The Hermitage museum
Cities and countries which go through more than one name change as part of their development could so very easily spark off suspicions as to why this is the case, as reasons such as breaking free from a politically troubled past are potentially responsible for this name change which can endow any place with a new image of sorts. In the case of Saint Petersburg (formerly known as Petrograd / Leningrad), what really counts is the present-day allure of the city, and the extent to which the city delivers in terms of overall impression. You might well hear of Saint Petersburg being referred to as the 'Venice of the North', and it terms of the city's numerous canals and waterways, this rings true, but might also be where the comparisons end.
Intricately-carved exteriors abound here
Often referred to as Russia's most aesthetically-pleasing city, Saint Petersburg wows the visitor on a number of levels, and first and foremost, it is in terms of the city's architectural styles that the place comes into its own. Landmark buildings such as the Hermitage, Mariinsky theatre, Smolny Cathedral, the Admiralty and the truly floors-you-at-first sight Church of the Spilt Blood attest to this atmosphere of architectural splendour, but the urban fabric is sewn together with so very many examples of eye candy that you really just need to experience the whole package to be aware of the overall effect. Seeing a cultural show in Russia is a must for a tourist going there for any length of stay, so a night out at the 'Feel Yourself Russian' dance / music / song / folk / cossack performance really does hit the spot, end you cannot help but be enamoured of the visuals and panache with which the show is delivered.
Supreme building style in central Saint Petersburg
The main shopping drag in the city is the lengthy street that is Nevskiy Prospekt, and walking the full length of this street reveals the beating commercial heart of the place, alongside a few more examples that attention to detail really is the order of the day here. A surefire winner of a day (or half-day) trip from Saint Peterburg is a trip to the magnificent Palace and adjoining gardens that is Peterhof, reachable either by Hydrofoil, bus or train. The complex's gardens contain no fewer than 147 fountains, all of which become active after a certain time of year when the climate appears sufficiently favourable. Golden statuettes, well-manicured lawns and flower beds, and fountains galore make the grounds a real treat to visit, not to mention the majesty of the palace proper.
The Smolny Cathedral in all its splendour
Coming back to the city, and rounding off the proceedings with a visit to the Peter and Paul fortress, taking in landmarks such as the city's very own Islamic-looking mosque, and the odd prominent church or 3, it felt like the Saint Petersburg experience had been a saintly one indeed. Whatever the Russian capital had in store for the next few days thereafter clearly had stiff competition when it came to the impress factor, but by this point in time, it felt as though the Russian chapter in the book of life had already redeemed its asking price.