Apparently tourists who visit Moscow after St. Petersburg complain that there’s nothing to see. That’s because while St. Pete might be smaller in size, it’s larger in terms of cultural institutions, beautifully architected buildings, Venice-like canals; it has an overall ambiance that feels more European than Russian. It’s also free of many of the big-city hassles of Moscow (though St. Pete is still big — 5 million people). Notwithstanding all this, I liked Moscow as much as St. Pete — they’re just different.
From the St. Pete airport we went straight to St. Catherine’s Palace. Stunningly beautiful and ornate! Gilded wood covered with gold plate is in endless supply. A lot of restoration had to happen since the Nazis burned much of it during the battle of Leningrad. Still — each fresco, wood carving, and room feels authentic.
St. Catherine’s Palace is situated just outside St. Pete. In the city itself, there is a kind of center part (anchored by a huge statue of Lenin) around which most of the interesting things lie. Several beautiful canals / rivers provide a nice walking area. You can definitely do some "wander around by foot" in St. Pete.
During the first night we went to the ballet — no surprises here. Ornate building. Since it was out of season, it was mostly tourists. We finished at 10:30 PM and walked outside to daylight. St. Pete is very close to Scandinavia (two hour drive from Finland) and therefore it similarly stays light late
On day 2 we went to Peterhof, a series of buildings and gardens made by Peter the Great. Very similar to St. Catherine’s Palace on the inside; the magic here is the outside landscaping. The gardens are beautiful, waterfalls everywhere. All the waterfalls and fountains are gravity-powered, which is amazing.
Finally, St. Petersburg is home to one of the greatest art museums in the world: the hermitage. Overloaded with art from big names and little names, but mostly big names. Impressionists, Spanish, on and on and on. It rivals any museum in scale and famous works. We spent three hours; could have spent a whole day.
For our last dinner in Russia / Ukraine, we finally found a Mexican restaurant! It’s not that Russian food is bad; it’s just bland. And it gets tiresome. Carne asada, chips and salsa, margaritas: all refreshing changes!