Friday, September 25, 2009
st petersburg - day 1 - peterhof
Before this trip, whenever someone mentioned St. Petersburg to me I would always recall a photo I'd seen somewhere years ago of a palace with some golden statues on a staircase beneath it. I didn't know this was Peterhof until I saw it again in the guidebook, and had no idea it was so famous because of its fountains. It was modeled after Versailles after Peter the Great visited it during his Grand European Tour.
The afternoon had turned quite sunny and hot when we arrived, and since it was a Saturday it was quite crowded as well. There were quite a few people enjoying the sun at the (sort of) beach by the entrance, and by the time we reached the main fountains and staircase it was incredibly busy and packed.
There was quite a line to enter the palace as well, but we hadn't planned on going in and wanted to explore the gardens instead.
As I said, the main attractions are the fountains, which operate daily from 11 to 5 pm (although on weekends it's probably longer because when we left later at almost 7 pm they were still on), from May to October. And the most impressive part is that the fountain system doesn't work with pumps. Instead, it was so cleverly designed that the fountains are supplied by a gravity-fed water system.
The grounds are quite extensive (map here, and there are a lot of smaller buildings to see. We explored the upper gardens first, it offers nice views of the back of the Palace and a mighty Neptune fountain at the center.
We re-entered by the right side and walked all the way down to Marli Palace, where there's a nice lake. It composed such a pretty picture with the contrasting clouds in the sky it reminded us of a Magritte painting.
We rested briefly on a park bench, watching the squirrels that were flying from one tree to another and being chased by the children, when one of them ran up to my lap (I have to say I was eating some oat biscuits, but it didn't seem to attract him). We then circled across the shoreline and went to explore the woods on the left side of the grounds.
We stopped at Monplaisir and watched the children (and some grown-ups) playing with the waters there, and slowly made our way back to the boats.
Arriving back in the city we made a quick detour to take some outside photos of the Church of the Spilled Blood, and headed towards Gorokhovaya Street, planning to have dinner at Zoom Café, one of Natalya's favorites and one of her recommendations for dinner.
It was quite packed when we got there (popular with students) and there were a couple of people waiting already but we were so tired by that time we decided to stay and wait for a table. We actually didn't have to wait very long and were assigned a really cosy table on one of the inside rooms. This restaurant is sort of a mixed Russian/International cuisine with a really diverse menu and incredibly cheap. I read later that it's considered a sort of literary cafe, which offers acoustic concerts on Fridays and literary readings on Saturday afternoons.
We ordered borscht and a wild forest mushroom soup for starters (we actually ate these two soups several times during our trip, they're quite popular and luckily we love them), and I had to try a beef stroganov, which was very, very good. Service was impeccable and I forgot to say that the menus were in several languages so no difficulties ordering here.
More photos of Peterhof here