St. Petersburg for Visitors
Much as I like Moscow, I believe St. Petersburg is a more rewarding city for visitors to Russia. Its streets are filled with amazingly beautiful scenes like the one above of the Griboyedov Canal with the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in the distance. Wish I had taken it, but it is courtesy of Brian Stotler, one of my recent fellow travellers.
Petersburg is the kind of place where it is a pleasure just to walk around and admire the architecture. In the city centre most buildings are in Neoclassical or Art Nouveau style, and since Peter was the Imperial capital many of the homes are actually former palaces. Some of them fell into disrepair during the Soviet period, but most were restored to their former glory in time for a big celebration of the city's 300th anniversary in 2003.
I was lucky enough to spend two weeks living in an apartment in Peter in 2005, as a participant in Summer Literary Seminars (www.sumlitsem.org.) My route to the meetings took me beside the above scene every day, and I never ceased to be overwhelmed. The church was built to commemorate the spot where Czar Alexander II was assasinated in 1881 and it is filled with intricate and colourful mosaics.
There are plenty of historic places worth visiting, starting with the Hermitage Museum (www.hermitagemuseum.org,) one of the world's great art repositories. Tickets are reasonably priced at about $10 for the entire complex, or $5 if you just want to explore one of the museum's branches. Admission is free the first Thursday of every month, but you need a ticket.
If you are looking for a quick snack or an elegant tea while you are strolling around, don't miss Eliseyevsky Gastronome on Nevsky Prospect near the Anichkov Bridge. This food emporium is decorated in over-the-top Art Nouveau style and worth a visit just to view the opulence of shopping in the Czarist era.