(Note: This post was written on November 9. The captions for the photos were written on November 28…and December 14. Man, this post took too long to get up.)
Hello from somewhere between St. Petersburg and Helsinki! I don’t really know where I am right now since I’m on a boat, but I think it’d be safe to say that I’m on the water. As I’m writing this, my three cabinmates are sound asleep and it’s only 9pm – it’s been an exhausting trip for sure! But I really will miss St. Petersburg. It’s been unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I’m extremely sad that my trip is over. I don’t know how to sum up the experience, but I do have this to say: if you ever have the chance to visit St. Petersburg, go! The city is often called “The Venice of the North,” and for good reason. It’s exceptionally beautiful, and the city offers so much to see (I know it sounds cliché, but the city is simply packed with things to see). If the opportunity presents itself, please go (not for me, for you!). It’s been a very special three days, and St. Petersburg has proven itself to be a very special city. It’s been an amazing trip, one that I hope I don’t ever forget.
But…on to today! The day started early once again, and once we were checked out of our rooms, we head directly to the Hermitage Museum. I could go on and on about the Hermitage Museum, and it was truly one of the most impressive places I have ever been to in my life. To say it was unbelievable would by all means be true. But to say its size, grandeur, quality of art, and sheer number of pieces was essentially incomprehensible would be more accurate. I said in my Day 1 and 2 blog post that I doubted that I would ever see such opulence again in my life…and then I went to the Hermitage Museum and saw how wrong I was. Simply astonishing. Most museums would kill to have just one Rembrant, a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, etc. The Hermitage, however, has it all: a hall devoted just to Rembrant; dedicated rooms for Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Renoir, and many other world class artists (there are literally thousands of rooms in the Hermitage’s four buildings); entire halls for masters from the different art capitals of the world; a Da Vinci (apparently it was once said that only a Russian emperor could afford a Da Vinci, and voila!); sculptures, ancient artifacts (I saw hieroglyphs!), mosaics, and so, so, so much more (our guide said that there are over 3.5 million pieces on exhibit, and I believe it). It is said that if you spent literally all of your time actually looking at each piece, it would take you over 7 years to see everything in the museum. If you stopped for normal human breaks (e.g. eating, etc.), it would take you almost 9 years. I hope that gives you a little better of an understanding of why I said that the scale of the museum is almost incomprehensible.
I wish I could have spent years in the museum, but I only was able to stay for a few hours. A tour of the most famous cathedrals in St. Petersburg began at exactly 2:30 pm, which meant that my four hours at the museum would have to suffice (for now, at least!). First on our list of cathedrals was the Church on the Spilled Blood, the only cathedral in St. Petersburg built in the traditional Russian style. Built on the very spot where Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated, this cathedral has actually spent the majority of its lifetime as a museum (or as a warehouse during the Soviet era, if you can believe it). As is the theme in St. Petersburg, it’s lavishly decorated inside and out with gold and all sorts of precious stones. Mosaics cover all of walls and ceiling, intricate silver chandeliers hang over the guests, and marble plaster creates beautiful designs on the floors.
Our next stop was St. Issac’s Cathedral, a stunning church dedicated to Peter the Great’s patron saint, St. Isaac (and the only church to be dedicated to St. Isaac in all of Russia). Despite being one of the most visually impressive locations in St. Petersburg (in my humble opinion), the church only took 40 years to build – almost no time at all! The cathedral is simply massive. The pillars surrounding the cathedral themselves stand 51 meters tall, weigh 114 tons, took one year to polish, and are one single piece of rock (all shipped in from Finland). I don’t know how they did it, but I’m glad that they did. The inside was exceedingly beautiful (sensing a trend?), and the walls were covered with frescos (which actually have suffered from the humid weather in St. Petersburg, as humidity tends to ruin plaster). This cathedral is a museum as well, but one chapel inside was recently granted standing as an operating place of worship (and therefore, no pictures inside of the chapel). I could keep saying that the whole thing was simply unbelievable to see, but I don’t want to bore you with that sort of repetition. It was unbelievable though, to be sure. Definitely one of my favorite sights in St. Petersburg (and I have pictures of it during day and night!).
The last two cathedrals were both dedicated to St. Nicholas. Both were operating places of worship and significantly smaller in size than the other cathedrals (which isn’t really saying much though). They had their own charm and unique histories though. One of the cathedrals was one of the only freely operating cathedrals during the Soviet era due to its connections to the Russian navy (many of the soldiers prayed at that church in particular). The other is operated by a slightly altered branch of Russian Orthodoxy, one that survived a centuries-long war with the main Russian Orthodox religion. Each was beautiful by its own right.
And with these two cathedrals, the tour came to an end (as did my time in St. Petersburg). If I had to choose one word to describe my time, I probably couldn’t. ‘Unforgettable’ doesn’t really do it justice, but it sums up what I’m trying to get at nicely. I honestly think it was one of the best experiences of my life, and St. Petersburg will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t stress enough how much you should go if you have the opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect when going to Russia, but I know that this experience went above and beyond any expectations I ever could have had. It was a truly amazing time in an amazing place.
Click on the pictures for a larger view:
(This final part of the post was written on December 14.)
Well, that took too long to put up. I really hate that I didn’t put it up earlier, but I’m glad it’s done now. I’m afraid that some of my trips will be written about after I am back. I don’t know if that defeats the purpose or not, but I’m going to do it anyways! So take that. I have lots of time in airports over the next week, so I’m going to try to do a lot of writing. I still have so much stuff to put up. These last few weeks have been a blast, but they’ve been filled to the brim with something, whether that be travelling or exams…or just trying to catch a breath once in a while. The problem isn’t forcing myself to write, but rather forcing myself to find the time to write. What I’m trying to get at is…just stay tuned, I guess!