Today was our first proper day exploring St Petersburg. It started off with an exploration of the hotel breakfast buffet, which turned out to be for more extensive than any of us had anticipated. As well as the normal things you would expect, there was salty(!) porridge, pancakes which tasted somewhat like they had been deep fried, and an entire buffet table of cakes. It felt slightly unbelievable that so much breakfast was included in the price of our rooms, which already seem such good value!
After breakfast we had time for a quick consultation of guidebooks and maps before we headed out to see the city. Unfortunately the weather wasn't forecast to be great today, so there was a somewhat cloudy sky behind the beautiful red church which we'd spotted yesterday.
It was Sunday morning and we could hear the church bells ringing really loudly. Then we realised that we could actually see two men inside the bell tower ringing the bells!
We stood watching them for ages It looked like really hard work!
We passed all kinds of amazing churches and buildings as we carried on walking through the town. Sometimes we just couldn't work out what they were.
This beautiful building, which we found while walking through a park, was the Russian Museum.
We were headed towards one of St Petersburg's most iconic churches, the Church of The Saviour on Spilled Blood.
Unfortunately part of it was under renovation, but it was still really stunning.
The church was constructed on the spot where the Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by anarchists in 1881.
The building ceased to be used as a church during the twentieth century, being used alternately as a morgue for those who died in the Siege of Leningrad, as a warehouse for potatoes and vegetables, and today as a museum.
We were going to go inside, but either we were too early and it wasn't opened yet or it was being used for a church service because today was a Sunday. Either way, we couldn't get in and there was just a large queue in front of the closed ticket desks. It didn't matter though, when the exterior was so beautiful
Unfortunately the weather started to take a turn for the worse at this point and things started to become a bit damp.
We took shelter inside a bookshop in the very unusual building to the left of the fountain in the picture below.
By the time we'd finished browsing books, the weather had cleared up a bit, but not completely. We found that we were close to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.
As it was still raining a bit, we decided to go in and have a look. Because it was a Sunday morning there was a service ongoing, which was fascinating to see. There was lots of incense and singing and kissing of icons, and because there were no pews it felt quite anarchic, with people coming and going, walking around as they pleased. At least that meant it was easier for us not to be too conspicuous as tourists! The interior of the church was beautiful as well, but no photos were allowed.
The day began to brighten up as we walked down Nevsky Prospect towards the Winter Palace.
It was amazing to be standing in front of such a historic place
On the opposite side of the square from the palace is the General Staff building, with its huge triumphal arch.
The arch commemorates the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in 1812.
We didn't want to go into the museum which the Winter Palace now houses today, but we were able to go a bit further into the courtyard where the ticket office is.
It was really beautiful in there too
The next item on our list after the palace was the Admiralty building.
We walked through a small park until we found it, topped by this amazing gold spire.
If we'd approached it from this direction with the fountain in front, the first view would have been even more impressive
There was just one more thing we wanted to see before we went to get some lunch; the Bronze Horseman.
This is the famous statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great.
By this point we were down by the river.
As we were feeling hungry, we decided to walk back towards Nevsky Prospect. On the way, we got some great views of another huge church; St Isaac's Cathedral.
We found a restaurant and sat down to have lunch, with varying degrees of success. I had some pasta, which was very nice, but other people ended up with soup which seemed to just be a bowl of water with vegetables in it. It was better than nothing, and soon we were off again, en route to a boat trip which we had booked for 3pm.
We had some difficulty locating the exact part of the Fontanka river that the boat was supposed to be depart from. We asked a lady, who sent us off across a bridge to a boat on the opposite side of the river, only to be told there that we needed to go back across the bridge to where we'd started. We got there in the end, with a few minutes to spare before our boat set off
The boat started off by cruising down the Fontanka, and we had some wonderful views of the buildings lining it
Then the boat moved out onto the main Neva, and for a minute it was slightly scary as the river was so choppy.
The boat couldn't do its full route today because the water level was too high for it to fit under all the bridges.
We sailed past all kinds of interesting sights, helpfully explained to us by an English audioguide.
One of the most spectacular things was definitely sailing past the Winter Palace
It would have been nice to be here on a sunnier day, but the views were wonderful regardless.
Too soon, we were back to where we had started!
When we got off the boat, we had a tantalising view of a church with an amazing blue roof in the distance.
We didn't get to the blue church, but on our way towards a metro station we did stumble across another church with beautiful golden onion domes.
When we got to the metro, the station itself was quite impressive.
And, of course, the escalators were very, very long!
We'd taken the metro to Lenin Square, which is next to Finlandsky station. This is the station at which Lenin arrived back in Russia after his exile abroad, in order to take control of the Russian revolution.
In front of the station there's a square with a huge statue of Lenin.
While we were standing there, admiring the statue and the fountains, we were approached by a man who asked whether we wanted to join a Communist walking tour. We decided to give it a miss
As we went back into the metro station to catch the train home, we found a mosaic of Lenin too.
After a brief rest at the hotel, we went back out again in the evening to find something to eat. That proved to be a bit difficult, as there aren't loads of restaurants in the area around our hotel. Dad had googled and found a restaurant nearby on the internet, but we struggled to track in down and then when we eventually did, it looked like it was somewhere designed for people a bit younger and cooler than us. We were so hungry we decided to brave it anyway though and it was a good decision, because the food turned out to be really nice. Again, it seemed unbelievably cheap; we all had a main course and drinks, including a bottle of wine, for what worked out as just over £6 each
It's been a very exciting. though somewhat tiring, first day in St Petersburg