St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in the early 1700's and served as the capital of the Russian Empire for 200 years. It includes 42 islands, the expansive Neva River and nearly 300 bridges, with an additional 200 in the greater St. Petersburg area.
The city itself is a study in contrasts. They have beautiful Byzantine churches, lavish Baroque palaces and drearey soviet style apartments.
And it celebrates all aspects of its hertiage. Shortly after passing a statue to Alexander II, you pass a statue of Lenin. What also surprised us were all the bright, beautiful flowers lining the steets. St. Petersburg has its first female mayor (called a "governor" here) and one of the first things she did - like any good woman - was decorate the streets with fresh flowers.
We were told that during the Soviet period the people were forbidden to attend church and all the cathedrals were mostly used as warehouses, with the exception of one that became an ice rink. Since that time, our guid informed us, the people have experienced somewhat of a spiritual revival. We were disappointed, however, not to see any missionaries while we were in town.
We also learned that most people work in the city but have a home in the country where they escape on weekends. During the week, however, two to three families will live in the same city apartment and share a kitchen and one bathroom.
On our first day we saw both th Summer Palace int he country (built as a gift from Peter the Great to his wife Catherine I)...
and the Winter Palace in town on the banks of the Neva River - which today houses the Hermitage, an impressive museum of original art work which includes Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Matisse, Renoir, etc.
At night we were treated to a local folkloric dance program, and the following day we visited Peterhof (Peter the Great's original palace about 30 miles outside of St. Petersburg and our favorite of the palaces)...
returned by hydrofoil and concluded our day with a visit to the Church of Spilled Blood and shopping in the black market. The Church of Spilled Blood was built by Alexander III on the spot where his father, Alexander II, was assassinated and the interior is covered wall to wall with breathtaking religious mosaics.