We left the capital city in the wee hours of the morning towards St. Petersburg, the “imperial capital” built by Peter the Great.
On the way, we drove through the quaint city of Novgorod which used to house the old Kremlin. Not nearly as large as Moscow, Novgorod had a small town feel to it. “The old Russia”, I recall someone describing it.
With the speed limit being just over 100kmph on most roads, it’s no surprise that we rolled into St. Petersburg much earlier than we expected to. Entering the city, the vibes I received were not as great as they were with Moscow. To be honest I was disappointed.
My experience with St. Petersburg is a prime example of how one shouldn’t be quick to make judgements. Turns out we were staying in a bit more run down part of the city, the Bronx of St. Petersburg if you will. Ahead of us, a few metro stops away, was a beautiful city just waiting to be discovered. But I didn’t know this at the time. I fell asleep that night wary of what experiences the following day would bring.
We took the metro to the centre of the city. Here’s a little trivia- the metro in St.Petersburg was purposely built deep enough to serve as a bomb shelter during the world war. The escalator ride down to the platform took over five minutes.
As soon as we stepped out of the station, we were greeted by sunny skies and great weather. Since it had been raining the previous couple of days, we got really lucky!
A short walk away from the station was the Peter and Paul Fortress. The beautiful fort is surrounded by the sea on all four sides and is a bustling tourist attraction. Each building within the fortress has been restored to perfection, making them seem almost brand new with their fresh coats of bright paint. As we stood contemplating out next destination a loud bang resonated through the air and shook the ground beneath my feet. My heart leaped into my mouth and for a moment,I forgot how to breathe. A dozen sinister situations ran through my mind. Then I heard the cheering. Following the noise, we came to a large clearing where the army was giving a drill demonstration. Relief washed over me like a wave and my fear turned to excitement and curiosity. There is something mesmerising about watching the young soldiers twirl the guns and stomp their feet in complete synchronisation.
Our next stop was the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood which is easily the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Intricate carvings and jewel toned onion domes with gold detail combine to form this architectural beauty.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city. I have found that walking around is the best way to truly get a feel of a place. The good weather was a major bonus! What I loved the most was the sheer number of street musicians who filled the air with melodic medleys. From harmoniums and xylophones to violins and guitars- we heard it all.
By the end of the day, we were all tired but we couldn’t get enough of St. Petersburg so we hopped onto a river cruise. The boat navigated the numerous canals and the crisp Spring breEze blew through my hair as we passed St. Petersburg’s iconic buildings.
Seeing St.Petersburg got me thinking about the beautiful buildings back home. Many Indian cities are home to breath-taking forts, churches, temples, mosques, tombs and gardens. If properly restored, these relics of the Mughal empire and the colonial era could amplify the old world charm that India is known for.