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For our time in St. Petersburg, we hired a private guide for a two-day tour. Sites in St. Petersburg seemed incredibly spaced apart, and even though we had some sticker shock at the price of private tours, it ended up being a fantastic way to see the city and maximize our time (meaning no getting lost!). Plus, our tour guide was literally the BEST TOUR GUIDE that I’ve ever had. Ever. In any country. Of all times. Message me if you’re looking for private tour guides in St. Petersburg, and I’ll provide you the information!
Our tour started with some picturesque stops along the very frozen Neva River! The Neva River is the river that flows throughout St. Petersburg and also creates stunning canals, earning St. Petersburg the nickname “Venice of the North.”
Along the Neva River in St. Petersburg
Across the River, we could see St. Isaac’s Cathedral:
As well as the Hermitage, a HUGE art museum that we visited the next day.
Our guide told us of a local legend about this huge ball at the bottom of the ramp that leads to the Neva River. If you push it into the river, you’ll have amazing luck and love for the rest of your life. Apparently it’s customary for newlyweds to come here and try to push the ball and then drink some champagne
Ken tried to push the ball, but didn’t have any luck pushing into the river. Thank goodness, because that really does sound like something you could get arrested for. 🙂
We also saw this old lighthouse nearby.
One of the stranger things that our guide pointed out was this green building (partially pictured). Our guide told us that this museum had an exhibit of malformed dead babies. So there’s that. Apparently it has been there for several centuries. I’m hoping there was something lost in translation and that it is more of a medical research facility than an actual museum? I’m not sure, and to be frank, I’m afraid to Google it!
By the way, our guide pointed out that buildings in St. Petersburg are so “colorful” because the weather is so gray and drab for much of the year!
St. Peter and Paul Fortress
We got back in the guide’s van and then drove to the St. Peter and Paul Fortress. We had actually been able to see it from our stop with the giant ball!
Inside the church, our guide showed us a lineage charge of Russian Czars before showing us the tombs where many of them were buried.
Here are the tombs of, among others, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.
Then we walked around the grounds of the fortress for a while.
Afterwards, the guide took us on the 40 minute drive to Catherine Palace, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.
Catherine Palace was stunning. It served as the Winter Palace for Russian royalty.
The grounds were stunning, but many of the statues on display are covered by those metal boxes to protect them in winter.
We probably spent 3–4 hours inside Catherine Palace. Our guide gave us such amazing and detailed information for each room.
One of the most stunning rooms was the ballroom. The ballroom contained wooden carvings all along the perimeter of the room, which are covered with gold leaf. The floors were made of wood from Russian forests.
We continued and moved on through other rooms in Catherine Palace.
At some point, a Russian Tsar visited Holland and was inspired by their blue and white pottery. So he commissioned stoves and fireplaces to be made of this pottery throughout the palace
And here is a room that would have served as a kind of h’orderves room before people would enter the ballroom.
Clocks were numerous and intricate throughout palaces in St. Petersburg.
Now is a good time to point out that Catherine Palace was intentionally destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Here’s a painting of Catherine Palace after the Siege of Leningrad.
Many of the artifacts inside the Palace were salvaged prior to the attacks, but many were destroyed, including much of the physical structure. Many of the rooms in my pictures have actually been fully restored since World War II. There are still, sadly, many rooms that have not been completely restored, like these:
But, there were only a few. The remaining rooms we saw had been fully restored.
Apparently there are other buildings on the grounds of Catherine Palace that you can visit, but they are closed in the winter. Oh well, just an excuse to have to go back to St. Petersburg again! Summer Scandanavian cruise anybody?
After Catherine Palace, our guide drove about 10 minutes to Pavlovsk Palace, a residence built by Paul II of Russia.
It was smaller than Catherine Palace, but we still walked around for quite a bit.
Like Catherine Palace, Pavlovsk Palace was also destryoed by the Germans during World War II. Many of the rooms have been restored or are still under restoration
Afterwards, we walked around the grounds of the palace, which were stunning!
The rear of the palace has paintings that make it look like it views the inside. I did a double take!
That was it for our first full day of touring in St. Petersburg. We had been on our feet almost the entire day, and were looking forward to resting our legs at the hotel for the rest of the evening. We did an evening walk around the hotel, but didn’t even take our cameras with us, we were so spent! We’d be up early the next morning for another full day!
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