Ben's journey began in Moscow with a train trip to St Petersburg, the country's most beautiful city. Just three centuries ago the site was a giant swamp, but on the orders of Tzar Peter Alexevich Romanov I, known as Peter the Great, peasants drained the water and replaced it with rocks and gravel. In 1703 it became the base for Tzar Peter's "window on Europe" on the Gulf of Finland at the mouth of the Neva River.
The fortress of Peter and Paul was erected first to defend the new capital and still at noon each day a gun fires from the battlements. The entire project was carried out at tremendous human and material cost.
It was built with 18th and 19th-century European influence and orderliness, mainly by Italian and French architects who were responsible for the classical beauty it has retained. Formerly known as Leningrad and Petrograd, St Petersburg has a population of five million, making it Russia's second largest city, Europe's fourth largest and the northernmost city in the world with over a million people. Its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
St Petersburg was the birthplace of many achievers, including the satirist Nikolai Gogol, Peter Tchaikovsky, Vasily Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Fydor Dostoevsky, Dimitri Shostakovich and Alexander Pushkin.
The 112km-long metro is by far the most convenient way to get around St Petersburg. Older stations are elegantly decorated while newer stations are more functional in design. The city is criss-crossed by rivers and canals linked by hundreds of bridges. Above the metro is a labyrinth of underground rivers and above that lies the city.
The State Hermitage occupies six magnificent buildings along the River Neva embankment. The Hermitage collection of over three million items was put together over two and a half centuries. It represents the development of world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century.
The vital St Petersburg school of classic ballet has existed for more than 200 years without any sign of decline. Once known as the Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre is actually more famous outside Russia thanks to successful tours.
sablerussia has a unique range of tailored accommodation and excursion programs for individuals, small groups and business travellers. Whatever your plans for visiting St Petersburg, or anywhere in Russia, sable makes arranging everything very simple. They can assist with flights, accommodation, visas whatever is necessary. They offer Best Of and City@Speed tours for busy people or they can show you the secrets of the State Hermitage Museum at a more relaxed pace. They can arrange for you to drive a metro train or tank or cruise the Neva aboard a private boat. If the siege of Leningrad, antiques, organised crime, taxidermy and furs, Catherine the Great, Faberge or Russian cooking interest you, sablerussia are the ones to help.
Euroscape Travel has three-night packages, including twin-share accommodation, a night at the Mariinsky Theatre and a city Hermitage Museum tour, starting at $508 per person.
sablerussia tours start at around $180 per person per day.
Flight Centre has return economy airfares to St Petersburg, including tax, on sale until October 31, 2005. Valid for travel between October 1 and November 11, 2005, and January 16 and March 31, 2006. Perth validity dates are between October 4 and November 11, 2005, and January 17 and February 24, 2005.
To book, call Flight Centre on 131 600.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
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