St Petersburg sits at the very end of the Gulf of Finland, which is part of the Baltic Sea. There are some islands in the Gulf, and the biggest of these (Kotlin Island) is where Peter the Great constructed Petersburg’s seaport and its first defences, the naval fortress of Kronstadt. The naval base there still houses the Baltic Fleet today but the rest of the island has effectively become just another district of St Petersburg – the island is even joined to the mainland by two roads across the sea.
The original fortress, a red-brick construction surrounded by a moat, is in very poor repair and is not accessible by the general public. However there are parts of it that have not been screened off and you can see the original walls.
The largest cathedral on the island is the Nikolsky Marskoi (Naval Cathedral) and the island in general is very much associated with the Russian navy. Two separate squads of naval recruits (in their signature blue and white-striped shirts) passed us while we were exploring the island.
Having arrived at Kronstadt by the northern road, we took the southern one back to the mainland because this would take us past our next destination, a town called Peterhof – technically outside St Petersburg proper.
Peterhof Palace was the traditional summer residence of the Tsars (in winter, of course, they stayed at the Winter Palace). It was chosen as a convenient landing point for smaller boats travelling to the port at Kronstadt (before the road bridges were built). The palace is impressive enough but the real reason visitors flock to this location is the gardens, especially the fountains.
The palace and the Upper Gardens (some nicely arranged trees and modest fountains) sit at the top of a hill, but at the bottom of the slope, in a narrow stretch of land between it and the sea, Peter created a huge garden of long, straight pathways punctuated by classically inspired water features, huge fountains dedicated to Adam, Eve, Samson, and various other interesting installations. Over the years successive Tsars added their own fountains and features making the lower garden a cornucopia of streams, pools and water jets.
From the beach you can look out over the Gulf of Finland back to Kotlin Island, or over at St Petersburg itself.
The Neva by Night
Occasionally (or possibly every night, I’m not sure), the bridge on the Neva is opened to allow large river vessels to pass through. This happens at around 1am – 2am to avoid disrupting road traffic. We went to have a look.