Binoy was our guide for the day; he would show us around as much as time permitted. He was experienced in this since he took visitors from India around the sights of St Petersburg as a means to support his stay in the city as a student. As the day progressed he proved that he was good at it.
The first to be visited was the War Memorial that occupies a prominent location in the city. The memorial pays tribute to the valiant soldiers and citizens that withstood a 900 day siege of the city by the Germans during WWII. The centrepiece of the memorial is a poignant sculpture of wounded sons and citizens. The angst is vivid in all the reliefs of the memorial and the tribute exceptional.
The Pushkin place or the Catherine Palace was next. The Palace itself is in a sprawling complex.
Petergof or the Garden of Peter had steep entrance fee of RUB 500. But it is worth every cent. The excellently maintained gardens, lawns, statues and fountains over many levels, at times, mock the Versailles Palace. From the centre of the Palace, which is a Museum, the cascading fountains and canals provide a symmetrical display that is the feature of the Grand Palace and the Gradens. When I was driving to the Petergof the Peter and Paul Church was strikingly visible. We decided to visit it after the Garden. The facade of the Church in striking contrast of Brown, Green and Gold is a masterpiece. The Orthodox place of worship has a spiral stairway of 143 steps that takes one to the roof of the church from where one can get a birds eye view of the area.
The Hermitage is arguably the finest centre of art and culture is St. Petersburg’s most famous building. The Winter Palace physically dominates the Palace Square, which continued to be the residence of the monarchs for over 100 years from Catherine the Great in late 18th century to Alexander II in 1881. The rich display of art and history is worth more than a visit. To do justice the visit must be planned over at least three days. The admission fee of RUB 400 per head with additional charge of RUB 200 for still cameras is pretty steep. However, the magnificence on display is worth more than that. Photography is prohibited in many places inside the Halls, but visitors use mobile phones at will. The magnificent stairways, gilded ceiling, elaborate period furniture, costumes and ceremonial dress of the times, sculptures mostly in marble, huge tapestries and paintings depicting themes of society and war, jars and items of storage, bathtubs, coins and gifts were some of the things that we could fleetingly admire. While waiting to buy tickets to the Museum we had seen many people exiting the building with a look of exhaustion on their faces. Walking around the complex through countless rooms and miles of floor area I knew why they looked so. In less than two hours we were in a worse state. Before exiting the building we had a cup of coffee and a slice of cake to get back expended energy.
The Peter & Paul fortress was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 on a small island on the Neva delta. The fortress served as a garrison as well as a high security jail. The list of inmates of the jail includes the founder’s son, Alexei, Dostoyevesky, Gorky and Tolstoy! The impressive Cathedral that stands in the centre of the fortress is the burial place of all Russian rulers from Peter the Greta to Alexander III. The Cathedral was also the first one to be built in stone and is curious in design for an Russian Orthodox Church. Other buildings in the fortress include the City Museum and the Mint. When we were exiting the fortress the landing of a large helicopter caused a lot of excitement among visitors and stirred up a dust storm I got exposed to frontally! The scanty beach around the fortress is also patronised by earnest sunbathers.
The Kazan Church or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan is a magnificent structure on Nevsky Prospekt. It is supposed to have been built in gratitude to the victory over Kazan and is probably the most venerated icon in the whole of Russia. It is not so elaborate as some of the other Russian Orthodox Churches in Russia but is a very solemn place of worship. So is the Cathedral of St Catherine, the Catholic Church.
The Church of the Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of the city and is in the Nevsky Prospekt. The Church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and is dedicated to his memory. The Church was getting closed for cleaning when we visited it. However, we did get some time to say a few prayers and offer thanks for the opportunity given to travel to the Church from India. The interior of the Church is much less elaborate than the Russian Orthodox Churches. The Nevsky Prospekt was planned by Peter the Great as the beginning of the road to Novgorod to Moscow and is the main street and thoroughfare in St Petersburg. The majority of the city’s shopping and nightlife are located here. A brief walk on the main street was the right way to sign off for the full day in St Petersburg.