Venice of the North

A few days ago I reminisced about visiting my older son Daniel while he was studying in Russia. That first post was about the few days we spent in Moscow. This is a follow-up about the second and final leg of the journey in St. Petersburg.

Let me start with a bit of advice for people traveling with their college-age children. You can congratulate yourselves if you have instilled the value of thrift in your offspring. However, beware of letting those children purchase the train tickets for your overnight trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Otherwise you will find yourself lying in the very narrow upper bunk of a four bed compartment, afraid to fall asleep because you might roll over and flop onto the floor. Much more comfortable accommodations are available for a very reasonable price.

Enough grousing. Actually, Daniel found me a very comfortable small hotel on Nevsky Prospekt, which is a sort of Main Street for Downtown St. Petersburg.

The Hermitage.
Hermitage in the evening.
Hermitage in the evening.
In the Hermitage Courtyard.
In the Hermitage Courtyard.

This is a beautiful city that is very much worth seeing. To start with, there is the Hermitage, which was once the Winter Palace of the Czars. We mostly looked at the building itself, and only examined a handful of items from its massive art collections. The views from within the Hermitage courtyards are especially lovely.

St. Petersburg is built around rivers, canals, and the sea – hence the nickname Venice of the North. Many buildings are painted in pastel colors which, combined with the waterways, give this city a feel very different from Moscow. Danny and I took a boat ride through the canals which was great except for the fact that we froze our tushes off.

A city of canals.
A city of canals.
Canal view.
Canal view.


We spent a good deal of time at the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, which was built in the 19th Century on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated. I thought this church was even more remarkable than St. Basil’s, though it is not nearly as old.

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.
Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

St. Petersburg is a great city for walking and wandering. The subways are easy to use, though they are build very, very deep in the soggy earth. When Danny and I got tired of walking, we stopped in a cafe for hot chocolate, which is extremely thick and sweet in Russia. Our favorite was Cafe Singer, located on the second floor of a bookshop. This provided an excellent vantage point for watching the people and traffic on Nevsky Prospekt.

Danny making a fish face during our boat tour of the canals.
Cafe Singer on Nevsky Prospekt.
Danny making a fish face during tour of canals.

My last evening in Russia was spent with the family Daniel had been living with while studying at St. Petersburg University. They were extremely welcoming, and provided a homemade feast along with a lot of high quality vodka. I very rarely drink hard liquor, and as we toasted each other my hosts scolded me for sipping instead of downing each glass at one go. Next morning I took a cab to the airport, slightly hung over but very glad I had been able to share Daniel’s experience in Russia with him.

22 Comments on “Venice of the North”

  1. How this brought back memories for me. In 1969 when I was there the beautiful buildings and bridges existed, but the Soviet era city was gray, blocky and ominous looking. It was the USSR then. I was there in June, and in that northern place the sun barely set each night. How well I remember the eerie sight of the drawbridges in the soft midnight light, rising up over the canals to let the boats go through. Thanks for this post — haven’t thought about that in years!

  2. I still remember when, as a student, I spent some month in Brighton UK, studying English and my family came over for a week. Mom took a plane for the first time despite she’s afraid of flying. I bet your son is going to cherish this experience for ever, as I did.

    PS: as a citizen of Venice (the southern one!) I can tell there is nothing to compare with, indeed if you turn that ’80s-like, rubik’s cube-like church upside down you might find the ‘made in China’ label somewhere…
    (I’m joking!) 😉

  3. Wow, that must have been a great experience for both of you! I have a Daniel, too. Mine studied in Florence for a semester, and we went to visit him. Now my daughter is considering a semester in Spain. I’m wondering if we can afford a trip this time… Great opportunity for the kids, though!

    • Well, there’s hot chocolate, and people drink lots of tea. The only night I drank vodka was that last night, because I felt it would be rude to decline. On the other hand, that was the only night we socialized with Russians. The more time you spend with Russians in the evening, the harder the vodka is to avoid.

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