We spent a while this morning debating where we were going to go today, before finally deciding on Tsarskoe Selo. It felt like a potentially difficult place to get to, requiring several changes of public transport, but the town is home to the Catherine Palace, which was formerly a summer residence of the Russian tsars. We didn't want to go into the palace, but we knew it was surrounded by some beautiful grounds and we were keen to see those. After a bit of post-breakfast research, we decided to go for it and brave the public transport.
The first step was to catch a metro to Pushkinskaya, which is next to St Petersburg's Vitebsky railway station. I didn't expect the station itself to be anything special, but it turned out to be absolutely beautiful inside
This was the first railway station to be opened in Russia in 1837, and it still feels very grand.
Buying tickets in the station could potentially be a confusing experience, because there are two places to buy them; one ticket hall sells tickets for long-distance trains, while the other sells tickets for the suburban trains. The research we'd done on the Internet paid off at this point, because I knew we needed to ignore the long distance counter and follow the signs for suburban trains. We were able to buy the tickets we needed from a machine, and a return fare to Tsarskoe Selo turned out to cost the bargain price of £1.14 each!
The train we wanted to catch was already waiting on the platform, so we were able to get straight on board. It was good that we were there well ahead of the departure time, because it turned out to be an extremely popular route. The train itself was pretty basic, with hard wooden seats like yesterday's. And the journey itself was a rather surreal experience! We were only on the train for around 30 minutes, but in that time we had two separate people busking in the carriage and a man with a microphone who was trying to sell all manner of strange things from tape measures to rucksacks. No one else on the train seemed even remotely surprised by any of this, so I guess it was all perfectly normal!
We got off the train around 11.30 and then it was time to negotiate our final bit of public transport: the bus. This was the part I was most worried about, because it felt like catching a bus when you don't know where you're going is something which has the potential to go a bit wrong. In the end it was fine though. The bus arrived almost immediately, the fare only cost 48p each and Helen had a list of the bus stops we were supposed to pass through, so we just about managed to get off in the right place, a few hundred metres away from the main entrance to the Catherine Palace.
We knew we were on the right track when we caught sight of some golden domes on the horizon.
We found the correct ticket booth and I managed to buy us tickets for the park. The lady was very nice and gave us all a free map; much better than Peterhof yesterday, where we only got a map because Mom bought a guidebook! Entrance to the park was another bargain at 150 rubles (£1.81).
Although we hadn't come to go inside the palace, we had to admit that it looked beautiful from the outside.
Slightly frustratingly, after having had quite a torturous journey to get here, we found that the area outside the palace was absolutely swarming with large groups on guided tours. But, once we turned our back on the palace and struck out into the gardens, things instantly became a lot quieter.
We walked down tree-lined alleys, then crossed a little canal.
This took us towards the hermitage pavilion.
It was such a beautiful shade of blue
We were able to walk all the way around it and peer in through the windows, getting glimpses of the equipment which was used to host dinner parties in days gone by.
From here, we also had a view back towards the main palace.
It was a baking hot day by this stage, so we were glad to soon get back onto some shadier paths.
We were heading towards the park's main lake.
We came to a brick tower which said it housed a restaurant and decided to investigate. Unfortunately, the menu wasn't great and seemed to involve a lot of trout.
Mom, Dad and Helen bought some piroshki to eat from a stall instead. Unfortunately, they didn't have any meat ones left (only either cabbage, or chicken and mushroom). Tim and I didn't fancy either of those, so we set off to see whether we could find another restaurant instead. We had seen one signposted, so felt hopeful.
Unfortunately, the hope turned out to be misplaced! The first restaurant we found was closed, the second one was only accessible if you left the park first, which we didn't want to do, and then when we walked halfway across the park to a third one, we found that was closed as well It looked like we needed to give up on the idea of lunch!
We rejoined my family and began to explore a different bit of the park. There was an amazing display of tulips; it felt so unusual to be seeing them in June!
This side of the park was really peaceful.
In the distance we caught sight of a rather unusual building. This was labelled on the map as the Creaking Summerhouse.
That wasn't the only strange monument round by the lake! We assume this one was a sort of grotto.
This one was definitely a pyramid.
And this one was a gothic gate.
The most striking building was this one, which looked very much like a mosque.
It turns out it was a Turkish bath, which had indeed been designed to look like a mosque. The reflection of the building in the water was beautiful
We crossed the water via this lovely marble bridge.
By this stage we'd walked around the majority of the park.
We contemplated trying to take a ferry to the island in the middle of the lake, but no one seemed to be operating it from the side of the lake we were on.
We carried on instead and soon we were back to where we had started, outside the main palace.
From there, we had to repeat our journey in reverse order. First of all the bus to the station, then the train back to St Petersburg, and finally the metro. I had to buy us a new ticket for the train, because all the upcoming departures seemed to be for the "comfort" class of train which our tickets weren't valid on. When the train arrived, it did indeed seem to be more comfortable, with big upholstered seats and plenty of legroom
We made it back to St Petersburg for around 5pm and so were early enough to miss the worst of rush hour on the metro. In the evening, we went out for a meal at the restaurant we'd eaten in on Sunday night which was really nice and really good value yet again. The only strange thing about Russian restaurants is that it doesn't seem to be normal to bring everyone's food out at the same time, with the result that when you're in a group, some people have almost finished eating their dinner before other people's has even arrived. Other than that it was good, and we have more excitement to look forward to this evening with a drawbridge boat tour... if we can manage to stay awake until midnight!!!