St Petersburg - Romanovs, Rasputin and Revolution

By Simon Ball, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on St. Petersburg.

Overall rating:4.3 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Enjoyable
4.75
4.8
Useful
4
4.0
Inspirational
4.25
4.3
Recommended for:
Cultural, Food and Drink, Short Break, Mid-range

Enduring despotic rulers, revolutions, Nazi siege and the rise and fall of Communism, Russia's former capital has had more than its fair share of murder and mayhem and some good eating places too

In 1703 Peter the Great laid St Petersburg’s foundations on the River Neva's Zayachi Island. In the middle of territory just conquered from Sweden, the Italian architect Domenico Trezzini was commissioned to build the Fortress of St Peter and St Paul. So it’s hardly surprising that many of St Petersburg’s greatest landmarks are concentrated in the area bordering the river.

In keeping with Peter’s vision of a modern European city, the jewel of the fortress is the Baroque Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul (admission 200 Roubles). Also designed by Trezzini, it was here we discovered the tombs of the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia up to the 1917 Revolution. Nicholas II and his family, murdered by the revolutionaries in 1917, were re-interred here in 1998

As a prison, the fortress held the anarchist Michael Bakunin, Trotsky and Dostoevsky and today its mint is still making coins. Every day at noon the serenity of the Romanov’s resting place is shattered by the midday cannon, but in 1917 the battery  bombarded the Romanov’s Winter Palace on the opposite bank of the Neva.

The Winter Palace is one of five connected buildings that form the State Hermitage Museum (2 Palace Square www.hermitagemuseum.org admission 400 Roubles). Built for Tsarina Elisabeth I (1741 – 1762) it was designed by another Italian, Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Legend has it that the revolutionaries who stormed the Winter Palace got lost inside. It’s easy to see how; it’s said that it takes eleven years to see the whole collection. Having only the morning we crammed in Nicholas II and Alexandra’s’ throne room, the room where the Bolsheviks arrested the government and galleries of fabulous art from Renaissance masters to like Leonardo to modernists like Picasso.

Mad Monks and Murder Most Foul

Close to the Hermitage, on the bank of the Moika River we found the Yasupov Palace (Naberezhnaya Reki Moyki 94, www.yusupov-palace.ru,  Admission 500 Roubles). This magnificent Baroque palace was home to the fabulously wealthy Yasupov family from 1820 to 1917. Their Moorish styled room is particularly splendid. While free audioguides are available for most of the palace you will need to join an organised tour (tel. +7 (812) 314-9883) to see where Felix Yasupov fed self-proclaimed holy man Grigory Rasputin cyanide laced cakes and then filled him full of lead. 

Violent death for the Romanovs was an occupational hazard, the Church of the Spilled Blood (Konyushennya ploshchad, admission 320 Roubles) marks where Tsar Alexander II was blown up by a revolutionary bomb in 1881. It’s a rare example of a traditional Russian onion domed church in this city of the Baroque and Neo-classical.

Nearby is the Neo-Classical St Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskaya ploshchad, Admission 320 Roubles). Designed by the French architect Auguste de Montferrand it was the largest cathedral in Russia. Post revolution it was a museum of atheism.

The walk to our hotel from the river, down Nevskiy Prospekt, was an architectural delight. Baroque and Empire Style buildings rubbed shoulders with Art Nouveau and the occasional bit of Soviet Brutalism. I particularly liked the Art Nouveau Singer Sewing Machine Showroom, with its decorative metal work

And so to Lunch

Stolle Pies (Konushenny Lane,  www.stolle.ru/eng/main.) was the place for lunch near the Neva. We dined on herby wild mushroom and salmon pies, both delicious. Expect to pay from 200 to 400 Roubles depending on the filling.  

More up market was The Idiot (82 Moika Embankment, tel +7 (812) 315 1675, www.idiot-spb.com), named after the Dostoevsky novel. This vegetarian restaurant regards fish as a plant, but no worries for me. I tucked into Herring in Stuba (a confection of hard boiled egg, herring, beetroot and potato) and a mushroom and potato Payarka both of which were very tasty. Around 1000 Roubles per person including drinks.

Closer to our hotel was Shinok (Zagorodny Prospekt 13, tel: +7 (812) 571 8262) www.spbshinok.ru) a Ukrainian Restaurant, where the Borsht comes in freshly baked bread and the vodka hits the spot - it’s spiked with horseradish. A bit pricey, around 1300 Roubles with drinks, but there was a free folklore show.

More eccentric was Orient Express (Marata Street 21, tel: +7 (812) 314 5096, www.orient-express.spb.ru), a train themed restaurant serving dishes from Russia’s former central Asian territories. There’s even recorded steam engine noise in the loos! I recommend the Georgian Mantas - lamb dumplings with sour cream and sumac. Reckon on about 1000 Roubles with drinks.  

The cheapest restaurant that we tried was the Pancake House (Kololnaya Street tel. +7 (812) 315 5345). The duck with sauerkraut was amazing. About 750 Roubles with beers.

Where to stay

We stayed in the Dostoevsky Hotel (19, Vladimirsky Prospect) which is conveniently located close to Nevskiy Prospekt. The rooms are all on the top couple of floors as the hotel is built over a shopping mall, which has a convenient 24 hour supermarket. The breakfast was a bit grim though.

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More information on St Petersburg - Romanovs, Rasputin and Revolution:

Author:
Simon Ball
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.25
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
Total views:
469
First uploaded:
13 September 2010
Last updated:
4 years 13 weeks 6 days 8 hours 56 min 32 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Food and Drink, Short Break
Budget level:
Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
architecture, history, royalty

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Community comments (7)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Useful and inspiring guide.

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Rating:
4
0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Great guide Simon, thank you. There is so much to see in the city and you covered all the main highlights here.
I enjoyed the photos of the food as some of the dishes are not ones I would know so it was good to have a visual.
Did you go into the Deli on Nevsky Prospekt? - definitely worth a look.

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Hi Suzanne

No didn't get to see the deli, but it sounds like the sort of place I would have enjoyed!

It is a fascinating place and in the four days we were there I feel I only just got to scratch the surface, but our visit did help to place Russia and its Baltic neighbours into the context of Europe and its history much more effectively than any guide book could.

thanks for the kind comments

Simon

Rating:
4
0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Simon,

I visited St Petersburg when i was very small, I would love to visit it again and i am sure your guide will be helpful in planning the trip.
Great pictures and lots of food recommendations will surely inspire readers to plan a similar trip.
Did you also visit the Peterhof palace which i heard is extremely beautiful?

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Hi Arif

yes we did visit the Peterhof and also Tsarskoye Selo whee Catherine the grteat had her Summer Palace, both fantastic places to see, but didin't have enough room to include them in this guide, maybe a guide on the palaces of St Petersburg could look into that

Simon

Rating:
4
0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Simon,

I really enjoyed this guide - it definitely manages to squeeze in the many major sights that need to be seen into a small space.

Like you I found getting around the Hermitage to the extend that I'd want impossible, but you've highlighted some of the best bits to see.

What I would like to see is a costing of the admission for each attraction in pounds as well as roubles - while I might know the exchange rate, anyone who is making their mind up about whether to go to Russia (or is just randomly reading the guide to find inspiration) wouldn't be able to get an idea of how much that will impact on their wallet.

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Hi Chris

I can see where you are coming from about the currency, but In the past Jeanette and Cathy have larged up about how a Sterling conversion is no use to someone reading the guide from say New Zealand or Canada, which is why I tend to leave prices in the local currency.

There are about 47 Roubles to the pound

Simon