so much joy and good memory book of Anne and I. It was a day full of laughter even though we walked more than 11km in searching for St Petersburg Mosque from where we stayed, i.e. in Galerny Street. The next day, we walked again covering a total length of 14.4km. Originally, we did not plan to tour on the very first day but it was very lucky that an English speaking taxi driver had given a good piece of advice. Fate has brought this guy to us and we negotiated only with him as soon as we arrived at St Petersburg Finlyansky train station from Helsinki. He showed us where and how to reach Peter and Paul Fortress from his taxi, assuring us that it is a must visit destination. He also recommended the restaurant, called "Ship" for a good meal.

Hydrofoil seen floating on Neva River, at sunset

First and foremost, Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia after Moscow, incorporated as a federal city. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It was named Saint Petersburg in 1703 but in 1914 the name of the city was changed to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991, back to Saint Petersburg. It has more than 5 million people staying in most westernized city of Russia, being the 4th populated city in the country. After checked in, we prepared our own meal and the room is amazingly better than expected. As soon as we were done with lunch and prayers, we headed straight towards the river side, taking an evening stroll. It was a very lovely afternoon, wisely spent where people mostly stopped for a snap of a lovely sunset.

Both flating restaurant and Peter & Paul Fortress seen from Birzhevoy Bridge

A city was built over 42 islands and is surrounded by water and interlaced with a complex web of rivers, canals and channels that seem to bind the city together, while also marking the borders of its different districts and neighborhoods. There are 342 bridges in the city limits of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Peter the Great was designing the city as another Amsterdam and Venice, with canals instead of streets and citizens skillful in sailing. And the restaurant (seen in below photo) was what the taxi driver referred to. This is a Floating Restaurant cum Disco Night Club Sailing Ship River Neva. As we were full, we decided to have lunch on the following day.

We were quite astonish to see a great extent of development inside Peter and Paul Fortress, a former citadel of St Petersburg. It is the first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of ground breaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia's most prominent political prisoners. You need half a day to explore at least. The complex looks untouchable by any enemies. As we were entering from the other end, we encountered the said forbidding jail, which made us felt a little bit weird.

We found St Petersburg's Mosque without much difficulties using the other side for an entrance/exit bridge of the fortress. It's blue dome, illuminated beautifully is visible from across the distance. The mosque is opened since 1913 and was the largest mosque in Europe outside Turkey, its 49 meters minarets in height and the dome is 39 meters high. It was sad to see the 2 minarets covered for refurbishment. We entered the mosque for Isha's and Maghrib jama' prayer. The guard hardly speak any English but a guy who happened to be there for the prayer has assisted us. Take note that the mosque can accommodate up to 5 thousand worshippers.

The next morning, we found out that St Isaac Cathedral, seated only 400 meters from the hotel only open it's door to tourist at 10.30 am and closed at 6 pm. As it seated close by, we decided to visit first thing on the 3rd day, or before we departed to Moscow. The cathedral was completed in 1858, St. Isaac's took over forty years to build and decorate. Its strictly European Empire-style facades and colonnades are made unique by the employment of red Karelian granite, while the interiors also designed in Orthodox tradition with Catholic influence and extraordinary extravagance in the choice of materials.

There are many parks within the city, hence, no one would feel pressured to walk from 1 attraction to another as along the way, we found so many beautiful thing to snap. The hotel reception has given a guideline of where we should cover and the shortest route that we should follow. All that has been marked on the map. Though still early, we explore the beautiful Hermitage Palace square that was another piece of art, designed by an Italian Architect, Carlo Rossi. The palace and its surrounding building/complexes are indeed breathtaking to see. We spent nearly 2 hours inside the Hermitage Palace thereafter.

While exploring the square shortly after, we found a beautiful gift shops. The shop assistant able to converse well in English beside possess a good looking face. We took that opportunity to buy souvenirs as not to miss anyone in our list. The musical box in below photo is still inside one of the moving boxes. I hardly take anything out for display. On separate unimportant notes, most of Russian that we met during our stay are unbelievable pretty and handsome. They have a sharp featured face if to compare with people from the Scandinavian or the European countries. 

Following the city map in hand, we headed towards where the Church of Spilled Blood is located. Before that, we stopped for lunch at Starbuck. We just ordered drinks as we had lunch pack prepared in the morning. It was a halal local sausages that we bought from a meat shop next to St Petersburg Mosque. An Indian Muslim guy, who happened to be a regular in the shop had also shown us a halal meal restaurant seated not far from the mosque a night before. Wait for a full story later for some tips and clues of halal food in St Petersburg. But this magnificent church, while it lacks the authentic medieval charm of St. Basil's in Moscow, the Church on Spilled Blood is nonetheless one of St. Petersburg's most instantly recognizable landmarks, its riotously colorful Russian Revival architecture making a stark contrast to the elegant neoclassicism of the State Russian Museum next door. Being inside both of the churches, I opined that the inside and the external works of this church are more greater and grandeur that St Basil Church in Moscow.

We did not enter the State Russian Museum, mostly because we both were tired. But we seriously could not wait to reach the Summer Garden, which in map is located side by side with the Winter Palace. The Garden sits on an island formed by the Fontanka, Moika and the Swan Canal and has the railings of its northern perimeter running along the left bank of the Neva. It occupies a plot of almost 12 hectares, although it originally stretched down nearly as far as Nevsky Prospekt. It is often favored by the locals for romantic walks, and summer siestas, it is a place that also attracts many city visitors all the year round.

We truly enjoyed parks and gardens during our 3 days and 2 nights stay in St Petersburg. Above photo of me showing love, peace and compasion was snapped by Anne while walking in the huge Summer Garden. Below was snapped on our last morning, while waiting for St Isaac Cathedral to open. We both could not get enough of the beautiful autumn colors of the trees leaves. 

It's going to be  a hectic research for the next entry as I have a lot to share in this blog. Be patient and passion with my interest with history and beautiful places. I'll write again soon. Take care!

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