"We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there, too"
|(The Bronze Horseman, St. Petersburg)|
Day 4: 24 May 2014 (Saturday)
(Helsinki – St. Petersburg)
Hotel: Baltiya Hotel, St. Petersburg
We arrived in St. Petersburg Train Station on time and had to clear Immigration and Customs checks.
|(Arriving in Russian land)|
|(Waiting for the guide and coach)|
The local tour guide was already waiting for us and we immediately started our panoramic sightseeing tour for the day. St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, with more than a million population.
|(The war ship, now a museum)|
|(The Bronze Horseman)|
Today we began our panoramic tour of St. Petersburg with our first stop at the famous statue of Peter the Great. The Bronze Horseman is an impressive monument of the founder of St Petersburg, Peter the Great. It stands on Senatskaia Ploschad Square, facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty, St Isaac's Cathedral and the buildings of the former Senate and Synod - the civil and religious governing bodies of pre-revolutionary Russia. According to a 19th century legend, enemy forces will never take St. Petersburg while the ‘Bronze Horseman’ stands in the middle of the city.
|(St. Petersburg Mosque from afar)|
|(The main prayer hall)|
We later visited St. Petersburg Mosque, the largest mosque in Europe outside Turkey, its minarets are 49 meters in height and the dome is 39 meters high. The mosque is sited opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress, in the city centre. It can accommodate up to five thousand worshippers. The founding stone was laid in 1910 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Abdul Ahat Khan in Bukhara. By that time, the Muslim community of the Russian then-capital exceeded 8,000 people.
|(The Nevsky Prospekt, main avenue of St. Petersburg)|
|(The crowd at the book festival)|
|(Music and singing on the street)|
We visited a few other tourist attractions in Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of St. Petersburg and had a clear view of the Kazan Cathedral. The majority of the city’s shopping and nightlife are located on or near the Nevsky Prospekt and there were many festivals going on at the same time.
|(Cute beautiful Russian dolls)|
|(Looking around in a souvenir shop)|
Before we headed for our hotel, we went for souvenir shopping and had an early dinner at one of the restaurants on the main street.
|(A walk in the park)|
|(A newly wedded couple and tulips)|
Day 5: 25 May 2014 (Sunday)
Hotel: Baltiya Hotel, St. Petersburg
We had a simple breakfast of bread and hard-boiled eggs in the hotel restaurant.
|(A filling simple breakfast)|
|(Entrance ticket to the State Hermitage Museum)|
The whole morning today were spent visiting The State Hermitage Museum. It is a museum of art and culture and one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852.
|(One of the many historical rooms)|
|(One of the many famous paintings)|
|(Intricate designs at doorways and arches)|
Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage and Hermitage Theatre and The Imperial Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors.
|(Large collections on display)|
|(Huge pillars in the room)|
|(Art display outside the museum)|
|(The Hermitage Museum viewed from outside)|
|(Palace Square and the Alexander Column)|
Our lunch was at an Italian Restaurant. It was raining heavily when we boarded the bus for a visit to a small town of Peterhof situated in the outskirt of St. Petersburg.
|(Grilled fish and rice)|
Our destination was the Park Ensemble at Peterhof Petrodvorets also known as the Russian Versailles. The place is known as Peterhof or Petrodvorets and it was founded as early as 1714 by Peter the Great. Peter saw Versailles when he traveled to France and was quite impressed. But he conceived his own fountain complex on a much grander scale and created a magnificent ensemble that includes several palaces and three parks.
The main attraction in Peterhof is its beautiful Lower Park with 150 fountains and four cascades. The main and the most amazing cascade called the Great Cascade is situated in front of the Great Imperial Palace which was the gala summer imperial residence for 200 years.
|(A disposable raincoat for the heavy shower)|
|(The palace golden domes and spires)|
|(Display of cascades and fountains)|
We travelled back and reached St. Petersburg by late afternoon and just in time for an hour of relaxing boat cruise along the Neva River and canals surrounding St. Petersburg. After the cruise we went for souvenir shopping, enjoying the white nights life in St. Petersburg.
|(An hour of river cruising along rivers and canals)|
|(Staying under deck, away from the hot sun)|
|(The Russian and Malaysian guides)|
|(Another round of shopping)|
|(Doing the selfie with our Nikon)|
Day 6: 26 May 2014 (Monday)
Hotel: Baltiya Hotel, St. Petersburg
Today we visited a few more tourist attractions in St. Petersburg and its surrounding districts.
Our first stop was at the vibrant coloured Cathedral of Spilled Blood. This marvellous Russian-style church was built where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists.
The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. It remained closed and under restoration for over 30 years and was finally re-opened in 1997 in all its dazzling former glory. The view of the church from Nevsky Prospekt is absolutely breath-taking.
|(A beautiful ice-cream cathedral)|
We visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral again today but it was closed for renovation and visitors were not allowed to enter the museum area. The dome of the cathedral dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg and its gilded cupola can be seen glistening from all over the city. Normal days, you can climb up the 300 or so steps to the observation walkway at the base of the cathedral’s dome and enjoy the breathtaking views over the city.
The church itself is an architectural marvel and the main church of the Russian Empire. Inside the church many of the icons were created using mosaic techniques and the iconostasis is decorated with eight malachite and two lapis lazuli columns. The cathedral now serves as a museum and services are held only on significant ecclesiastical holidays.
|(The cathedral is closed for renovation)|
|(The green parks surrounding the cathedral)|
Another Cathedral visited was the golden Baroque style St. Nicholas' Cathedral (known locally as the Sailors' Cathedral) as its spires and domes rise among the trees at the bottom of Ulitsa Glinki and shines above the residential and commercial buildings in the area. It is home to a number of revered 18th-century icons and a fine carved wooden iconostasis. Its beautiful bell tower overlooks Kryukov Canal.
|(A short visit for photo shots)|
|(The inside of St. Nicholas Cathedral)|
The coach took us for a tour of Pushkin and Catherine Palace. Pushkin is a municipal town in Pushkinsky District of the federal city of St. Petersburg, located 24 kilometers south from the center of St. Petersburg proper. Before we visited the tourist sites, we went to an Italian Restaurant for a Risotto lunch.
|(A reflection of the golden dome)|
|(A historical palace ruins)|
|(Italian lunch for today)|
Pushkin was founded in 1710 as an imperial residence named Tsarskoye Selo. The town was renamed to Detskoye Selo meaning Children's Village. Its name was further changed in 1937 to Pushkin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The town contains an ensemble of the 18th century ‘Tsarskoye Selo’. This museum complex includes the Catherine Palace, Alexander Palace and other buildings and associated parks. It is a major tourist attraction of the area and is included in the list of monuments protected by the UNESCO.
|(The palace from the inner square)|
|(Wearing protective socks before entry)|
|(Glittering and glistening gold ornaments)|
There was a long queue at the entrance to the Ekaterina Palace. The inside of the palace was strictly a no-photography area and one need to wear paper socks to protect and preserve the area from dust and dirt. The visit include the famous Amber Room and park in Pavlovsk.
|(Evening walk in the park)|
|(Pictures of tourists attractions of Pushkin)|
From Pushkin the coach had to throng the heavy traffic and rushed back to St. Petersburg as we had to catch a show. We performed our prayers in St. Petersburg Mosque before we were transported to Nikolayevsky Palace for the Folk Show.
The evening began with elaborate Russian folklore dances and traditional musical performance followed by a short break of delicious buffet with traditional Russian caviar and drinks. The night ended with a full course dinner while being entertained by a local musician.
|(Colourful costumes of dancers)|
|(A delicious Muslim dinner)|
|(A complimentary postcard)|
Day 7: 27 May 2014 (Monday)
Hotel: Maxima Panorama Hotel, Moscow
We woke up early in the morning and checked out of the hotel. Our breakfast was packed for the train journey. The coach were ready to transport us to the Moskovsky Vokzal Train Station.
|(Baltiya Hotel, St. Petersburg)|
The train station is also called Moscovsky Station, with an easily recognizable Neo-Renaissance frontage on Nevsky Prospekt and Uprising Square. It is a terminus for the Moscow-Saint Petersburg Railway and other lines running from Central and South Russia, Siberia, Eastern Ukraine, and Crimea.
|(Passengers ready to board the train)|
|(Maximum speed caught on camera)|
The Sapsan Train Ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow runs for about 650 kilometre through four oblasts, Moscow, Tver, Novgorod and Leningrad. It is a major traffic artery in the north-west region of Russia, operated by the Oktyabrskaya Railway subdivision of Russian Railways. The maximum speed is 250 kmh, the fastest train taking 3 hours and 30 minutes. The Sapsan has operated on this line since 2009, running below their maximum speed of 300 kmh because of difficulties upgrading all the track.
|(Our carriage on the fast train)|