We’d made it to Russia! After several relaxed days in search of school children wearing neon vests bright enough to turn one blind and men quickly licking up drips from ice cream cones on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral, we’d taken a ship across the Baltic Sea. The journey from Helsinki Finland to Saint Petersburg Russia was much like a night in Branson Missouri. Entertainment ranging from overhyped bands to drag performances directly related to the lack of female dancers available, to singers gearing up for next year’s Eurovision. Much like in Branson, we took in the entertainment with some winers and diners nearly pushing their bankers overboard with delight and with others happy to escape from the poor house if only for a few days. We, despite all our celebratory sentiments, were the latter.

What again were we celebrating? The trip began with the idea that I’d like to celebrate Birthday #29 in a unique traveling way. As the travel quartet formed, this trip turned out to be also the celebration of a new job, a new University Graduate, and of a new sporty boot (aka…broken foot which we celebrate because its owner still managed to get herself to the Dubrovnik hospital on a public bus when it happened and stuck out the trip just a week later by hobbling around with our speed-walking ways, never complaining!)

 

Click on an image and flip through each photo to see St Petersburg Russia Up-Close!

 

 

A four-man band met us outside Saint Petersburg’s ferry terminal. Dressed in sailor-esque navy and white striped tops, the brass quartet serenaded newcomers with fast paced toe-tapping. As the rest of my party stuffed themselves and their bags into a 12-passenger van sent to meet us, I swayed my hips to the rhythm of the Russian beat. Quickly enough, I was set free from the trance and moved to the van’s open doors to join the rest of the group.

The van was part of the trip’s packaged deal and was said to lead us on a tour of the city. Instead, it brought us directly to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, leaving us and our belongings near a busy park with nothing but a substandard map to lead us to our hotel. G turned into a go-getter and without missing a beat walked up to one of the traffic officers nearby. He spoke no English, she no Russian. And still after a few moments we found ourselves with directions to walk a few blocks over toward the front steps of our hotel.

Four typically solo female travelers were ready to take on all The Venice of the North has to offer. We began with a trip to a nearby restaurant. Four stars at minimum, this classy joint served dishes with an Italian flare. Maybe not the most authentic experience to kick off our few days in Russia, but a far more luxurious one than we’d imagined for hardly putting a dent in our wallets. Our waiter was a charming young gentleman that, if only a few years older, would have easily found himself a date amongst the group of us. Sill, when we found he wasn’t able to take tips in the way we were able to offer them, D returned later and made sure he pocketed the few extra rubles he deserved for his exceptional class.

 

Click on an image and flip through each photo to see St Petersburg Russia Up-Close!

 

The rest of the trip, we indulged in incredible foods. Never was our bill more than 6 euros per person, yet we managed to eat at the most exquisite of venues. Some took us cross-town, others we found right around the corner. When it came time for my birthday celebration, I had only one wish : carrot cake. Feeling a funny tummy around that time and finding it hard to take in too much at once, I decided to celebrate number 2-9 in true fashion. While the others ordered dishes such as beef stroganoff and Herring Under Fur Coat, I found two menu items the meal couldn’t be had without : Carrot Cake and Red Wine.

Like a child in a candy shop, this young lady grinned ear to ear while some of her new best friends called out “Happy Birthday” and were joined by other nearby patrons. This was quite possibly the happiest moment of my life ever to  have been caught on film. Please, take a look at the photo and try, just try, to duplicate that inexplicable happiness. I will say, I am a bit ashamed at how excited I was. Yet at the same time am beyond delighted that the undeniable joy is available for all to see. Did I find joy and luck that I was able to celebrate another year beside three other inspirational ladies in a country none of us ever fathomed visiting? That only begins to describe my feelings. It was perfect!

During our Saint Petersburg days, we had plenty of time to discover parks and recreations, hidden markets, workshops initiated by the hipster crowd behind a church, raccoons riding on their owners’ shoulders, space-age hydrofoils drifting across the Neva River, and cannons shot from Peter and Paul Fortress. At some points during the trip, the four of us decided to go back to our solo-traveler ways, splitting up to ensure we each maximized our own experiences. At other points, we picked a certain time and place, and met there to continue the day as a group.

 

Click on an image and flip through each photo to see St Petersburg Russia Up-Close!

 

During an afternoon together, the four of us pushed ourselves to discover the city’s underground quarters. Beginning across the river from The Winter Palace at St. Petersburg’s Blue Mosque, we found it to be a magnificent holy site tiled entirely in shades of ultramarine. Next, we slid down a seemingly never-ending escalator to the city’s metro. Beneath busy city streets and shallow canals, an unexpected museum of galleries and art awaited us and other hurried travelers.

The city’s underground railroad – a scrambling of metro stations – has been created out of marble columns, golden reliefs, and whizzing trains. Down here, under the sea of traffic, we found amusement in hopping on and off trains with each stop. You can find the results within the photographs and in the meantime can believe that not only was this an exceptional use of time, but it also provided created great insight into the city’s past. The underground spectacles were originally designed to bring joy to an otherwise dull, war-stricken Soviet Russia. They have certainly done the trick!

We hopped on and off the trains, trying to grab photos and see the ‘best of’ before the car’s doors shut to take passengers to their next destination. Several times we were able to see all we wanted in that short time, and other times we were captivated enough to wait for the next train a few minutes down the line.

 

Click on an image and flip through each photo to see St Petersburg Russia Up-Close!

 

Our final stop led us to the city’s center – a chaotic mix of canals, bridges, trams, cars, and beautiful people everywhere. Street performers were a dime a dozen, and groups of teenagers hung out in small parks off the main road. One of the city’s most iconic structures, The Church of Spilled Blood, was seven minute walk away. Here, we found ourselves returning every day to grab souvenirs, people-watch, stroll through the park, and tour the bubble-topped church’s equally ornate interior.

A rush of color, beauty, joy, celebration, gastronomy. It was all there for us in Saint Petersburg.

 

Click on an image and flip through each photo to see St Petersburg Russia Up-Close!

 

We’d made it to Russia. And these four female travelers are already itching to return!

 

Did you miss a beat? Find out how this quartet of typically solo female travelers was formed HERE; Check out the results of our Helsinki Scavenger Hunt a few days earlier HERE; and learn how we almost lost a group member on our cruise from Helsinki to St Petersburg HERE.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Write them below!
xoxAnika

 

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