I spent only two days in St. Petersburg, but it was probably during the best time of the year known as the White Nights (the end of June)… when it never gets completely dark, when the whole city is alive at all hours of the night with crowds of people congregating along River Neva to watch the opening and closing of the city’s some 22 drawbridges (besides other organized and less organized cultural events).
Drawbridges are only a small portion of a total of 350 bridges (as I found out later) that gracefully link this city of 101 islands and numerous canals and rivers. Built by Peter the Great in 1700s into a modern commercial seaport with the intent of opening Russia for trade with other maritime nations, St. Petersburg continues to have more of a European feel (comparing to Moscow) and most definitely lives up to its reputation as the Russian Venice (or the Venice of the North).
Being the former capital of Russian Empire and the residence of Czars and nobility left a tremendous imprint on the city’s architecture and landmarks. There are still many Orthodox churches with their recognizable onion tops (aka cupolas), but there seem to be even more palaces with gardens, massive squares and vast parks. The architectural details vary in their originality from one building to another. But whereas in Moscow there is a heavy presence of religious and leftover communist symbols, St. Petersburg "breathes" imperial grandeur. Already colorfully painted buildings are adorned with mosaics, reliefs, statues (including the double-headed eagle), columns, domes in all shapes and forms. Also, since a lot of writers, poets, composers and other famous people lived and worked in St. Petersburg, their homes are preserved as museums or at least bear a plaque with their name and accomplishments, thus preserving the cultural heritage of the city. The beauty of these restored (or well-kept?) buildings coupled with the beauty of canals and rivers with a string of boats constantly maneuvering under the city’s numerous bridges draws a very memorable picture. Somehow even old and neglected buildings (some with graffiti) looked like treasures to me.
As far as logistics, I found that St. Petersburg was a lot nicer and more tourist-friendly than Moscow. The subway system (though a lot smaller!) had English translations. The customer service at restaurants was more attentive (or maybe I just went to nicer places?). The residents were less flashy (in their clothes and behaviour) and seemed more relaxed (or was it actually happy?).
I spent most of my two days just walking the streets along the rivers, crossing bridges (i.e. Lion Bridge), visiting museums (i.e. Hermitage), churches and cathedrals (i.e. St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Epiphany, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, etc.), theaters (i.e. famous Marijinsky Theater for an opera) and taking a boat tour through canals. And of course taking tons of photographs!
Below are some of the pics from the trip. For the full collection, visit my St. Petersburg set on Flickr.