People go to St. Petersburg to see the Hermitage and while they're there they go see St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood, the Russian Museum, Kazan Cathedral, maybe Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo. I spent two full days at the Hermitage; it's a total winner and I regret not having spent a few more days there and each of the site I just mentioned was great and totally worthwhile. But some of the things I liked most aren't on most of the "best of" lists. If you enjoy looking at contemporary art, the Erarta contemporary art museum and galleries was totally worth the trip over to Vasilievsky Island, for example.
I was lucky though because a friend with whom I share an intense interest in history had just been to Russia a couple of months before I went and he recommended one of the most wonderful off-the-beaten-track tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, the Museum of Political History. I guess it's not for everyone but it was certainly a highlight of my trip to Russia. The museum, which helps you understand the country's political history from the mid-1700's through today, is extremely successful in its mission and shockingly transparent, objective and unbiased. Housed in two co-joined mansions with great historical significance themselves, the museum is a treasure trove of Russian historical artifacts. This was Lenin's office and that was the balcony he inspired the revolution from. That was in an incredible 1906 art nouveau mansion originally built for prima ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya, a mistress of Nicholas II before he became tsar and a decade later seized by the Bolsheviks and made into their headquarters. The other mansion was the home of Vassily Brandt, one of the richest merchants in the country.
It was worth hiring a guide-- which cost next to nothing-- to take us through the museum and point out some of the highlights and help put them into context. I would say 90% of what she told us we would not have gotten without her.
There is a ton of information on the Soviet Union of course-- plenty of fascinating Stalin era exhibitions-- but great stuff on Catherine the Great, Rasputin, both World Wars, the tsars, the revolution as well. I would definitely go back for another day in this place.
|Mathilda Kshesinskaya's mansion|