There are a lot of places that are on my travel bucket list. In fact, too many to count. I will say, however, that Russia was never very high on my list. That is until I was able to visit while on a cruise throughout the Baltic Sea. I disembarked from Copenhagen and St. Petersburg was my first stop. Because I’d only seen pictures of Moscow online, I was very unsure of what to expect of Russia. So, to make things a bit easier while visiting, I hired a private tour guide to show me all that it had to offer. My visit to St. Petersburg brought on a sense of the unknown. I knew how different the culture there was compared to the United States, and I judged it from early on. However, as I sat on the tour bus traveling into the city center, it took me by surprise. The St. Petersburg had a little bit of everything.
My first impression of St. Petersburg, as we passed by cement buildings that were harsh and cold to look at, was that it was exactly what I expected. Many of the people I saw on the streets seemed emotionless, with no crack of a smile on their faces. There was something in the air that felt unwelcoming. But then we hopped on the metro and the stations were filled with elaborate architecture, marble pillars engraved with incredible gold detail, and massive chandeliers. They rightfully so have been acknowledged as some of the most beautiful and elegant metros in the world. Despite the impressive surroundings, people in the station kept to themselves, much like they do in other large cities. It was strange to see what seemed like such opposites within the same space.
When I made it to the city center, I stop was at the Hermitage Museum. It was yet another grand and colorful building seemingly mismatched from the outskirts of the city. The ceilings were tall with more grand chandeliers, the walls rich and dripping in gold detail. The museum itself includes 233,345 square meters of sculptures, pottery, paintings, and more. I’ve always been an avid art and history fan, so it was unbelievable to see works by Picasso and Rembrandt, artists that we all grow up learning about in high school. I’ve been to my fair share of museums, and the Hermitage was by far one of the most grand I’ve ever seen.
One of the last stops I made was the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. If you were to picture it without seeing it, based on its name, you would most likely imagine a very dark and eerie place. But it’s, in fact, the exact opposite. This massive cathedral was built in tribute to Alexander II who was assassinated in 1881. This building is what one might Russia to look like, which is why it’s one of the most visited spots in St. Petersburg. The colorful pillars, 7500 square meters of mosaic throughout the entire building, and five onion domes set it apart from all the other architecture in St. Petersburg.
Overall, Russia was indeed a spot like no other. While much of the city feels bleak, it is full of gems that you will not find anywhere else in the world, and for that, I thank St. Petersburg. It’s only made me realize that you can’t judge a destination before you get there and that there are so many different cultures out there that I can’t wait to discover.
I'm Riley Schnepf, and I've been fortunate to travel all over the world and will continue to do so for as long as possible. Through travel, I believe that we as people truly learn who we are. You can find out about all of my travels at http://roamingriley.com.