August 3

A-St Petersburg, Russia
B-Tallinn, Estonia
C-Riga, Latvia
D-Vilnius, Lithuania
E-Minsk, Belarus
F-Stockholm, Sweden
G-Kiruna, Sweden..Lapland, above the Arctic Circle
H-Umea, Sweden..and travels along the High Coast
I-Eslov/Malmo, Sweden
J-Copenhagen, Denmark for my flight home
Among all those last minute bits and bobs, I bought a two day pass to the Hermitage, so I'll skip the ticket line and not have to try to press it all into one day.

Two half days does sound more doable than one long day and I know I'm going to love it because how can I not?


During the cruise ship season, May-September, 625,000 cruise ship passengers will roam through Saint Petersburg most for 2-3 days so how many is that per day? SO MANY.
August 4

I was a little concerned because all the stuff went in the bag a little too easily. I'll let you know if I forgot that one bulky category of things that weigh 12 pounds.

Getting through the airport was a breeze. I had my boarding pass, I didn't have to check bags, and TSA-Pre was empty at the time. It was walk-walk-walk done.

Then I went to find my gate. I'm sitting there now waiting for the BUS that will take us all to the plane. Warning: LAX is a full-on construction zone. What sent my flight to the far distant tarmac? How do they choose who gets a gate and who doesn't? I'm curious!

Yes, I DID have an empty seat!

I should add that behind me was a mother and two pre-teen girls who could not settle down but rather all three of them banged into the back of my seat for 10 straight hours, unrelentingly. I asked them to stop a couple of times and then I gave up and attempted to just take myself into a trance state...which could have worked a little because now I mostly forget already and will have totally forgotten by Wednesday.
August 5

I pre-booked a pickup for my arrival in St Petersburg because I wanted to. It's such a luxury to come out of an exhausting journey and see some guy holding your name on a sign who offers to take your bag. Ahhh, nice!

He's got his phone up there on the dash set to google translate conversation mode. He presses Russian, speaks, and a lady reads out in English, I press English, speak, and a fellow speaks in Russian. Magic.
This building is The House of Soviets built in Stalinist style in the late 1930s to house the "administration of Soviet Leningrad government".

In 1970, during construction of a new large metro station, they added Lenin at that time.
The Moscow Triumphal Gate, a Neoclassical triumphal arch built mainly in cast iron and erected in 1834–1838 to commemorate the Russian victory in the Russo-Turkish War, 1828-1829.

This part is interesting: "In 1936, during the period of Joseph Stalin's concentration of power over the Leningrad leadership, the historic gate was dismantled with plans to move them to Moscow Square Park.

"Later, during the Siege of Leningrad in 1941, when the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, the cast iron blocks of the gate were used in creating an anti-tank defensive structure near the southern border of the city, helping to repel the Germans during the siege.

"The gate was restored from 1958 to 1960. A group of restorers managed to recreate most of the lost sculptural details of the monument. The new columns, friezes and cornices were cast at the Kirov factory in Leningrad."
Dropped off at my hotel, the Art Avenue, I decided to take a very little stroll before the big crash. One block down the way this is my canal.
The pin is at my hotel and you can see all the waterways that cross through the historic old town. You'll soon see how the streets do not form very many right angles.
I was trying to get a shot of those fish running through the street handing out flyers for a shop, they were most of a block away, but now while looking at the picture I noticed I liked the faces too.
August 6

Heading out for my first real walk-about, I was on my way to the Church of the Savior of Blood..what a name..and came across this place which was not even on my radar.

It's the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan, begun in 1801 and completed 10 years later.

Closed after the Russian Revolution it reopened in 1932 as the pro-Marxist "Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism" or, as one contemporary writer put it more baldly, "Leningrad's largest antireligious museum", complete with Spanish Inquisition waxworks.

Services resumed in 1992, and four years later the cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. As of 2017 it functions as the mother cathedral of the metropolis of St. Petersburg.
There was a service going on when I went in and I should remark upon the gold. As well as every surface, the guys doing the service were thick with it.
There were a number of young men and women in period wear for dress-up photo-ops.
It's a bookstore! If I had know that at the time I would have checked it out.
Snack time!
I've heard of people doing this but here is my first sighting of the movable road-worthy espresso bar.
What we see ahead is The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the top spire under refurbishment.

"Erected on the site where political nihilists fatally wounded Emperor Alexander II in March 1881, the church was constructed between 1883 and 1907, funded by the imperial family."
It is awesome on the outside decorated to the nines in golden mosaics..
..and it is awesome on the inside too!

I asked her on google translate which one was the sweetest and she didn't say anything but handed me this basket. YUM.
Side entrance to the Hermitage when you have an internet ticket.

When we say The Hermitage we are probably thinking of the Winter Palace but many more buildings are part of the complex.

Those figures are holding up the portico of the New Hermitage, the only building in the complex built specifically to hold art.
The Winter Palace, for 150 years serving as an imperial residence. In November 1917, after the October Revolution, it was declared a museum.

It must have been quite a compelling home but as a museum it does feel a little hodgepodge - how do you successfully display so very very many pictures and objects..
..objects seemed to find their places more gracefully than the pictures.

I read some about strategies for visiting the Hermitage because there is just so much packed into such a warren of rooms.
One place that was not too hard to find because of the HORDES of people was the collection of Rembrandts. The picture you see in through the door is the Mona Lisa of the Hermitage.

That's the line to file into a breathtaking room full of Rembrandts..
..if only you had half a chance to actually see one.

Monday the museum is closed so Tuesday is especially crowded with people taking their last chance before leaving St Petersburg. Wednesday they are open late and it's the least crowded opportunity, so that's when I'm going back. First Thursday is free day so forget it. I didn't want to leave visiting until the last minute so there we have it - Tuesday and Wednesday.
The General Staff Building which houses offices and also the modern works in the Hermitage collection, and faces the Winter Palace. I am hoping for a better picture tomorrow!
Another of the most celebrated collections is their selected works by Matisse.

The Hermitage version of Dance is on the left, and MOMA's is on the right. They are So Different most especially in the feelings they evoke. Wow is right.

I looked it up, MOMA's is a preliminary work, the Hermitage version is the finished work. Is it because what we know first is what we like best? I'm too attached to the MOMA version...
This one made me come back and look again. Then I went back a third time to take the picture. It's called Nude (Black and Gold). 1908.

Back at the hotel I looked her up hoping to find her story. According to one article ""We can arrive at a state of inspired creation only through conscious work," wrote Matisse. In two Hermitage canvases, "Seated Woman" and "Nude. Study", we can see how Matisse worked toward the final, majestic chord of this painting, "Nude. Black and Gold". Matisse was to choose this work to illustrate his writings on art."
There are plenty of shop windows to look at and business life seems relatively prosperous in this historic area.

St Petersburg is organized in concentric circles from The City to The Historic District to the Central Historic District. I'm in the Central Historic District and probably won't see much outside of here.
August 7

This is the courtyard of my hotel. My room is on the second floor and the view from my ample window looks out over those trees. Small as the room is, I'm very happy.

See that little pet house in the lower left? Guess who lives there?
This guy lives there! I called him in English kittykitty and he understood me perfectly. What?! He says.
A block away, back to my canal that I've passed twelve times already.
On the first day, just off the plane, strolling around I ran across these heavenly delights, the walnut-shaped ones called oreshki, thickish crispy dough with a center of perfect caramel, not too sweet, not too much, not too sticky. All night I thought about how I would get another one the next day.

But the next day I couldn't find the dang things!

Then today I got a picture on my phone and asked at several bakeries until one guy standing in line while I was asking took my phone, brought up the map, and sent me to the perfect spot, the one in fact that I had found the first day.

I couldn't buy the whole bag because then I would have had to eat the whole bag so I just bought three.
This is the shop, and it's next to the Imperial Hotel, so I can find them again myself.

I can now say Thanks! in Russian so well that when I say it Everyone responds, like it's automatic. They first smile though, and then give a 'you're welcome!' in a few different forms, but I always get the smile first and that's the point.
Saint Isaac's Cathedral originally built as a cathedral but was turned into a museum by the Soviet government in 1931 and has remained a museum ever since.

I was just walking by on my way to another cultural heritage highlight The Russian Vodka Museum, but I will want to come back here and go inside.
I started counting and lost interest at eight. So many many brides, grooms, and photographers here doing wedding album shots. They had to wait turns in many of the more photogenic spots.

Russian women are massively into hair color. I see it and I think ooow, I want that too, and then I come to my senses.
And here it is! The Museum of Russian VODKA. There's a restaurant too, and it was bogus and touristified, but I liked it.

I spent extra for the audio tour. That's right, extra. They had models and basically shelves and shelves of collections from the second hand store.
And a tasting is included too.
I liked all the vodkas but I'll tell you, the snacks were a bit much for even me. See those rolly things - fat, just fat. The fish was heavily salted anchovies and the pickle wasn't a pickle, it was a salted cucumber. The bread was good, and the onion and egg.
They also had the two souvenir types for which I have a sentimental affection. Forty-fifty years ago when Ed and Betty came back from Russia they brought one of these...
...and one of these. I particularly loved the box. It didn't last forever though, and the layers separated. I'm tempted to get another one!

It was time to move on, and it was Raining. Now is the time to tell about my phone and Google Fi. So far, magic! When I landed in Stockholm to change planes the phone said 'Welcome to Sweden, we've got you covered' and everything worked, and then landing in St Petersburg the phone said 'Welcome to Russia, we've got you covered' and again everything worked.

Yandex, a huge taxi service in Russia that bought out Uber so you just have to download their app and BOOM, a driver appeared in the rain to take me to the Hermitage. It was easy-peasy and not expensive. YAY!

Making phone calls works just fine too on cell service BUT long chatting or waiting calls I wouldn't be comfortable at 20 cents a minute. For such calls you'll need the internet and a tweak to the phone which I can explain if anyone is interested.
Returning to the Hermitage, I went first to the Modern Art section in the General Staff Building and although I did have to stand in the rain for 10-15 minutes it was delightful inside. You could even see the Picassos of which there was room after room after room.
Jean Joveneau, Still Life with a Cat, 1912. Who could resist? I would so put this on my wall.
Leaving the General Staff Building and entering the Winter Palace however it was another story. I couldn't last long with the crowds. Because so many gigantic cruise ships say here overnight the groups run in the 100s as they swarm through the galleries.

Advice: if you need to enjoy the Hermitage for any particular purpose other than a tourist shuffle-through, go in the winter. You won't be sorry!
August 8

A fine park I've strolled through a couple of times going from one place to another. Others were using it as a short cut too.
Every block, I come across another building I need to look up.

An update on FOOD. I've been here 3 1/2 days and I've not been disappointed in a single bite. I've had two sit-down meals, first a scrumptious grilled salmon and grilled vegetables luncheon, and second, a Georgian bean dish that was really special with a perfect glass of Georgian wine to go with it.

I've also had two beautiful sandwiches from two different places, both of them bakeries. The bread has been perfect for me, dark and crusty and chewy, and the fillings, one salmon, one roast beef, were perfect. Really, surprisingly excellent.

Then there's the street snacks, and the fruit and veg, and crackers and cheese I got at the market and can keep in the fridge at the hotel/hostel. I'm feeling well nourished and at the same time not piggified so all is going very well on the food front.

Ah, and not to forget the oreshki and the Vodka Museum I already wrote about!
Someone I had been corresponding with recommended a visit to the Golitsyn Loft, a "mazelike complex of shops, bars, cafes, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, galleries and even a hostel with capsule-style." Also "The new epicentre of creativity on the Fontanka River."
Very original staircases.
I heard some lovely acapella singing coming from here and stopped by to listen for a while. There were four priests in front leading the chorus. Everyone was participating. I think the name might be this: Prikhod Panteleimonovskoy Tserkvi? That what it says on the map anyway.

I was on the way to the Peter and Paul Fortress when the skies opened and rain Came Down. No problem, Yandex to the scene in 5 minutes to take me home..because I'm too lazy to attempt an excursion at a Fortress in the pouring rain.

Ingalill would go, she'd go to the Fortress and then walk back to the Hermitage to take pictures in the rain. Good thing she doesn't make me!

Now I’m in my bed listening to the storm outside, watching the leaves glitter, feeling not at all guilty for missing the historic Peter and Paul Fortress, which I might, in fact, skip altogether.
August 9

The Saint Petersburg Metro, on every tourist Must See list. I read a lot, looked at tours, and decided to put together a route to a few of the most well regarded ones.

It's easy-peasy to use with the transition walkways not confusing and good signage just when you need it.
The station nearest me, Admiralteyskaya. Most of the stations I visited had some mosaic picture involved in the decoration.
Admiralteyskaya is the second deepest underground station in the world. The whole system is very deep. Of the various reasons I read I'm going for a geological explanation because of all the islands and canals in the city.

There's this escalator and another one too, to make the final descent.
What you'll find at the tracks.
All the signs have English so there's nothing to worry about direction-wise.
Zvenigorodskaya – Pushkinskaya is a transition station where you can change between lines 1 and 5.

Another fine mural..
..and this is the memorial to Pushkin.
Narvskaya, dedicated to the workers. Every one of the reliefs are different.
Kirovskiy Zavod, I think there was a factory nearby to which these decorations allude.
Avtovo Station regarded by many as the crown jewel in the system.
The Mariinsky Theatre, also spelled Maryinsky or Mariyinsky, is a historic theater of opera and ballet opened in 1860. Through most of the Soviet era, it was known as the Kirov Theatre which sounds familiar from the movies.

Then I enjoyed another delicious meal - Beef Stroganoff! It was excellent, and I need to remember the thinly sliced fan of pickle and the thick potatoes just the way I like them.
Grand Choral Synagogue, the only Synagogue in St Petersburg.

From Wikipedia: "Today, the Jewish community in the city is the second largest in Russia, after Moscow. The majority of the Jews there remain secular, but there is also an Orthodox community. While the Jewish population was 107,000 in 1989, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and mass migration of many Jews from Russia to Israel and the United States, the population declined dramatically. As of 2010, the Jewish population was about 40,000."
Here's a kosher restaurant. I wonder if it's open all the time or only or Friday nights?
Finally at last on my second to last chance, I got out around 9pm to climb up St Isaac's for a sunset. I've definitely climbed more stairs but there were Plenty anyway.
The buildings light up around 9:30.

Below is the grass promenade for all those brides.
The Hermitage is lit there in the middle.
I'll have to look up these buildings.
So handsome.
What a total surprise, and back at the hotel they didn't know either, what this was all about, but fireworks are always a treat.
That's St Isaac's and the viewing dome.
August 10

The gate from the courtyard of the hotel out to the street. I've grown quite fond of it.

Today I'm going to wander around trying to walk on new streets and not getting into one single line. Today is going to be restful and getting ready for the long day of travel tomorrow.
The Bronze Horseman is an equestrian statue of Peter the Great commissioned by Catherine the Great, it was created by the French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet. The name comes from an 1833 poem of the same name by Aleksander Pushkin, which is widely considered one of the most significant works of Russian literature. The statue is now one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg.

The statue's pedestal is the enormous Thunder Stone, the largest stone ever moved by humans. The stone originally weighed about 1500 tons, but was carved down during transportation to its current size. Levitated Mass comes in at number nine.
Here we are at the main waterway, the Neva River.
More big buildings.
I succeeded in not standing in any line but I did have to shuffle my way through other people standing in line.

I should note here how remarkably clean the city seemed. No wrappers or cups or cigarette butts, it gave a very good feeling.
That's the Peter and Paul Fortress and you can walk there.
I went to one of the most expensive restaurants on the map with a comfortable patio, safe in the expectation that tour busses would not be frequenting this place.

Did I go get a farewell oreshki? Of course, I got TWO! Spa-SEE-ba St Petersburg and Art Avenue Hotel, it was fun!
HomeBaltic and N&E Europe • St. Petersburg • '19 Aug: St. Petersburg, Russia

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