While my short stay in St. Petersburg was quickly dwindling down, I was determined to get to a few more places outside of the city. Next on my list was another former residence of the tsar though perhaps better known in its capacity as the formative lyceum of many a renowned Russian poet including the likes of Saltykov-Schedrin and Akhmatova. The collective territory containing the duo palaces and parks respectively in the names of Alexander I (Александровский) and Catherine I (Екатеринский) known as Tsarskoye Selo, in Russian meaning the Tsar’s Village, is located about 15 miles inland of St. Petersburg in the town named for the lyceum’s most famous graduate – Pushkin.
Note that most students on SRAS’ regular study abroad programs held while Tsarskoye Selo is open have a trip there included with their cultural program. As I am here as an independent traveler, having just completed an academic year abroad in Vladivostok and taking advantage of an intentionally long layover to see more of Russia, I decided to take care of my travel plans myself (although SRAS is also able to help with this if students request it).
Getting to Tsarskoye Selo from the city is fairly simple. Take the second line (вторая линия) of the metro to its final stop at kupchino (купчино), from which point you have two options for the remainder of the trip. You can choose to catch a bus or, as I did, take the cheaper of the two and purchase a ticket for the commuter train (электричка). My round-trip cost a total of 38 rubles with my student ID. After boarding the train, I took my seat and waited for the train to make its fourth stop and then exited. From the station, overestimating the remaining distance to the estate itself, I shelled out another 30 rubles for a bus ride to the palace (до дворца). On my way back I passed on the bus and opted for the short stroll through the quiet, idyllic town, much to my satisfaction.
Having arrived at the grounds, not being much for the pretentiousness of palace interiors, I was sure I could happily spend the day roaming the extensive parks and gardens surrounding the complex. My student ID once again came in handy purchasing my 60 ruble ticket into the Catherine Park. And from here I was off to sate my wanderlust.
I thought after a day spent in Peterhof, my standards would be set unnaturally high regarding estate grounds. However, my time spent at Tsarskoye Selo put this notion to the test. While you may not be met at every step by a golden fountain figurine as visitors of Peterhof will recall, what this park lacks in artificial stylings it makes up for in tasteful landscaping and the magnitude of its territory. The rock gardens sculpted into the lawn directly in front of the Catherine Palace provide for a nearly overwhelming entrance to the grounds. But then as you look out to your left away from the palace, your eye is drawn down a gravel path lined with cubically manicured trees and shrubs, literally over a bridge and through some woods, but you won’t find yourself at grandmother’s house. Here sits a building known as the Hermitage (Эрмитаж) – yes, like the museum – whose design scheme matches that of the Catherine Palace. Unlike the palace though, its placement tucked back amongst ethereal surroundings in my mind helped balance out the feeling of gaudiness I often get standing in the presence of these lavish former tsarist residences. For this reason, it may have been my favorite stop on the day’s walk.
While I spent the majority of my visit wandering throughout Catherine Park, Alexander Park, located on the opposite side of the two palaces is free to the public. Although this park primarily consists of one large quadrat divided into four smaller sub-squares, the area itself is far from bland in its contents. Towering, age-old trees line the paths that run alongside the bordering stream and dissect the small lakes. Paths also run off the square quadrat into the woods creating a fairly extensive circuit, which I would imagine would be ideal for jogging or simply strolling through in the summer heat.
While I spent well over five hours in the two parks alone, and even then falling well short of experiencing all they had to offer, there is also the main attraction of the Catherine Palace and the city which itself hosts many other parks and buildings with significant historical implications. Had time not constricted me I would have happily spent two or three days here. Yes, there is much to be seen in the city of Saint Petersburg itself, but many of its treasures can be found just a short ways outside of the downtown area. Tsarskoye Selo is just another fine example.
Tsarskoye Selo: Catherine Palace and Park /
Царское село: Екатерининский дворец и парк
Cost: Catherine Park – 120 rubles (60 w/student ID);
Catherine Palace – 520 rubles (260 w/ student ID);
Hours: Park – 10am-7pm; Palace – 10am-6pm