Our day at Peterhof was wonderful. I mean how could a day that involves two ferry rides across the bay of Finland, an opulent Russian palace, an ancient Orthodox church, a wedding, and dozens of beautiful fountains be anything less than great? Here’s our our day unfolded. We decided against taking multiple hot, crowded busses out to Peterhof and opted for the direct hydrofoil ferry. The ferries depart directly from the docks next to the Hermitage so made our way over and were quickly on our way.
After talking with some people we met at our hostel, we decided to skip the lines and forgo the inside of the palace. One of our favorite things to do when we’re visiting a new destination is to wander through the local botanical gardens and Peterhof had so many we were pretty sure we could fill up our day by exploring its extensive grounds. When you get off the ferry you have this amazing view right up to the palace and its opulent fountains.
We wandered around the palace to the other side where the fountains were much more modest.
At this point I was on a mission. From the hydrofoil we’d spotted a pretty impressive steeple and I wanted to go check it out. So keeping our eyes up, we struck out to find it. I was so delighted to see this:
This amazing church was pretty old and not very well maintained. It certainly is not a popular tourist destination but it is so beautiful.
We wandered around and entered and to our complete delight stumbled into a wedding. Knowing that it’s customary and respectful for women to cover their heads when entering Orthodox churches, I had brought a pashmina and quickly covered my head and shoulders and slipped into the sanctuary. It was fascinating. Everyone stood as there are no chairs or pews in most Orthodox churches. Scotty tried to subtly snap a couple pictures and here’s what he got:
At this point the bride and groom had approached the iconostasis with the priest so they’re not very visible. The ceremony was very somber and the air was scented with incense. The choir music was amazing. After a while, we decided to continue looking around the church and climbed up a lot of rickety stairs to the steeple.
When we descended we found that the wedding was over and we almost exited the church right into the middle of the receiving line. Stepping aside to let the happy couple pass, Scotty snapped this shot, which I love.
As you can see the church was so elaborately decorated – every square inch was brightly painted. Worshippers come in and kiss the icons, passing slowly from one to the other. The other pictures from inside aren’t great as the lighting was really dim but we also saw a baptism ceremony after the wedding! On our way out we encountered the bride and groom having their pictures taken with these really sad looking turtle doves. The spent about 15 minutes torturing these poor birds with their clipped wings. They would throw them up in the air for a picture and the poor birds would beat their little wings and just end up crashing on the ground. At which point the handler would pick them up and hand them back to the couple for another take. So strange.
After watching this for long enough to wonder where on earth PETA was, we made our way back to Peterhof. I could post a ton of pictures but I’m going to focus on the fountains as there are many and they come in great variety here.
So those are the fountains we saw. The variety from simple to elaborate is impressive. There are also a whole bunch of buildings, here’s a sampling.
When we returned back to Saint Petersburg we made our way over to St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It was nearly sunset so we climbed the 250 stairs to the top and enjoyed some pretty amazing views of the city.
In the thirty or so minutes we spent looking out over the city we both reached the conclusion that there was no way we were going to even scratch the surface of this city. In every direction there were gleaming domes of churches, ornate palaces, and other buildings. We both decided to admit defeat and just try to take in what we could while enjoying the fact that we were in Russia! It is definitely off the beaten path for westerners. While we were there we only heard English being spoken on the street twice! And most restaurants didn’t have translated menus. Even the ticket agents at the Hermitage didn’t speak a lick of English. After our climb up the cathedral we were famished and found a restaurant that did in fact have a translated menu. But its helpfulness was pretty limited. I mean, what do you make of this:
Neither of us were brave enough to order the “grilled old sea dog” so we really don’t know what it is but I would love to hear your ideas! I nearly fell asleep at dinner so we made our way back to the hostel and tried to get some sleep.