We made an early start and were eating breakfast at 07.30 this morning, because we had a big day ahead of us. We were planning to visit the gardens at Peterhof, around 25 miles outside St Petersburg. There are various ways that you can get there, but we'd chosen what seemed the most fun: hydrofoil. We'd already booked our tickets online, reserving seats on the first hydrofoil of the day at 10am. The hope was that that would get us to our destination early enough to see the famous fountains being turned on at 11am.
We left the hotel around 08.45 and walked to our local metro station, from where we were planning to travel to a station on the river close to where the hydrofoils depart. We'd got up so early that it felt like nothing could possibly go wrong... and then it did! The doors to the metro station were shut. How confusing! At first we thought that there must be another entrance somewhere and started walking around the building, hoping to find a second door. But there wasn't one, and when we eventually returned to where we had started, we realised that there was a sign outside the door saying it was going to be closed in the mornings for repairs. Oh dear!
By the time we had figured all this out, we had about 50 minutes until our hydrofoil. We seemed to have three options: to jump in a taxi, to try and find the next nearest metro station and continue by metro, or to walk down to the river. We checked an offline map, which suggested that the walk was 48 minutes. Tim and I were confident that we could shave a few minutes off the predicted walking time, so decided that we would risk the walk. My family decided to try the next nearest metro station, and so we set off in opposite directions, hoping to see each other again at the boat.
I was a little bit stressed about whether choosing to walk was the best decision and whether we were going to make it on time, but Tim was relaxed enough to take photos.
In fairness, today was a good day for it because there was a beautiful blue sky behind all the buildings where there had been clouds yesterday.
We crossed over the Fontanka river...
...jogged down an avenue of trees...
...got a glimpse of the amazing church from yesterday...
...and unexpectedly ended up outside the Winter Palace again.
From there, it wasn't too far until the Admirality building, which was near where we needed to catch the hydrofoil.
We arrived at the boat with 10 minutes to spare, but until we boarded we couldn't see whether the others had made it as well. I held by breath as we got onto the boat.... and found that they weren't there Never mind, there were still about eight minutes; maybe they would still turn up! We waited and waited but there was no sign. At the point the boat was due to depart I tried texting and calling, but there was no response. And then just as the hydrofoil started pulling out into the river, I got a text from my sister saying that they weren't going to make it
So, Tim and I were accidentally off to Peterhof on our own! The hydrofoil sailed past the Winter Palace, and then past the Peter and Paul Fortress.
After that, the scenery became more modern.
We got a good view of the Lakhta Center, which - with 87 storeys - is apparently not only the tallest building in Russia, but also the tallest building in Europe
After about 40 minutes, the hydrofoil arrived at Peterhof.
Luckily the others had managed to get tickets for the next hydrofoil, which departed St Petersburg at 10.30, so we wouldn't have too long to wait for them.
While they were still en route, we needed to get up to the top of the canal as soon as possible if we wanted to witness the fountains being turned on at 11am.
We could soon see the Peterhof palace in the distance. The enormous set of fountains in front of it is known as the Grand Cascade.
We weren't the only people who wanted to see the Grand Cascade being turned on, and the closer we got to it the busier it became.
We eventually managed to find a space where we could watch by on the staircase along one side of the cascade.
Then it was just a case of waiting until the water was turned on
It seemed like we were waiting forever but it was only a couple of minutes and then the water started along with the music
Wow! That was really impressive
As soon as the show was over, people started to disperse a bit and we made our way back down along the canal towards the waterfront to wait for the next hydrofoil to come in.
Within a few minutes we were all reunited, and we were able to have a more relaxed stroll back up along the canal together.
It was still busy as we got closer to the palace, but not as bad as it had been.
The palace at Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century and designed to rival the palace of Versailles.
The palace itself was closed today but that was fine by us, because we mainly wanted to explore the grounds.
We started by climbing up the staircase beside the Grand Cascade.
From here we had some amazing views.
We were now able to look down on the Grand Cascade from above
I got very excited when I realised we could see a rainbow in the water.
It was also exciting to be able to see all the way back down the canal to the sea!
Once we'd finished admiring the views, we carried on across the top of the cascade and onto what looked like it might be a quieter path.
We walked around the edge of a pond...
...passed what was described on the map as a "memorable bench", although we suspect in reality it was supposed to be a "memorial bench"....
...and then emerged beside a colonnade.
This was full of fountains too
When we left there, we passed a surprising patch of tulips...
...then found another, smaller, cascade.
We found ourselves beside a huge lake.
There was a series of little white bridges to walk across to get to this white palace.
We climbed up an embankment on the far side of the lake.
From there, we could see back out across the Gulf of Finland.
And, of course, we had a great view of the gardens, including the cascade on the opposite side of the lake.
We stopped at a self-service restaurant, where we were able to try a variety of Russian food - including piroshki and kvass - for lunch. After we'd eaten, we crossed the canal to explore the opposite side of the Lower Park.
There were lots of fountains here too
We also found a statue of Peter the Great himself.
Mom told us that he had installed "trick fountains" in the gardens, to catch and spray people unawares. Sure enough, we soon found one - and plenty of children waiting to try it out
We passed the Sun Fountain...
...and found a pair of beautiful, marble fountains.
They were below the final cascade, known as the Chessboard Cascade.
We hung around here for a while, waiting to see another trick fountain which signs warned would be activated at 15.00.
Some people had come well prepared to run through it
After we'd seen the trick fountain alley, we began to climb back up towards the Upper Gardens.
Unlike the Lower Park, which you have to buy a ticket for, the Upper Gardens are completely free. But if you exit the Lower Park to enter the Upper Gardens, you can't get back into the Lower Park without buying another ticket, which is why we'd left it until last.
The Upper Gardens turned out to be flatter and more... gardeny
There were some wonderful fountains here too, though.
This one was particularly imposing
Meanwhile this one was a little bit creepy! At least, if you don't like fish.
Once we got to the far end of the Upper Gardens, we emerged out onto the main road in the town of Petergof. We knew there was a station here, called Novy Petergof, and we began to navigate our way towards that. It turned out to be a longer walk than expected!
A system of suburban trains passes through the station, running into the Baltiysky station in the centre of St Petersburg. There were machines to purchase tickets at the station, but it was a bit confusing because we were trying to buy tickets on platform one, but the only timetable shown here was in the opposite direction to St Petersburg. I bought us tickets for the elektrichka train, which seemed an absolute bargain at 60 rubles each (72p!). However, when we eventually found the correct platform on the opposite side of the tracks, I realised that these tickets weren't valid on the next train arriving at 16.54 because it was a "lastochka" train. Not entirely sure what the difference is; it seems like the lastochka trains make fewer stops so are probably more expensive.
The first train our tickets were valid on was 17.12, so we had to hang around until then. I experimented with an americano from the station coffee machine, which was once again a bargain at 35 rubles (42p!), but was very sugary. It helped pass the time until the train arrived anyway!
The platform got quite busy, but when the train eventually did come we managed to manoeuvre our way on and get seats. It felt like it was quite an old train and the seats were very hard and wooden. It made its way very slowly towards St Petersburg, eventually arriving at the Baltiysky station around 6pm. After that, all that remain was a metro journey back to our hotel. It was rush hour though so the metro was a bit of a crush.
We had done a lot of walking today so decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. There was a slightly confusing incident when we ordered a bottle of chardonnay and brought it to us, then reappeared a few minutes later to say that he couldn't sell it to us because it wasn't in the system. Several of us ordered chicken kievs, which felt like they should have been a safe bet food-wise, so it was slightly disappointing when it arrived to find there was more dill in it than garlic It was a slightly frustrating end to what has otherwise been a really lovely day!