Posted - 25th July 2017
Tsarskoye Selo / The Catherine Palace / Catherine Park / Alexander Park
We decided to spend an entire day in Tsarskoye Selo, which is just outside of St. Petersburg in the Pushkin area. We were lucky enough to get a lift all the way there, but I can imagine that it is quite difficult to get there, as there is no direct transport there… We knew that the park itself was huge, so we packed ourselves a nice picnic, some sunglasses as the weather was meant to be good and happily got there.
Our first impressions were – “WOW”, The Catherine Palace was stunning and just looked so grand and impressive. To gain access to the Catherine Park, you have to buy a ticket just outside of the park. You cannot buy tickets to the palace until you are inside the actual park, so make sure you don’t spend too much time looking for that outside. Once inside the park, you can really see how much care and time they take to keep the entire park clean and nicely trimmed. It was stunning. We got a little map as well, that showed you all the locations of the buildings and lakes around the park.
We knew that the sales for tickets only started at 12pm – but even when we arrived at 10:30, there was already a huge queue of people waiting to get in. We decided that we were going to walk around the front bit of the park and see some of the buildings around there.
Some of these buildings were the upper baths building:
Another was the Hermitage pavilion:
A huge lake and gardens:
You were able to access all these buildings by buying extra tickets, but we were ok with just looking at the tickets from the outside. We then made our way back up to see that the queue got much bigger by 11:30 – so decided to join the queue finally. We then waited for 2 HOURS to get inside the building, and then we still had to queue to actually buy the tickets! We thought it was very expensive (1200 Rub) per person, as we were not Russian residents… We then finally made our way to the entrance. You had to put on some funny bags over the shoes to not damage the floor and we were told that with the ticket, we got access to a free tour in Russian only. We decided that we would take it, and though this was just a headpiece we could use to walk around, but oh how we were wrong…
Once you got a headpiece, it meant that you had to stick to your own group, which was composed of about 40 people!! We couldn’t hear anything from our headphones, so we decided that we didn’t want to listen, but just walk through. But again, this was much more difficult than expected! Once you entered into the first big hall, which was stunning, you had to stick to your own group when passing to the next rooms.
Since we lost our group and were walking on our own, we were shouted at and told off many times telling us to find our group and that they would not let you through. The hallways were so tiny and full of people that we felt like sardines in a box, and we were not even allowed to stop and take photos of the rooms. Very quickly, we were ushered away by the ladies that were all very rude towards us.
Finally, after fighting our way through the rooms (there were only about 5), we got to the famous Amber Room. We were so excited to see it, but before entering there, we were shouted at to tell us that we were not allowed to take any photos, and if the lady even saw our phone in our hands, she would come and grab it from us. We felt extremely uncomfortable there, and almost like we were some prisoners, being walked through a prison.
The palace itself was stunning of course, and very well restored after it was ruined during the war. But we felt that it was unfortunate that we could only access around 6/7 rooms in a massive castle like that, for that price!! So after all, we were super disappointed with our experience in The Catherine Palace. To cheer ourselves up, we decided to have a very long stroll in the gardens in the sun and have our picnics.
The park was very big and peaceful, housing lots of little gems. One of our favourite was the Turkish Baths that you were able to see from the Marble Bridge.
We passed quite a few little statues on the way:
As well as some gates and many more bridges across all the little ponds.
Thankfully, there were lots of little benches around the park, so you could site everywhere. We even made a little friend on the way:
Once we made the tour of the stunning gardens, we decided to cross over to get to the Alexander Gardens, which was free to access. This again, we thought was stunning. The nature was just so beautiful and peaceful. Here you can see the Alexander Palace. This palace is closed until 2018 for restorations, so unfortunately we were not able to visit it, but it looked quite nice from the outside already.
We also passed by a nice white tower:
And some other really stunning buildings that were unfortunately closed…
After a nice 10Km walk around these gardens, we decided to make our way back home and crash on our beds.
Overall, we would say that we were really disappointed with the staff and the organisation of the palace, which left a really bad feeling inside of us about St. Petersburg, as we feel that everyone is quite rude in this city. We were happy to just get away from everyone in the gardens. We suppose that in the lower seasons, there would be less people around, so would be a bit better. We would definitely recommend visiting Tsarskoye Selo, we would just say that you should be prepared for lots of queuing, many people and unhelpful staff.
Xoxo Ani and Sam