On March/April 2018 we joined a cruise journey organized by PM2AM student trips, an organisation that arranges different trips for young adults (until the age of 35). The cruise we went on is epic. The route started in Stockholm and took us further by cruise ship towards Helsinki, Saint Petersburg and Tallinn over the span of 4 nights. A new country every time you wake up! In this series of four blogs I will tell you how we experienced each city. third stop: Saint Petersburg, Russia!
After a short breakfast we arrived in the harbor of Saint Petersburg around 9:00 AM. What happened after that? Read on for our experiences!
After a long boat drive from Helsinki we finally arrived in the harbor of Saint Petersburg and were ready to board around 9:00 AM. We were instructed the day before to get up early because of the immigration process which can take long (especially with thousands of people wanting to go simultaneously). We bought some breads in Finland for a quick snack and were ready to go towards the border control together with our entire cruise ship. Boy, they were right about it taking long…
Border control was really strict. Yes, we got up early to queue up. But, they are really thorough when it comes to passport control. It took us about 60-90 minutes before it was our turn to show our passports. For me, Robert, it is easy being a Dutch passport holder. But for Sam it was a whole other story. Since she is from Bangladesh, her passport was given to one of the border patrol guards taking people out of the queue to the interrogation rooms. Not to be talking about racial profiling, but all the passport holders who have a green passport cover (Muslim countries) were taking out of the queue. Even me, with my Dutch passport but a Bangladesh visa in it, almost got taken. The lady behind the desk stopped the patrol guard stating “*Russian words* Netherlands *Russian words* Bangladesh visa” but the guard said it was OK.
There I was, just entered Russia but no idea how long it would take before Sam could enter. After 30 minutes Sam came back to the queue, saying that it might take 30 to 60 more minutes. So I decided to enter the waiting hall, passing the security gates. There, a Russian lady who was working for the border patrol was taking questions and advised everyone to go towards the city and not to wait for their friends. Of course I said no (come on, I just got engaged and would leave my Fiance? No way.) and the lady passed the message on for me. Luckily there was a gift shop with a lot of Putin mugs and magnets and also Russian themed gifts to pass some time (and to already purchase some souvenirs to save time later on) and a small restaurant which had a small hot dog and burger stand in it (and Fanta Peach, great invention).
11:30 AM, after a 2,5 hour delay Sam was finally allowed entrance. What happened all that time behind the scenes? Nothing more than a photo which was taken. Others (read, males) had to answer standard questions in an interview and gave their fingerprints.
Did that stop us from having fun? Nope! There was a shuttle bus service every 15 minutes that would take us from the harbor to the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. We still had a hop-on hop-off bus ticket and an empty SD card to fill! We had till 17:00 PM, so we went as quickly as possible!
What to see
After the shuttle bus dropped us, we straight away were at our first sight: Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. The hop-on hop-off bus stop also begins from this spot, perfect to begin with! It is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city and the fourth largest in the world. The church was ordered to be constructed by Tsar Alexander and took 40 years to build. Just standing outside is already impressive!
The cathedral nowadays functions as a museum, and it is worth the visit! It is open daily from 10:30 AM untill 18:00 PM, with last admission at 17:30 PM. The admission fee for adults is RUB 250,- and RUB 50,- for children. There are also audio guides available for RUB 100,- in several languages. The inside is gorgeous with paintings all over.
After that we took the hop-on hop-off bus towards the main sight of Saint Petersburg: Church of the savior on spilled blood. It was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881. The church is situated along the Griboedov canal, when we visited all the canals were frozen to make it even more spectacular! The outside domes are spectacular, with different styles dating back to medieval Russian architecture.
You thought that the inside of the Saint Isaac Cathedral was already beautiful? The Church of the savior on spilled blood also has something to offer and is worth the visit! Tickets are RUB 250,- as well, purchasable at the entrance or online. Opening hours are between 10:30 AM and 18:oo PM.
After taking a lot of pictures and buying a few souvenirs in the stalls outside the church (you can even pay with credit card on the streets!), we quickly passed the Kazan Cathedral walking through the main street of Saint Petersburg: Nevsky Prospekt. The whole old town is an UNESCO world heritage sight, so be sure to enjoy your surroundings. You can see the resemblance of the cathedral with the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome on which it was inspired. After the war of 1812 with Napolean it became a monument to Russian victory. We only took a quick picture from the outside on our way to our next sight.
After walking down the main street, we reached the Palace Square. In this central city square, many events of worldwide significance took place here. Several revolutions and celebrations. In the centre of the square the Alexander Column, a red granite column which is 47,5 meters high. In the summer the square also functions as an open-air venue.
On the palace square you can also find the State Hermitage, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. We did not enter the hermitage, but the outside look is already stunning.
After strolling through the rain we catched the hop-on hop-off bus to do a tour through Saint Petersburg. Here we quickly passed The Bronze Horseman, Kunstkamera, and Peter and Paul Fortress from far.
Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time left because of the time we lost during border control. We did manage to snap a few good shots with our GoPro enjoying frozen Saint Petersburg on a rainy day!
Visiting Saint Petersburg was impressive, even if it was for a few hours. Doing this cruise gave us a visa free opportunity to explore Saint Petersburg, and if we did not have to wait for 2 hours at the border control we probably would’ve been able to see all the hotspots. At least we saw everything we wanted to see!
By 17:00 PM we were back at the harbor, ready for our departure at 19:00 PM to our last stop: Tallin, Estonia!
To experience the other days on this tour, check out my other blogs about our Baltic Sea cruise: