Sunday, May 22

The end is near!

So, I have less than two weeks left in Petersburg. I have totally mixed emotions about this, and am slightly worried about the culture shock I'm going to experience upon arriving back in England, but I think I'm looking forward to going home. It feels like the clock is ticking though, so I've been panic-visiting several sights in the city, trying to complete my list of must-see attractions...

The two sights I ticked off first this week were on Sunday, when Katie and I went to Peter the Great's cabin and the Cruiser Aurora (for the second time)... Peter the Great's cabin is supposedly the oldest building in Petersburg, built for Peter I in 1703 when he founded the city, and today it's surrounded by a larger, brick building and is open for visitors. We were fairly glad it was free for students once we'd been there, as it was absolutely tiny and didn't really provide us with any information we didn't know already. Walking around being glared at by hawk-eyed grannies as if we were going to burn the place down at any second wasn't a very comfortable experience, either. Despite this, it's not a completely pointless attraction if you have a strong interest in Peter the Great, and is so close to the Cruiser Aurora it's almost a crime to not visit it. Here are my photos from the cabin, including one crafty shot of the inside I managed to take before I was rudely told off by an aforementioned granny:

(Top Left: Bust of Peter the Great outside his cabin; Top Right: Sign on the building containing the cabin; Middle: The building containing the cabin; Bottom: Part of the cabin itself - not overly impressive)

After we'd exhausted the cabin (this took us all of five minutes), we went off to see the Cruiser Aurora on a sunny day. I'd already been to see it when my mum and her boyfriend Rod were visiting, but it was under a blanket of snow then and looked very grey and miserable, so visiting it again on a sunny day was one of the tasks on my list. One of the downsides about the sun is that there are now hordes of tourists absolutely everywhere, including aboard the Aurora. We battled the crowds and looked around the boat again, but there's not much else to say about it so I'll just post my pictures of the Aurora in the sun:

(Top: The front of the Aurora; Top left: Stone sign outside the Aurora; Top Right: Mast on the Aurora; Middle: Me on deck on the Aurora; Bottom: Back of the Aurora)

The next attraction I planned to tick off my list was the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was killed. On Monday after school, Marion and I went to find the palace, though on the way accidentally found a cafe called The Idiot (named after the novel of the same name by Dostoevsky). This cafe is famously good for its food, including several vegetarian dishes, and since neither of us had been before we decided to go in for lunch. We got a 250 ruble (£5-ish) 'business lunch' which comprised of salad, bread, soup, a main course and two drinks, so it was pretty good value as well as being rather tasty! The place was really nicely decorated as well. I think I'll try to go back before I go home.

Back to the subject of the Yusupov Palace, where we tried to go after The Idiot. When we arrived, the ticket office was closed, so we took some pictures of the outside whilst waiting for it to open. Once it actually opened, we got really confused by the prices and it seemed really expensive (though I've since been informed that it's not actually too bad and we were reading the wrong bit), and the queue was long, so we decided to leave it for another day. Here's what it looks like from the outside though, in case anyone was wondering:

Still wanting to do something touristy, we realised we were very near the Museum of the History of Religion, which sounded interesting despite the fact it wasn't featured on my list. As always, it was free with our student cards (mine must have saved me so much money here!), and was actually surprisingly good. It's a nice idea for a museum as well, especially in Russia where the Soviet regime tried to destroy religion completely, though oddly this wasn't mentioned anywhere in the museum. There were a lot of exhibits, far more than I was expecting, mostly related to Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. I didn't take any photos inside as you had to pay for it, but everything was really well presented and I definitely recommend a visit if you're interested in religion at all.

After this, still on Monday, we decided to tick off another sight and visit the inside of St Isaac's Cathedral. This is the cathedral I climbed up to get lovely panoramic views of the city a few weeks earlier, but this was the first time I'd been inside. I must say it's the nicest interior of an Orthodox cathedral I've ever seen, and I found it totally stunning. Luckily, taking photos inside was not only allowed but also free, so I took as many as I physically could! There's not a lot else to say other than that the cathedral is absolutely amazing inside, so here is a small selection of the pictures I took:

I had a couple of days rest from sightseeing, before going to the Zoological Museum with Marion after school on Thursday. This was yet another sight to tick off the list, and was rather good, even if it was just a collection of stuffed animals. It was pretty much like the animal section of the Natural History Museum in London, only it felt even bigger and we couldn't understand most of the signs... It was a nice day out though, and I'm glad I went, but it's not really a tourist attraction as such. The building it's housed in is lovely as well, and here are a few of the pictures I took inside:

(Top Middle: A cool-looking zoological diagram on the wall; Top Left: A black swan!; Top Right: Polar bears; Middle: A woolly mammoth skeleton; Bottom Left: The main hall of the museum, with a huge whale skeleton; Bottom Right: An albino penguin; Bottom Middle: Me with Laika, the first dog in space)

After school on Friday, Marion and I went inside Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospect. This isn't as much of a tourist attraction as St Isaac's Cathedral and the Church on Spilled Blood, and is still a proper functioning cathedral which doesn't charge an entry fee to visitors. Because of this, photos weren't allowed, but as it was rather dark and smoky (from the incense) I expect any photos would have come out quite badly anyway. I didn't think it was as impressive as St Isaac's, but it was still quite nice. It didn't take us long to look around either, so it was quite a nice quick sight to tick off the list (as you can see, I'm getting pretty efficient about finishing the list)... 

After Kazan Cathedral, we tried to visit the Pushkin Apartment-Museum, but unfortunately most of the museum was closed for some reason, so we decided to go back again another day. I was sure to take a photo of the lovely courtyard in the sun though, just in case it's cloudy when we go back. It's really rather pretty:

(The statue is of Pushkin, if you hadn't guessed)

Following the disappointment of the Pushkin Apartment-Museum being mostly closed, we thought we'd take advantage of the lovely sunny day and visit the Peter & Paul Fortress. This is one of the main tourist attractions in Petersburg, and I'm really not sure why I waited so long to visit it. Amazingly, we managed to get general entry tickets allowing us to visit 5 of the museums for free with our student cards, and our first stop was the cathedral inside the fortress. This is one of the tallest buildings in the whole city, which I'd seen from afar many times, but never close up. It was absolutely beautiful - many of the Russian Tsars are buried inside this cathedral - though unfortunately the main central part inside was being cleaned at the time so was covered in scaffolding. Here are my pictures of the outside and inside of it:

We then walked around the fortress a little, including on to the Neva shore, before finding the Commandants' House museum, which was surprisingly big, and contained lots of interesting objects relating to the history of the fortress and Petersburg itself. Unfortunately time was quite tight as we'd arrived at the fortress relatively late, so we rushed around it quite quickly, but I may go back again before I go home as I'd like to spend more time there. Here are my photos anyway, from our walk around the fortress and our visit to the Commandants' House museum:

(Bottom Middle: Mould of Peter the Great's hand; Bottom Left & Right: An amazingly detailed dolls' house inside the Commandants' House museum)

The next stop on our whistle-stop tour of the Peter and Paul fortress was the prison. Many famous people were held here in the past, including Lenin and Trotsky, who were arrested for anti-Tsarist actions before the revolution. It was interesting seeing inside the prison cells, most of which you could actually go inside, something I imagine would never happen in a similar museum in England. The rooms were actually really big, and the building was quite nice, so it was hard to imagine that it was actually a prison at one point! Though rooms such as the punishment cell, which could be made to be pitch black inside if needed, made it seem more prison-like. We found Trotsky's cell, but couldn't find Lenin's for some reason - I'm not sure if we accidentally walked past it or if it's not actually on display, but if I go back I'll be sure to ask about it. Here are my photos of the prison, I think you'll agree it looks quite nice (for a prison!):

(Bottom Left: Information sign about Trotsky's life and arrest; Bottom Right: Trotsky's prison cell)

As it was starting to get late, we only had time to visit one more museum at the fortress, so we chose the Cosmonaut Museum. I wasn't expecting it to be quite as good as it was, and was really impressed with the amount of real rocket parts they had and the quality of the displays. I think this was the museum I enjoyed the most at the fortress, as I am interested in the space race and the Soviet portrayal of it. I also bought myself a cute little flag with Yuri Gagarin on and a fridge magnet featuring Belka and Strelka, two space dogs. I'm forming quite the collection of Russian fridge magnets - I already have six from places I've visited! I realise they are all just dust-gathering tat, but I'm the sort of person that really loves dust-gathering tat, so never mind. Here are my photos from the Cosmonaut Museum:

I'm really glad I finally visited the Peter & Paul fortress, and I think I'll probably go back again before I go home. It felt sort of like Disneyland or something, with all of the pristine and well-kept pastel-coloured buildings, and the high concentration of tourist attractions. It's a really nice place to spend time, especially when the weather is nice.

Yesterday I finally got around to visiting Tsarskoe Selo at Pushkin, and walked around the grounds of the Catherine Palace. Since this post is already rather long though, and I have a lot of photos of the palace, I will talk about it in another post... It was absolutely stunning and a great day out, so I'm sure I'll write about it very soon!