Today begins a new series: From Russia With Love (and a Kiss from the Baltic States). If you missed the one on Ireland in April/May and would like to do some armchair traveling in that neck of the world, please do check out the archives.
Days 1 and 2: Travel, Cathedrals, and a Cat Museum
After flying from Lisbon through Paris to St. Petersburg, we grabbed a cab at the airport and soon gratefully checked into our hotel. We were even more grateful to discover that in an hour they would offer a free buffet including cheeses, cold cuts, pickled salads, hot hors d’oeuvres, soup, bread, beer, wine, vodka, and dessert. It was so extensive and delicious a selection of goodies, it was our early dinner.
When night fell, we stepped outside to stretch our legs. This imposing sight greeted us: the Narva Triumphal Arch built in 1814 to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s invading army. More info at http://www.saint-petersburg.com/monuments/narva-gate/
In the morning we began exploring. I dubbed the city “Surprising St. Petersburg” because my sense of the main street of Nevsky Prospekt, where our hotel was located, seemed like a combination of Madison and Fifth Avenues in my hometown of New York, accompanied by the architectural elegance of Paris.
Our first stop was St. Isaac’s. Construction of this fourth largest cathedral in the world was begun in 1818 at the request of Tsar Alexander I. It took forty years to complete. A model inside is a fine representation of its whole. After climbing to the top, we caught our breath and then got caught in a windstorm. Good thing we left our hats at the hotel.
Afterwards we strolled until we came across Cats Museum. On a quiet neighborhood street, two lovely young ladies were serving up coffee and sweets, and selling a host of one-of-a-kind folk art cat items. Visitors can play with rescued cats in one room, after paying a small fee that aids in their support. Visit them at www.facebook.com/CatsMuseum/
A quick lunch entailed cabbage soup and meat dumplings called palmeni, then it was on to Starbucks to purchase the requisite souvenir mug. The store also is located on Nevsky Prospekt, perfect for the short walk to our next destination: Kazan, or Kazansky Cathedral, modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Our final event for the day was a tour of the iconic Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood. Differing architecturally from other, Baroque and Neoclassical, structures in the city, the medieval Russian-style cathedral was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was fatally wounded in March of 1881.
Inside the church, the location of the emperor’s attack is clearly marked, roped off to protect it from curious tourists, a sad but honoring tribute to a respected member of the Romanov dynasty.
Next time: Treasures of the State Hermitage Museum