A Frog in St. Petersburg

The Church of Spilled Blood

The Church of the Spilled Blood

The adventures of the French (aka Frog) PhD candidate continue…

This August I went to St. Petersburg for almost a week on the occasion of a conference (the EACS). Although my conference program was packed, it was a really unique experience. I recommend visiting St. Petersburg, especially on a romantic trip!

First I was lucky that the conference took place in St. Petersburg State University, located on Vasilyevsky Island just opposite the Hermitage Museum. In that part of the city it truly feels that every building is a palace or a museum, or even both! It is no wonder that a big chunk of St. Petersburg is listed at the UNESCO World Heritage List. What is especially attractive is the colourful paint applied on most buildings, which makes the sight joyful even by bad weather.

The University Embankment near the location of the conference

The University Embankment near the location of the conference

On the first day we were taken on a bus tour, and the guide explained that the whole city is composed of islands of different sizes and shapes: there is total 42 islands and 342 ‘main’ bridges on the Neva River! From April to November, 22 of the bridges are drawn at two time slots during the night to let cargo ships pass, so you can get stuck on the wrong side of the river if you stay partying late. I was told that it was a common excuse used when flirting, to tempt one’s love interest to stay longer together as ‘the bridges are up anyway’!

The yummiest Napoleon cake I ate in St Petersburg, at Restauran

The yummiest Napoleon cake I ate in St Petersburg, at Restauran

The city, as its current name indicates, was created in 1703 by Peter The Great (1672-1725). It also was named Petrograd (1914-24) then Leningrad (1924-91). The location was particularly good because of the configuration of the Nera River and the proximity with the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. The importance of the Navy is emphasised in many parts of the city, and visitors are reminded of its founder quite often, notably through monumental statues. We were given a boat tour on the river, but I felt it was a bit too long and not exciting enough, but it might a good time to rest after a long day of visiting.

Peterhof, the main palace

Peterhof, the main palace

Peter The Great also was behind the creation of the beautiful gardens at Peterhof Palace , where the numerous water features are truly worth seeing. The great fountains are rivaling those of Versailles. However what I enjoyed the most were the many ‘tricky’ small water jets installed across the park to surprise flirting couples trying to avoid the crowd. There are some under benches or over the edges of kiosks, and they activate when someone steps in! Peter must have had a great sense of humour, although he did not live to see most of the city and gardens finished.

Peterhof fountains

Peterhof fountains

One of the most interesting buildings was for me the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood, as both the inside and the outside are covered in colourful mosaics. Its creepy name is there for a reason: Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 on this location, and his son Alexander III had the church built from 1883 to commemorate him. As an Art Historian, I enjoyed trying to decipher which scenes of the Bible were described in each wall – I think regardless of one’s faith the building is attractive because of the colours and the realistic style of the mosaics, which have been beautifully restored. As someone said, it might be the one time in St. Petersburg where you should not spare the expense of a ticket!

Church of the Spilled Blood, inside

Church of the Spilled Blood, inside

Outside of the Church of the Spilled Blood

Outside of the Church of the Spilled Blood

We were lucky to visit the Hermitage Museum for free as part of the conference, but I was too busy to take pictures. Suffice to say that the building itself was worth the visit, and the amount of gold leaf inside each room was blinding!

The Palace Square in front of the Hermitage Museum

The Palace Square in front of the Hermitage Museum

The other place I paid to visit was the Fabergé Museum, as I was always intrigued by the famous Fabergé eggs. Apparently the eggs made for the Imperial Family took a whole year to be made, starting from the moment the previous one was presented to the Emperor on Easter! The museum is full of beautiful and precious items.

One of the famous Fabergé Eggs

One of the famous Fabergé Eggs

A few steps from the museum is a well-known deli shop and coffee shop, Eliseev’s Emporium shop. I stopped there with a friend to order cakes and tea, and we were not disappointed! There were two musicians playing when we stayed there, and the place felt really well preserved.

Another Napoleon cake, this time in Eliseev’s Emporium

Another Napoleon cake, this time in Eliseev’s Emporium

I admit that there is much more to be done in the city, and I really wish to come back for more exploring. Among the things I did not mention are the many savoury pancakes sold in all kinds of restaurants in the city, as well as the excellent Georgian restaurants to be found everywhere. For a more luxurious experience, I recommend the well-named Restoran where I had a memorable lunch with vodka, red caviar, and Napoleon cake (see photo 3).

Savoury pancakes being made in a Russian fast-food shop

Savoury pancakes being made in a Russian fast-food shop

Worth noting is that from late May to early July, the nights are bright in St. Petersburg: the city takes full opportunity of its famous ‘white nights’ with a huge program of cultural events all nights’ long. I guess that is the period I will choose when I visit next time!

Russian bank notes

Russian bank notes

Credits: All photos are taken by Josepha Richard, can only be used for non-commercial purposes.

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