Tuesday, July 4, 2017

[ST. PETERSBURG] The River Ain't the Best Place to Find a Sinner

So the church is where I go. Three today, in fact. I’m as surprised as you are that I didn't burn to death. If there was a ceasefire between the forces of good and evil, I wasn’t informed. But let’s give me a break now? I’m so in tourist mode today and St. Petersburg is really kind to camwhores. I feel like if I woke up here Hangover style without any recollection of how I got here, I would’ve thought that I were somewhere in Central Europe, like Budapest or Vienna.

But that’s ignoring all the Cyrillic ads and Russian heard all around you. St. Petersburg feels so European as opposed to Moscow which feels so Russian. Please don’t ask me what I mean by that. That’s just my gut feel, but thinking about the comparison now it seems to defy any logical explanation. Arriving at Pulkovo at around lunch time, I decided to rest on the first day since I have the whole day tomorrow for city exploration anyway. Sorry, all the traveling for the last few days has taken its toll on me.

I was planning a midnight stroll on my first day. My Airbnb place lies along the Fontanka river embankment just across St. Michael’s Castle. It would've been lovely, but it was getting cold. I'm not sure if St. Pete’s is farther north than Harbin. If it is, then this is the farthest north I’ve ever been. This probably explains why the sun was still up at 10 PM and why when I Googled “Sunrise St. Petersburg” it said 3 AM. The sun loves this part of the globe during summer, eh?

This means that the touristy stroll happened the next day. I walked along the canals and admired the sense of peace that such activity gives you despite the presence of tourists. I assume this is the reason for St. Pete’s having the “Venice of the North” moniker. My itinerary was not that ambitious. I just wanted to see as much as I can in the limited time that I had. I ended up visiting three churches, each one having its own charm and perks. Let’s dedicate a paragraph or two to every one of them, shall we?

The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is St. Pete’s answer to Moscow’s St. Basil’s. Colorful domes? Check. Legit religious art? Check. While St. Basil’s has the advantage of being central and getting complemented by the other tourist attractions within the vicinity, Savior on the Spilled Blood looks just as awesome with a canal by its side and the mini bazaar in front of it. There’s also a big park next to it if you want to take a stroll. The church appears to be bigger than its Moscow counterpart.

I wasn’t able to see the interior of either church. St. Basil’s is said to house a museum. As for Savior on the Spilled Blood, it’s closed on Wednesdays, which so happened to be the day of my visit. Maybe that spared me from my fiery demise. There are camwhores loitering in the premises but you’ll easily find a photo-op spot if you just point your camera upwards. After Googling what it looks like inside, I felt a bit regretful. It’s one of those churches covered from wall to ceiling with colorful religious art.

Kazan Cathedral was next after my lunch break. I didn’t realize that both churches are along the Giriboyedov embankment just separated by Nevskiy Avenue. I didn’t recognize it at first because the façade appears to be that of a university. The portico is misleading, ok! It could easily have been just another government building, you know. It’s the dome and its solitary cross that gives it away as a place of worship, though. Entrance is free and photography appears to be forbidden yet tolerated.

Heck, everyone had their phones out, ready to snap. I even saw some guys with big-ass cameras, zoom lens and all. I was a bit underwhelmed by the interior, although it wasn’t modest at all to say the least. Maybe I just found the amount of religious art a bit lacking? There was also a tomb of sorts and I was curious as to who was in it but the descriptions were all in Russian, not too basic for my elementary grasp of the language to comprehend. Anyway, this church looks Catholic but is actually Orthodox.

Last stop was St. Isaac’s, the largest Orthodox basilica and ranks fourth in the world. The ticket vending machine said that the museum and the interior of the church were no longer accessible at that time, which left me no choice but to settle for the colonnade. The entrance fee is RUB 150 (~PHP 135), which I say is well worth it because of the panoramic views from up there. The caveat is you will have to endure 200+ steps. Come on, you need this exercise. The bird’s-eye view of St. Pete’s is your prize.

It was really windy up there but the view is amazing. You get to see the verdant St. Isaac’s Square along with the Monument to Nicholas I to the south. To the north is the Neva River along with the fancy buildings lining up its banks. Given the high vantage point, you can use this stop to plan your itinerary for the rest of the day. As for me, I decided to head to the river for the last hurrah. Known as the Palace Embankment, there is no shortage of classy buildings to ogle while taking a stroll there.

Pass by Alexandrovsky Garden to see the Bronze Horseman. From there, you can head east towards the State Hermitage Museum or cross the bridge going north to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress. If you are feeling lazy today, I recommend hopping on a ferry. I have no idea how much that would cost you but it would be awesome to just relax and let the boat do the moving. At least all that’s left for you to do is document the trip and chill. And that, for me, was St. Pete’s. I would love to come back!

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