Saint Petersburg – Off-Season

Saint Petersburg – Off-Season

By Nicolai Meinert
Photos by Ljubov & Nikolai Meinert/UspehMedia

The best time to visit one of the most impressive Russian cities – Saint Petersburg – is, of course, summer. Sure, it’s warmer, even though Baltic summer doesn’t always guarantee the best of weather. But, more favorable ther comes at a cost: overcrowding.

Huge flows of tourists, combined with traditional Russian pastime – long-long lines – make the summer months a challenging time for tourists, so don’t be surprised! One solution is to leave outdoor activities in St. Petersburg, like visits to the many wonder parks such as Peterhof with its magnificent fountains & the exquisite sculptures of the Summer Gardens and walks around the city to the summer and visits to the many palaces and rich museums to other times of the year. Lines wil still be there, but, believe me, that will be much shorter.

The recent press trip of Journalists from the World Travel Media Guile (WTMG) confirmed that there is a lot to do in St. Petersburg on during the autumn, winter or spring.

Contemporary Soviet and post-Soviet art in private gallery Erarta on one end and the glorious Hermitage on the other complete the wide range of diverse museum entertainment in this eternal city. The State Hermitage (Winter Palace), Catherine Palace in Pushkin City, the Grand Palace in Peterhof are all absolutely musts for any visitor and our group was no exception.

Russians love their museums so much that even in cold winter you can see the crowd near entrance of these palaces. In spite of the huge amount of visitors all around the year, Hermitage manages to handle it with a distinct order and correctness. That can’t be said in the case of Peterhof’s Grand Palace where one is confronted with the sometimes impoliteness of the staff and strange restrictions like the ban on taking photos even without flash.

As a travel journalists, I have rarely witnessed anything similar. Once in Bucharest at the Cotroceni National Museum in the year 2013, a local worker secretly whispered to me that a monopoly for photos belong to members of Director’s family and that is the reason why photography was not allowed. I don’t know if that is true or not. There is also n reason to imagine parallels with St. Petersburg, but, one way or another, that kind of restriction sufficiently limits the ability of journalist to write and illustrate any story about the palace.

By the way, Peterhof, Pushkin and several other cities located near St. Petersburg are so integrated in sightseeing routes in the area that they can be regarded as touristic suburbs of the huge urban metropolis. For sure, they deserve to be visited.

While the palaces offer luxury, golden trappings and rare art works, another important target for off-season sightseeing are St. Petersburg’s cathedrals and churches. Most glorious: St. Isaac’s Cathedral and The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

I suggest that you try to see St. Isaac’s Cathedral as a museum as soon as possible. Beginning this year (2017), it has become a battlefield of a severe fight between Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and secular part of local civil society.

The municipality of Saint Petersburg decided to convert this cathedral from a museum into an active church and granted rent-free ownership to Patriarchate for the next 49 years. The transaction should be completed in about March, 2019. Although Church authorities insist that easy access to historical architectural masterpiece will remain, not everybody in St. Petersburg – especially museum workers – are happy about it.

Because of that, the future of St. Isaac’s Cathedral looks uncertain. Therefore, it’s a good time to see it now. This Cathedral is really something! Current political clashes around it makes this historical treasure even more exciting.

There are many wonderful museums in St. Petersburg, and all are important. But, I suggest three of them: the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and the Faberge Museum.

The Hermitage is huge! It combines former czars’ residence Winter Palace with the art collection in attached buildings. Brief visit here means only to put a tick on the list of visited places to your own satisfaction, but does not give you a sense of the depth of this world treasure. My personal experience is that you need, at least, three/four days, step by step, from one timeless collection to another. Off-season this can be done much easier than in the busy summertime. The Louvre or British Museum deserves almost the same, but the Hermitage is even grander in terms of the collections.

The State Russian Museum can be proud of owning one of the largest and most significant collections of the Russian paintings. The Faberge Museum is, yet, another story. This museum is relatively new (opened in November, 2013) and privately owned. It was founded by the Link of Times foundation with the figure of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg behind it.

“The Fabergé Museum is the world’s only museum dedicated to one of history’s greatest jewelers, Carl Peter Fabergé. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fabergé served as official warrant supplier to Russia’s Czars, the Russian Court, noblemen and aristocracy, as well as to the elite of Europe, including the British Crown, French, German, Scandinavian, Greek and Bulgarian Courts and the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand). Faberge created an aesthetic in art that to this very day symbolizes excellence and perfection.” (http://faberge-museum.de/show.php?page=11). A lot of gold, precious stones, sophisticated decorations, masterpieces of craftsmanship make up his fabulous creations.

As an added bonus, you can see all of these riches and works of art without even being required to secure a Russian visa. “In accordance to the legislation of Russian Federation (RF Government Resolution №397), foreign tourists and persons without citizenship or relevant visa and/or proper permission traveling on ferries may arrive in the Russian Federation without a Russian visa for the period of 72 hours being part of organized excursion group. This Visa-Free journey can last up to three days…”

If you want to visit St. Petersburg without a Russian visa, you should to remember a few basic rules:

According to the law a passenger must (1) arrive at the port of St. Petersburg aboard a ferry of the MOBY LINE LIMITED company, (2) depart in the same manner, (3) be part of organized excursion group (City Bus Tour in this case) and (4) comply with the rule of no longer than a 72-hour stay.

The 72 hour period begins for the moment of crossing border control. All passengers traveling on board from Stockholm, Helsinki or Tallinn to St. Petersburg are required to present a passport before boarding the ship. All passengers traveling visa free must reserve a sightseeing program in St. Petersburg in advance. The most affordable way is to purchase city bus shuttle service (https://stpeterline.com/city-bus-tour )offered by MOBY LINE LIMITED mandatory shuttle bus ticket’s price is 25€ for adults and 12,5€ for children (0-12 years). Visa-free traveling applies to all passengers.” (https://stpeterline.com/visa-free-rule).

During my trip in January, 2017 the former Russian operator on the ferry line to St. Petersburg (Baltic St. Peter Line which is registered in Cyprus) us their ferries via the Italian company, Moby Lines. After the purchase only one ferry – the “Princess Anastasia” – left on Baltic. The other was transmitted somewhere else. As a result, the schedule become less convenient and some mandatory rules (“to reserve sightseeing program”) implemented. Not the best outcome in this case, but the main point is that it is possible to visit St. Petersburg visa free during Baltic cruises.