How to Enjoy Saint Petersburg in Winter – A Four Day Itinerary

Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia

Our time in Saint Petersburg was a bit of a recovery period for us.  We outdid ourselves exploring gorgeous Moscow and the constant snow coupled with the frigid 12 degree weather took its toll. I’m not ashamed to admit it, Russia kicked our asses. Well, it kicked my ass I should say. Brad as always, was fine. We rallied during our exceptional train ride from Moscow to Saint Petersburg however, and managed to get ourselves up and moving for an evening of sight seeing and a wonderful birthday dinner celebration.

Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Savior on Spilled Blood

After running around the snow covered bridges/canals, and hitting a few major sights, we went for a fabulous birthday dinner at Katyusha, a traditional Russian restaurant off Nevsky Prospect.

Birthday Dinner Katyusha Russia
Birthday dinner Russian styles!

Designed to look like a 19th century cossack house, dining at Katyusha felt like being welcomed into the home of a Russian babushka in the mountains surrounding Saint Petersburg. Think – lace dollies, chintz , floral motif, and waitresses dressed in traditional garb. I am enamoured with Russian folklore and history, and felt transported. I ordered rosemary chicken with potato pancakes, mushroom cream sauce and sour cream. Note – everything is served with sour cream in Russia and I 100% support this practice. Afterwards, we sampled homemade Russian liqueurs  – cherry, cranberry and black currant, that were so surprisingly tasty we ordered two rounds!

Traditional Russian Birthday Dinner at Katyusha
Birthday meal!
Sampling homemade liqueurs at Katyusha, a traditional Russian restaurant in St Petersburg
Nostrovia!

Over the next few days, we spent a fair amount of time relaxing in our luxurious hotel room, reading books, watching movies, drinking fruit tea and eating Milka chocolate. We also managed to fit in some beautiful sights and wonderful bakeries.

Favorites Places And Must See Sights:

Palace Square

The location of bloody Sunday, which some historians say was a key event that led to the Russian revolution, Palace Square is a sight to behold. Stroll the grounds and let your imagination run wild with thoughts of  Andrei courting Natasha in the grand palaces, a fur clad Anna Karenina on a troika ride or Seyit & Sura strolling through the endlessly falling snow.

Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia
Palace Square
Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia
Catherine’s Winter Palace

Winter at Palace Square St Petersburg RussiaChristmastime Palace Square, St Petersburg Russia

Catherine’s Winter Palace & The Hermitage:

The Hermitage is fantastic – what an unexpected gem of art and splendor. Catherine’s Winter Palace houses the second largest art museum in the world featuring Da Vinci’s, Monets, Vermeers, Van Goghs, Renoirs, the list goes on and on. Also – Catherine’s rule and rise to Empress was legit fascinating. Coups! Betrayal! Murder!

Catherine's Winter Palace - Heading to the Hermitage
Catherine’s Winter Palace – Heading to the Hermitage
The Hermitage
The Hermitage Foyer
Hermitage sculptures, St Petersburg Russia
Sculptures lining the walkways in the Hermitage

Russian Cathedrals:

Saint Isaac and Kazan

Saint Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg Russia
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg Russia
Kazan Cathedral

Russian bakeries:

I am deeply obsessed with b;day cake eg: I dream about my birthday cake year around.  As this was my birthday week, and I knew I would not be able to find my favorite chocolate and buttercream frosting cake, we made it our personal mission to find delicious cakes around Saint Petersburg. We had so much luck with bakeries in Moscow, that I was super gung ho to try them in Saint Petersburg. I was not disappointed.

Russian bakery pastries, St. Petersburg
Hello, I would like to try all of your treats please.
Mouthwatering treats in St. Petersburg bakery
Bushe Bakery

 

Our fav: Bushe Bakery

After the bakeries, we decided to head out for some birthday drinks.  Our waitress from Katyusha had suggested a cozy cocktail bar. Filled with Russian professionals, one of whom helped us order, it felt very local. The bar served innovative drinks w/ fresh ingredients.  Brad ordered one of the best basil martini’s I have had in my life, second only to Lupe’s martinis, from St. Orres. You could smell the tangy scent of basil on the air, as the waiter carried us our cocktails.

Saint Petesrburg Cocktails - Basil martini and blood orange mimosa
Basil martini and blood orange mimosa (and vodkas, of course)

Train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg:

Russian trains are insanely, next level excellent. They offer complimentary food and drinks, plenty of leg room, coat racks, and announcements in Russian and English. Our train also included a very jovial (albeit intimidating looking) conductor who at one point offered to hold Brad’s coffee for him, showed us how to adjust our seats and even wished me happy birthday! The train was warm, spotless and offered gorgeous winter wonderland scenery – snow encrusted forests, and tiny Russian villages blanketed with snow. Top sights: we passed a frozen lake with a lone child sledding (pretty sobering experience) until we spied his dogs frolicking joyfully and wildly around him. Brad even spotted a fox!

Train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg bound

Where to stay:

The Domina Hotel. Luxurious canal side hotel.

How to pack for Russia:

ALL YOUR WARM CLOTHES. Seriously.  REI is my favorite store for cold weather clothes, and I bought the coat at a North Face in Germany. Merino wool base layer, Smart Wool socks, Uggs or other winter boots. Snow gloves. Fleece lined hat with a pom because they are the cutest, Arctic parka. There are times in your trip when you will still not be warm enough, but the experience is worth it. Trust me. And this is coming from a woman who was chilly in South Africa. In summer.

Next blog post – Road Tripping through the Scottish Highlands!

 

Best Moscow Eats: Cakes, Ukranian Food and Sour Cream on Everything!

I Love Cake:
This snug and cozy bakery was a total delight. Strung with wall-to-wall Xmas ornaments and twinkly lights, the pastel cafe serves gourmet hot chocolate adorned with fresh sugar cookies, homemade cakes and breakfast. And oh, the cakes – cinnamon and ginger bread and cream cheese and wild berry. While we sat perusing the massive menu, and watching the snow fall softly outside, Russian murmurings filled the cafe, as the scent of hot chocolate wafted through the air. I was in birthday heaven. The cafe features a variety of about twenty ornate cakes daily, and the baker’s descriptions were so luscious and detailed.  I literally stood in front of this display for five minutes while the baker described the ingredients in each cake – and what’s in THAT one?!?

Happy b'day to me! I Love Cakes in Moscow
Oh, this is happening. Happy b’day to me!
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Chocolate ganache, with layers of cream cheese and chocolate cinnamon frosting covered in berries
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Could this be any more cozy?!

Taras Bulba – Ukranian restaurant. Bustling, boisterous, full of warmth and good cheer.  Great, rich, comfort food – dumplings, chicken kiev, etc. * Note, they serve sour cream with everything!*  Features dancing and folk singing. The type of homey, heart-warming experience you are always hoping for when traveling. We had our Xmas dinner here, and this will live on in our memories as one of our most exotic and exuberant Christmas meals.

Bjorn – Decorated with pine needles and pine cones and reindeer antlers, this Nordic restaurant has a rustic yet modern charm. Ordered the mushroom cream soup, served with potatoes and crispy onions and a sparkling rosé Russian wine. (I didn’t even know Russia produced wine!) Served with a basket full of hearty brown bread topped with large flakes of sea salt, and home churned butter. Made me want to visit the Nordic countries. Located across the bridge from the Kremlin.


Mitzva Bar: Underground Jewish bar in Moscow – right next to Bjorn. Taking the winding staircase down to the bar feels like descending into the lair of a changeling. Massive crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tell the bartender what flavors you like and he will create a cocktail for you. My specialized drink was lemon with Prosecco and a hint of something sweet – citrusy and fresh. Brad’s was…weird. He ended up ordering one of mine. We also ordered a Mediterranean plate with hummus and other dips served in an ornate silver platter. The hummus and olive tapenade were very tasty. There were several other dips that can only be described as overwhelming fishy – just straight fish slime and salt really.  Oh well, risk you must take when the entire menu is in Russian!

The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy it in the grand lobby, while imagining Russian dignitaries, artisocrats and artists swanning about the place. Filled with twinkling xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a piano player adds to the ambiance. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. The waitress will also bring snacks including some of the best giant olives I have tasted since since our trip to Greece.

Brooklyn Burger: I have to include this place, because the staff was so ridiculously friendly.  We arrived from a 20 minute walk down Arbat street absolutely freezing. Upon realizing that we did not speak a word of Russian, the waiter apologized that he had no English menus but would be happy to help us find something we would like, went though the entire menu with us and brought us two tasty burgers (chicken for me), and a pot of fresh brewed fruit tea. The first thing the waiter asked in a thick Russian accent – “Where are you from? I knew immediately you were not from around here, as you look like you are dressed for the Arctic, and it is not that cold.” Brad and I burst out laughing. (It’s 12 degrees outside! We are covered in snow. It’s COLD man! In what world is this not cold?) Then he proceeded to tell us about how, to celebrate his last birthday, he went to a cabin in the forest with friends, and when they tried to drive home, they discovered the oil had frozen in the car. “That was cold, he said, even for me.  Negative 40 degrees is cold.”

Next blog post: Four Days In Saint Petersburg!

Christmastime in Moscow: Exploring Russia’s Most Magical City

Moscow xmas market carosaul

Dazzling, majestic, endlessly romantic and supremely foreign in the best possible way, visiting Moscow at Christmastime is a once in a lifetime experience, and a winter wonderland waiting to be explored.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow
We are in RUSSIA!

We arrived to Moscow around 5pm in 12 degree weather, during an intense snowfall. After taking a harrowing taxi and dropping our bags off at The Veily Hotel, we put on pretty much every item of clothing we packed, and headed into the night for the Christmas market. We had a perfectly located hotel, right next to Red Square. The walk took us through a fairytale snow covered park, along the walls of the Kremlin, past sculptures of bears fighting wolves, and stampeding horses.

Gorgeous Moscow The Kremlin at Christmas
Returning from drinks at the Metropol, we were rewarded with THIS view ❤

Russian Christmas decorations and festivities are jaw droppingly spectacular. A glittering, frosty, winter wonderland, everywhere you look in Moscow is a delight. St. Basil’s cathedral and the twinkling GUM department store form the backdrop of the Christmas market held in Red Square, and the sight is heart stopping. My first glimpse of St. Basil’s Cathedral made me gasp, a puff of frigid air dissipating into the night. I still get chills thinking about my first sight of it in the distance, huge flakes of snow falling silently, as the live band broke into a Russian folk song, so familiar and yet supremely foreign, I nearly teared up with the sheer rush of feeling that overcame me. We were in RUSSIA!

Moscow Christmas Market - First evening
Our first evening in Moscow – straight to the Xmas market
Moscow xmas market carosaul
How epic is this carousal?

We arrived to the Christmas market, and ran around enjoying the electric ambiance as long as we could tolerate the frigid temps. We grabbed two gluweins and joined in the Russian dancing. We strolled the stalls filled with matryoshka dolls and fur hats. We marveled at the Kremlin, and the endless snow, and the lights.

Everything in Russia is more. More grand, more towering, more majestic, more take-your-breath-away frigid than most other places. The monuments are a marvel. The train stations are endless. The carousals in the Christmas markets are two story. We were in awe the entire trip.

Moscow Red Square Entrance To The Xmas Market
Entrance to the Xmas Market
Xmas tree farm - Moscow Christmas Market
Pretty glorious setting to choose your Xmas tree!
Moscow Xmas Market - the winter wonderland of my dreams
Winter wonderland of my dreams

Must See Favorites:

The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy in the grand lobby. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. I have been dreaming of this baby since Brad sent pictures from the grand lobby in Moscow last December. Thought I would die with jealousy. Filled with twinkling Xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a tuxedo-ed piano player adds to the ambiance. During our second visit, a grand gala was taking place and we had the added bonus of people watching as couples swept out of the ballroom, wearing ballgowns and adorned in glittering jewels and furs.

Stranger in Moscow at The Metropol
This is a Stranger in Moscow. From now on, I would like all of my cocktails encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini goblet filled with chocolate please!
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The glittering, gold gilded, iconic Metropol Hotel

Transportation:  Many places in Moscow are walkable, or you can take the train which is surprisingly easy to navigate and very cheap. They also have Uber.

St. Basil’s Cathedral: Awe inspiring on so many levels. Built in the 16th century by order of Ivan the Terrible. We visited mostly at night, and the atmosphere was electric.

The Kremlin: The armory and diamond treasury are captivating and transporting. Like stepping into a Tolstoy novel. We purchased tickets day of. Be prepared to walk quite a ways to access the armory.

The Christmas Market and surrounding streets, particularly Nikolskaya St: Absolutely breathtaking. The markets are open quite late, and as our taxi driver told me: “Moscow is a 24- hour city. She never sleeps.” Shopping at the Xmas Markets: Stroll the stalls full of  handmade Matryoshka dolls, colorful scarves, fur hats and other unique items.

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Cathedral of Christ the Savior  – took my breath away incredible. Ornate. Incredibly moving experience. Flickering candles, Russians with heads bent in prayer. Sweeping, majestic high arched ceilings with paintings of angels in heaven.

The Bolshoi: Stop at this beloved ballet venue, on the way to the Metropol for drinks and some Soviet glamour! Particularly gorgeous in the evening.

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Lenin’s Tomb: Gazing at the 5’5 Lenin’s perfectly preserved body in an open coffin under bulletproof glass is a truly bizarre experience and lesson in Russian culture. You spend less then five minutes viewing the body, as the que moves very quickly.  Armed guards are stationed every 15 feet or so along the walk, and they are vigilant. You are not allowed to carry backpacks, use cellphones or cameras. Speaking is prohibited. I had my hand in my pockets because the tomb was freezing, and at one point a very scary guard walked up to me and gently murmured in Russian that I must remove my hands from my pockets. WHAT? DONE. Time to get out of here! Located steps from the Kremlin wall, the mausoleum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. The entrance is free.

Train Stations: Moscow has some ornate and epic train stations. My favorite – Ploshchad Revolyutsii was flanked by bronze sculptures. Tickets cost less than one euro.

Where to stay:

Veliy OTel’ Mokhovaya Moscow: Perfect location, steps away from the Kremlin and Red Square, through a gorgeous snow covered park. Right next to Taras Bulba, a fabulously fun Ukrainian restaurant with singing and dancing.

Next blog post: Favorite Moscow eats!