St Petersburg in early December By Philip Suter
St Petersburg , Russia in early December is very cold, however with plenty of snow, warm clothing it is well worth a short stay break. You are made to feel very welcome and soon get used to the low temperatures and short days of day light.
Back in August 2010 when the English summer had suddenly switched off one Saturday afternoon we went on line and booked two short breaks. The first in late October in Prague in the Czech Republic and the second one in Saint Petersburg at the beginning of December. We used lastminute.com as they could arrange hotel accommodation, flights and airport parking at the same time.
There was only one problems and that was getting a Visa which is now obligatory for Euro nationals visiting Russia. It is somewhat complicated, however using the visa agency RNT was carried out fairly quickly, although for two individuals it finally cost over £175 including postage and courier costs. These Russian visas are only valid for a very short period of time and anyone thinking of visiting Russia must take into account this additional charge.
Equipped with two pocket size guide books - Eyewitness Travel and Berlitz we headed off to London Heathrow Airport. Snow had started falling that week in Britain and we had no problems in our area on a Wednesday morning. We parked the car, got on the shuttle and looked up at the flight departure board at British Airway's Terminal 5 and saw the flight was cancelled.
We then had to get in a re-booking queue and the person in front had been trying to fly out to Moscow the day before and his flight had been cancelled. He had contacted colleagues in Moscow who found it strange as Moscow Airport was open as usual.
BA had been caught out with plans stuck all over Europe in snow covered destinations. Apparently they actually park some planes overseas as it is cheaper to do so that back in south of England. There was no snow at Heathrow, unlike London Gatwick that was closed because of it.
We were issued with tickets for 24 hours later and returned to the car parking at Quality Airport Parking. The car had only been there around three days instead of four days, but if we wanted to bring it back in the next day we would have to pay all over again. We will never use them again!
On returning home we contacted the Petro Palace Hotel www.petropalacehotel.com/ to say that we needed to postpone their hotel collection service collecting us for 24 hours. We also told the hotel we would not be there that night. They immediately said we would get a refund. A few minutes later they phoned back to say as it had been paid via lastminute.com they would refund them and confirmation emails were sent and on our next credit card bill was a credit for one night's accommodation. They are a very professional run hotel.
The next day we set off at the crack of dawn again, this time our son drove us to the airport and the plane was ready to fly. We left on time at 09.40 and arrived at 16.00 local time. There is some three hours time difference in British winter time and local time in St Petersburg at the present time and the Russian Government is planning on changing their winter time system
Upon arrival we were swiftly driven through snow covered (but well cleared) roads to the Petro Palace Hotel that is located very close to the famous Hermitage museum and St. Isaac's Cathedral.
Putting on warm clothing and walking boots we ventured out into the evening to get our bearings. If you want to use a video camera, ordinary camera or mobile phone, you can only keep your gloves off for a couple of minutes. One of our guide books says that Saint Petersburg is only six degrees south of the Arctic Circle and the most northern city in the world with a population of over one million people. It is also like Venice with so many canals, however they all start to freeze up in November and are not free of ice till well into the Spring.
As we had lost 24 hours we started out early on the Friday morning. Mind you it does not get light till nearly 9.30 and went off walking along Neskiy Prospekt. We stopped at the Church on Spilled Blood, the Armenian Church and warmed more at Literary Café.
In the afternoon we walked through the snow to The Hermitage which is the former residence of the tsars and is a superb art gallery. You have to take off your coats and book them in which is very sensible as in most buildings (like churches and cathedrals) they are very well heated. You can film in most of the Hermitage. It was dark by the time we left and had a healthy walk by the frozen river and found a traditional St Petersburg restaurant
On the Saturday morning following a swim in the Petro Palace's heated swimming pool and breakfast we ventured out again. It had been snowing a lot, however as soon as it starts to snow the snow clearance people move in and the city operates as normal. We went to nearest landmark. St Isaac's Cathedral. It is officially still a museum and the largest cathedral in Russia, however there was a service going on in a small chapel. For many years it had been used for storage and this happened with many churches being used as warehouses.
We moved along the riverside to the Peter and Paul Fortress and experienced the only time when we felt we had paid over the odds for something. Two small glasses of local wine costing 600 Rubles or UK equivalent of £12.70. Quite a contrast two a two course dinner with a bottle of wine on the first night at the Petro Palace costing 2,280 - £48.00! A very interesting place with a mint, Boat house,, The Cathedral of the Saint Apostles Peter and Paul and the Prison of the Trubetskoy Bastion. In the summer there is a beach outside and people sun bathe there. However in early December on the walk back we saw someone on the frozen water with a hole broken in it, sitting there fishing.
We had heard a lot about the very ornate decoration in the underground stations which are very similar to the ones in Moscow. So with the aid of advice from the hotel reception set off to find a station on the "red line route". We went along half a dozen station of this very efficient metro system and got off at each station. They are certainly well worth a visit.
This was followed by a brisk walk back to the hotel, to collect our belongings and take the hotel transport back to Pulkovo Airport. After clearing immigration and security we were able to wander around the duty free shop that is run by Lenrianta ZAO which is a Russian Irish joint venture which is part of Aer Rianta International.
From the airport window out in the snow the British Airways flight was in and fortunately there were no delays this time.
Even though it is very cold in winter, it is well worth the experience of seeing this city at this time of year. Although the holiday was a day short, we still managed to get a lot in during two and half days.
Enjoy your visit to St Peterburg, Russia
All photos ©jml Property Services February 2011
© jml Property Services February 2011
This article was at the euro-rentals.com site until March 2018
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives