It still hides behind a mysterious cloud. Only in fairly recent history have outsiders been allowed to visit and yet many still don’t — possibly due to the difficult visa process — amongst other reasons.
One way around the annoying visa situation is arriving by cruise ship and taking the cruise line’s offered trips, which is how many visitors to Saint Petersburg go about things.
But do I do that? Of course not. No, I have to be difficult. I have to pay WAY too much for an approximately 4×3 inch piece of paper that allows me to frolic around Russia without a tour guide because I tend to try way too hard to embrace the free-spirit side of my personality. Was it the best decision? Maybe. Maybe not. Both sides have their pros and cons.
If you are doing Saint Petersburg independently, here are some suggestions for how you could spend an available afternoon (or morning).
1. Sip a hot chocolate at Cafe Singer in the Dom Knigi bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt.
Located across from the Kazan Cathedral, the Dom Knigi bookstore towers over pedestrians below.
On the second floor resides Cafe Singer with it’s decadent pastries and a vast variety of both cold and hot drinks to sample. It’s not the most affordable place in town but the view is incredible, the food and drinks are delicious, and there is free wifi. Need I say more?
2. Admire beautiful Russian architecture at the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood.
Just down the road from the Dom Knigi bookstore is the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood.
This stunning piece of Russian architecture, located beside the River Neva, was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was murdered in 1881.
The church, which was closed due to political unrest for a significant part of the 20th century and then under restoration for decades, only opened back up to the public in August 1997.
TIP: My friend’s DSLR camera lens was stolen right off her body as the camera hung from her neck while we walked towards the church. A group of men ran by and hit her arm with a small book as a distraction. Seconds later the lens was gone and she was devastated to say the least. Don’t become a victim. You can prevent this by keeping your camera directly in front of you and holding on to your lens at all times. Same goes for your bags. Keep your purse or backpack in front of you and keep a hand on it. Also keep an eye out for anyone/anything suspicious. Being aware of your surroundings could save you a lot of heartache — as well as time, money, and your safety. Prevention is key.
The interior of the church, which holds Russia’s largest collection of mosaic art (several thousand square yards) is beyond impressive and truly breathtaking.
3. Grab some pierogi pies a few blocks away at Stolle.
West of the church, a few blocks away, is Stolle. I had heard about this place from many people in the months leading up to my trip. It was difficult to find at first (due to the street names in the surrounding area being so incredibly similar) but once we did find it we returned for a total of 3 meals in 3 days. It was that good (as well as inexpensive — key for a traveling college graduate’s budget).
TIP: If you see a place called Barcelona, keep going, it’s just around the corner. If you spot red awnings you’ve found it!
For my first visit to Stolle I tried a slice of strawberry and a slice of green onion. There are two sizes to choose from, small — shown here — and large, which is about double the size of small. Depending on availability, Stolle offers pies in: cranberry, cowberry, apricot, apple, lemon, sweet cheese, cabbage, rabbit and mushroom, green onion, herring, mushroom, chicken, fish, meat, salmon, and more.
As you can see, the girls clearly enjoyed their first taste of Russian pierogi pies! Look at those clean plates and big smiles!
Have you been to Saint Petersburg? What would you recommend to someone with only a day or two to spend?