While most people in the UK were booking their summer holidays to the likes of Tenerife, Costa del Sol and Rhodes, my fiancé and I were embarking on a two week tour around Russia and Scandinavia. ‘Outside of the box’ destinations – in particular Eastern and Northern European cities – are our travelling speciality.
Having previously immensely enjoyed cities such as Budapest, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn, we thought it was about time we broadened our horizons even further, and our dreams of Russia grew more persistent. It wasn’t long after we had booked our trip to Russia that my fiancé casually dropped into conversation the fact that the 2018 Wold Cup was to kick off there on the day we were due to arrive. Football – in particular Manchester City — is the third person in our relationship, so you can imagine my disdain upon learning that I now had to take this third person on holiday with us! Little did I know that the growing hype surrounding one of the biggest sporting tournaments in the world would only enhance our experience...
The atmosphere in Saint Petersburg was electric on the day we arrived. The streets were awash with football fans from every corner of the world, all proudly wearing their colours. Tourists and Russian locals alike gathered around the city, laughing, joking and bantering with one another with a combination of good nature and good spirits. Having travelled solo across Europe at the age of 21, there were unfortunately a few cities on my list that made me feel unsafe while there alone. I have to say that I would not hesitate to return to Russia, and would feel totally safe as a lone female traveller in Saint Petersburg. The locals were some of the most accommodating and warmest people we have ever encountered while travelling. They seemed to relish the well-deserved attention their precious city was receiving in the height of the World Cup fever, and welcomed everyone with open arms.
Saint Petersburg is one of the friendliest, most unique cities I have ever visited. Laid-back and effortlessly charming, Saint Petersburg sets its own rules. It beholds such a tentative bolt of electric allure. Like a game of pass the parcel, we delved deeper into Saint Petersburg’s many layers, and fell more in love with every discovery. Saint Petersburg: a city overflowing with rich history, doused in scenery that could well inspire the depths of a magical storybook. The sumptuous palaces and churches we were blessed enough to explore explode in a bold kaleidoscope of colour and patterns afore my eyes every time I reminisce. I could sit here for hours and try in vain to describe every out-of-this-world detail of the palaces Saint Petersburg graciously offers, and yet, I still don’t believe I could even come close to doing them justice.
An undeniable intake of breath, the interiors are quite simply stunning throughout every single palace in Russia. Made up of endless corridors of gold, furnished similar to the inside of Grandma’s jewellery box of treasures from the depths of my nostalgia, Russia’s palaces’ made for a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ style setting, and enveloped me into such an air of magic, I felt disinclined to blink.
Our first Saint Petersburg love affair was shamelessly with Catherine Palace, located in nearby Pushkin. My first glimpse of the palace was through a gap in the wrought iron gates outside. I will never forget the sight of the pale blue and white striped building winking back at me from behind the gates. I have truly never seen anything quite like it. With its gorgeous colour scheme and perfectly dominating stature, it looks every bit the whimsical wonder. We arrived before the gates had even opened, and were entertained by a traditional Russian brass band while we waited. It was enough to render one patriotic, and the best was yet to come...
Defining the word ‘grand,’ even ‘luscious and luxurious’ seems too loose a term to even begin to describe the true miracle of Russia’s remarkable collection of palaces. From the Catherine Palace and the Nikolaevsky Palace, to the Winter Palace and the Peterhof Palace – all sparkle in their own individual way and leave one feeling utterly spellbound. Walking through the various palace’s ballrooms’ certainly made me wish I hadn’t prioritised nights out over my ballroom dancing lessons at the age of 18. I longed to dig out my old dance shoes and fall under the spell of a romantic waltz in such an electrifying setting.
The grounds of the Catherine Palace only replicated the awe of the inner decor, and are a respectable attraction alone. I could have quite easily got lost in the dreamy freedom the palace’s superior back garden granted me. I longed to wander the grounds for hours, delving in and out of the various outer-buildings, watching the sun’s reflections pirouette across the water, counting the butterflies in the meadows.
The delectably striking Church of the Saviour on Blood is arguably one of Russia’s most iconic landmarks, and is even more breathtaking in real life. The outline of the church intensifies the horizon in the form of bountiful turrets of vibrant splashes of colour against an electric blue sky. Embarking on the short walk between the river and the church, I felt my steps quicken as I longed to digest the views ahead – a perfectly illustrated scene from a fairytale. The unexplainable intricacy of the church’s exterior could occupy the eye for multiple blissful hours and yet still behold the power to captivate. Inside, the decor is just as wondrously detailed; a rich radiating mix of midnight blue and gold. It is such a whispering pleasure to be able to stand in between the four walls of church, suppressed by its unimaginable beauty.
Russia’s opulent countryside was an element of surprise that I certainly hadn’t been expecting. Driving between Saint Petersburg and Pushkin, we were treated to some of the most desirable rolling greenery, spanning out panoramically. The roads were lined by intriguingly dense forests, and dwarfed by far-off hillsides. I felt as though I could well have been driving through the heart of rural England. The woodlands and the embracing fields of pulsating green were of enchanting quality, and sent my mind spiralling. Saint Petersburg is one of those magnificent cities that presents a different marvel from every angle. I would highly recommend a boat trip down the river, where you will be bowled over by the affluent contrast of modern and traditional. It seems that every building, every church, every palace in Russia is determined to outdo the last, and the mythical competition has created quite a remarkable array of buildings dissimilar to anything I have ever seen before.
While the city has grown and developed, the historical monuments that draw visitors in time after time have remained the same, making for a sensational mix of old and new, classic and contemporary, timeless and vibrant. The sunset that blessed Saint Petersburg that night was one of the most sublime I have ever seen (and that’s saying something, considering as I spent four months living in Ibiza – the home of sensual sunsets!). From the top deck of the boat, we watched a heavy golden glow descend across the skyline, a fireball of seductive energy picking the city up in the palm of its hands and cradling it into dusk.
Even I felt a tingle run down my spine at the sight of the Krestovsky Stadium in the midst of our view, the somewhat patriotic centre stage of the sunset. It was the perfect end of to an indisputably exciting day for countries across the world, and here we were, in the hub of it all, exploring one of the most desirable cities in Europe...
by Cara Jasmine Bradley
About Cara Jasmine BradleyCara Jasmine Bradley is a 24 year old creative writer from Manchester, who combines her love of travelling with her passion for writing. At the age of 21, Cara travelled solo across Europe, and eventually secured a job in a small fishing village in Ibiza for the summer. It was here that she discovered a very different side to the ‘party island.’ From this revelation, she has since been inspired to write many articles about the ‘hidden gems’ of Ibiza, which showcase the island in all of its laid-back, ‘off the beaten track’ glory. European cities are Cara’s preferred travel speciality, especially those in Northern and Eastern Europe. Together with her fiancé, she enjoys exploring ‘outside the box’ destinations and immersing herself in different cultures. As well as travel articles, Cara is also particularly keen on writing children’s fiction.