An Evening Walk in St. Petersburg

by Kenneth Rayman on June 16, 2017
After getting back from Peterhof Palace, I decided to take a stroll to see a palace that I realized I didn’t book but wanted desperately to see. My “error” of “booking the wrong palace” was proved later to be wrong, though, because Catherine’s Palace WAS on my “Definitely Must See” list. I had told the guide that I wanted to see Catherine’s Palace but I was unaware that I was not referring to the Hermitage, but the palace at Tsarskoe Selo. In all my years of research, I thought Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage were one in the same. The documentaries I watched seemed to interchange the two names and never mentioned Peter building the Winter Palace (the Hermitage). They seemed to mention Catherine the Great and the Winter Palace in the same breath calling it the Winter Palace or her “Hermitage”; Catherine’s Palace was referred to only as “Tsarskoe Selo.”

Knowing I made the error, I took a walk because I could see the Hermitage from my hotel, across the river. It was a 20-minute walk to get to the bridge and cross it. I walked behind the Hermitage to see Palace Square and go inside the entrance my guide had previously pointed out. I walked the square marveling at the architecture. When I stepped inside, I got a map of the Palace from the booth but decided to relax and aimlessly stroll. Catherine, I knew, had collected so much art for it that you could spend a literal lifetime in the palace if I wasn’t careful, but I knew someone would find me 😉. I wandered room to room and just took in the art and scenery, then found myself on the main staircase with a statue of what look like Athena standing guard at the top. I marveled at the gilded statues, golden accents along the walls, and the detail of the ceiling painting. At one point, I crossed the skywalk between buildings, feeling that I was walking the actual path that Peter had and felt as if I were looking out his eyes over the Neva. I walked through the dance hall remembering royal balls that Elizabeth threw and how Peter III was portrayed in a documentary having played pranks on the guests from the balcony above.

I originally thought I couldn’t take photos since photography was forbidden inside Peterhof. When I realized that I could, just not with flash, I started snapping away in the ballrooms and the throne room. I looked for things that my guide had mentioned in side conversation but quickly realized I was not keeping track of the rooms. I was truly wandering aimlessly, not even using the map. I found the peacock room my guide had told me about but couldn’t find the clock she mentioned to make sure I see. I decided it was time to go back as my ankle was killing me from all the days walking.

I crossed the bridge and paused at all the landmarks, such as obelisks dedicated to seaman traversing the Neva and Gulf of Finland, during the time of Peter the Great, as well as the Russian Stock Exchange. I stopped at a bust of Alexander Pushkin outside the Russian Academy of Literature; someone had placed flowers at the base and I paused to honor his memory. Knowing the impact his death at the age of 27, in a duel, had on the country I wanted to take a moment to remember my first Pushkin story, “The Stationmaster.”

All the sudden, I realized the next day was my last in St. Petersburg and I had yet to get a souvenir. I walked across the next bridge and stopped at the shop marked on my map. I bought a coffee cup with all the Romanov rulers on it with the family crest and a Matryoshka doll of Nicholas II, Catherine, and Peter and walked back across to the hotel. When I sat down at the hotel restaurant, I checked my pedometer; Peterhof, two bridges, the Hermitage, Palace Square and part of Vasilievsky Island had amounted to 21,546 steps. No wonder why my ankle hurt!