I slept pretty well on the ferry from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia last night, other than when I woke up in the middle of the night to pay for slow wifi to attempt to buy tickets in the Taylor Swift presale. It was a definite struggle on the $5 an hour incredibly slow wifi situation. I fell back asleep pretty quickly, though, at least, and got some okay tickets though not great. When we arrived in Russia we went through immigration quickly which was quite surprising as I had read it can take a while. I think it’s probably likely that it was not busy as it was a mid-week boat and also because it is freezing and snowy in both Helsinki and St. Petersburg so not exactly the best time for sightseeing.
It wasn’t a problem for us, though! We were really cold, of course, but came prepared with lots of layers and so far, we're doing okay with the cold. However, Russia was going to be a whole other level of freezing. After clearing immigration we took the free shuttle from the ferry terminal to the center of town, and from there took an Uber to our hotel, M-Hotel. It was a bit difficult to find at first, but once we did we found a charming little spot in the very heart of the city. We had a nice room with our own beds and it was a nice spot to rest for a bit after a crazy journey into town. Thank you so much to M-Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip!
We ate lunch very close to our hotel at a spot called Cafe Brynza, where we were able to eat traditional Russian cheburek. They were so yummy! A bit like a crepe would probably be the best comparison. We also had cheesy potatoes which were great as well. After lunch, we stopped by an ATM to get some rubbles and then called an Uber to head out to Catherine’s Palace. Uber was truly a lifesaver in Russia – it was so cheap and with the freezing cold it was so much easier to do than public transit, and helped us to fit in more sights. It took about an hour with traffic to get from St. Petersburg to Catherine’s Palace, but it was definitely worth it. It was my grandmother’s favorite stop when she visited Russia so we knew we had to go!
When we arrived we first saw the beautiful grounds and the magnificent palace. It was very blue and beautiful all at once! The tour itself through the palace was very quick as there was very little to read and the audio guide was only in Russian. It was magnificent, though, both inside and out. We finished much quicker than expected and spent time walking around the gardens and other buildings outside before heading to our next stop, Peterhof. I loved playing in the fresh snow outside at both Places because it is something I never get to do. It was so light and fluffy and I had a lot of fun with it! I’m basically a child, I know.
Peterhof took about another hour to reach by Uber, but I’m so glad we were able to visit both iconic St. Petersburg spots on our first day. Peterhof was even bigger and grander than Catherine’s Palace! The fountains outside were, of course, turned off, but we could easily imagine how impressive they would be in the summer as they were pretty great without the water flowing through. I found it interesting that all of the sculptures, not just at Peterhof but throughout Russia, were enclosed in boxes during the wintertime, I presume to help with the snow. After marvelling at the main fountain outside and out back of Peterhof we then proceeded to take the tour. It was, again, beautiful and a magnificent palace. There were more helpful guides to read here than at Catherine’s Palace, but the audio guide was again in Russian only.
By the time we finished the tour through Peterhof we were back outside and it was now entirely dark. We walked around the front of the palace and were able to get some great pictures of Peterhof and its Christmas decorations. Similar to Helsinki, St. Petersburg has done great on the Christmas decorations! Our last stop after Peterhof was Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was across the street. Peter and Paul Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church, and it was so interesting because a service was going on while we were there. After a bit of taking in the church (it was small but spectacular, especially with the service going on) we then took an Uber back into the heart of St. Petersburg.
Before heading in for the night we decided to have a really nice dinner and treat ourselves – thanks, Russian exchange rate! We had what would be at least a $100 meal at home for around $40 at an incredible restaurant called Gras. Everything that we ordered was amazing, and if you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg I highly recommend this place. To start we had Sourdough bread with seasonal butter along with Sainte-Maure, Camembert, and Solide de Village cheeses, followed by Top Blade steak with glazed beets and red onion puree and Trout fillet with spelt porridge and cranberry sauce for our main courses, with cheesecake for dessert and a shared white glogg to drink. It was so yummy and such a great way to end our first day in Russia! We were able to then walk back to M-Hotel from there where we were so exhausted it was not hard at all to fall asleep. I’m looking forward to a great day two in St. Petersburg tomorrow!