“You’re going to Saint Petersburg? It’s such a beautiful city.”
Everyone I knew who had visited Russia’s second largest city shared this sentiment, and after a few days of wandering the manicured avenues and placid canals, I agreed. Seeking a port and access to European trade, Tsar Peter the Great founded the city in 1703 on a low-lying piece of land at the confluence of the River Neva and the Gulf of Finland. Drawing on city-building techniques he learned during travels in the Netherlands and England, he drained the swamplands by digging a series of concentric canals and raising the elevation of the land on what would eventually become the historic enter of the city. Today, the 18th and 19th century Baroque and neoclassical buildings that line the banks of the canals have earned the city both the nickname “Venice of the North” and designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Following the conclusion of my most enjoyable Viking River Waterway of the Tsars cruise, I spent a few extra days in this handsome city that locals call ‘Piter.’ In Palace Square, site of the 1905 uprising known as Bloody Sunday and the spot from which the Bolshevik Revolution began in 1917, I stood beside the Alexander Column, a 156-foot high red granite obelisk constructed to commemorate the Russian victory in the war with Napoleon. On the south side of the square, the bow-shaped General Staff Building stands stately and austere, a monolith of tuff-colored stone. Facing it on the north side is the ornate Winter Palace, an aquamarine and white Baroque wedding cake that houses the Hermitage Museum.
St. Petersburg’s broad boulevards, pretty bridges, aristocratic mansions, elaborate gardens, scores of churches, and obscenely lavish royal palaces initially lured me into thinking I might like to spend more time in this picture perfect city. Yet the longer I stayed, the more I felt a disconnect between the alluring facade and the reality of life.
People walking along Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare, seemed subdued and troubled. No one smiled, and even people walking together were mute. After dark, Russian men stood in the shadows, smoking and appraising passers-by with hostile stares. While the managers of my hostel were polite, when a family emergency required me to fly back home rather than continue on to Estonia, they were totally disinterested in helping me find accommodations for an extra day in order to arrange for a last minute flight. Even servers in restaurants seemed to just tolerate me.
Some of this may be due to the fact that I speak no Russian, and only a limited number of younger Russians speak English, but I never felt quite as welcome in St. Petersburg as I had in Moscow or in the rural areas we visited along the Volga-Baltic Waterway. Certainly, St. Petersburg should not be missed, if only to visit the Hermitage Museum, St. Peter and Paul Fortress, Catherine Palace, and Peterhof Palace, but be prepared for a slightly cool, if not haughty reception.
Note: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises during my Waterway of the Tsars cruise. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
20 thoughts on “Saint Petersburg, Russia – Handsome But Haughty”
Amazing! Russia is gorgeous country. Love your photos. I have always wanted to visit it! It is my dream. I hope some day I managed to make my own photos there. Best regards! Thank you for sharing your post!
Hi Ethel: Thank YOU for reading my blog, and especially for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate hearing from my readers. Hope you do make it to Russia, sooner rather than later. It’s really a fascinating culture.
Cool photos. The buildings and museum are impressive though it’s disappointing to know there was such a negative vibe from the people. Do you think it was haughtiness or perhaps surliness due to say, harsh economic circumstances? Though I assume from the pics it seems to be a well-off city.
Hi Hilton: I’m just not sure. Russians have a tradition of hospitality, but they also are not a demonstrative people, especially outside their circle of friends and family, so maybe that’s what I was feeling.
WOW.. amazing photos!!! You had a great trip..
welldone pictures, thanks for sharing this kind of travel experience.
You’re welcome, Harrow Minicab. Glad you enjoyed my story and photos.
Thank you for the lovely info on St Petersburg. Although I’ve never been there, I have been to Minsk and at first I noticed the same “haughty” vibe you speak of – almost rude. On the street I felt one could cut the air with a knife. Granted, Minsk is a very “heavy” place. However, after being there for a week or so touring the city and attending various cultural venues for the fine arts with a friend, I noticed that people who only recognized my face again (ticket sellers, nearby restaurant staff, etc) opened up and expressed a warm welcome. I now think the perceived coolness is only skin deep.
Hi Mac: I’ll bet you’re right. I’ve actually ha the same experience in other places. Unfortunately I was not in St. Petersburg long enough to experience the shift.
Now I see why it’s called the capital of cultural attractions. I’ve got friends from St.Petersburg who have told me about it very much. I think the picture you’ve portrayed here and the attractive photos are very inspiring to learn more about it and possibly visit this great city.
It is the cultural capital of Russia, Rahman, and it certainly deserves the title.
Your photos are stunning, and it certainly paints a beautiful picture of Russia. We’d love to visit this incredible city, and catch a glimpse of these historical structures! Shame that you felt unwelcome there, but at least you got to enjoy the beauty of the city!
Another awesome post with Royal Buildings I have ever seen! It was informative where I learnt about Russia’s culture, tradition & ethnic cuisine too!
You’re very welcome Saiful. So glad you enjoyed my story.
I can´t wait to go there. Just a couple of months! 🙂
Great that you’re scheduled to see St. Petersburg. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, Fabiana.
The level of architectural beauty is ridiculous in Saint Petersberg … can’t wait to see it for myself!
It surely is a beautiful city, Ian. Hope you get to see it.
As usual, there are a plethora of great photographs on your blog post. I never cease to be amazed at the quality of your photos. You have always inspired me to travel and now I must add St. Petersburg to my ever growing list.
Hope the new year brings you peace, happiness and enough prosperity to provide you ample funding for your travels!
Hi Mike: Thanks so much, and a very Happy New Year to you, too. Thankfully, funding is no longer an issue as I turned 62 last year and now have my retirement. 🙂