Travellers to St. Petersburg in 1900 had two ways to reach the city from abroad, rail and by ship. Visas were required to visit Russia and these had to be applied for in person where there was a Russian consulate or Embassy. Visas were not easy to obtain, Jews who had emigrated to America from the Russian Empire were generally not re-admitted, even with American passports.
Train travel from Europe required a change of trains at the Russian border - Russian trains had a wider gage than European trains. Train travel in Russia throughout the 19th century was legendary for its' clean and comfortable carriages manned by helpful and attentive attendants. The food on Russian train and at stations along the way was exceptional, although standards of cleanliness was not up to Western standards; linen was reused without washing and plates were not cleaned as thoroughly as they might have been. Still, the food was rich, tasty and plentiful.
Ship travel varied greatly from company to company. Accommodations could range from primitive to luxurious, but vermin was always a problem. The approach to the city of St. Petersburg from the Baltic Sea was impressive - if often bone-chilling from the cold Arctic wind. Approaching the vast mouth of the Neva River one passed the massive naval fortress on the island of Kronstadt across from the coastal palaces of Peterhof on the right hand side. Kronstadt and this entire area was seized by Peter the Great in his wars against Livonia and Sweden in the early 18th century. Peter founded the city of St. Petersburg in 1702 as his "Window on Europe" and moved his capital from Moscow here, hoping to reorient the nation from East to West.
Moving by ship across the waters, a vast expanse of sea gradually revealed the skyline of the Imperial city, arising on the horizon as if St. Petersburg was floating on the waters. On a clear and sunny day the view was indescribable, with sunlight glinting upon the waves and flashing from the towering gold spire of the famous Admiralty. Upon arriving in the city a traveller would dock on Vassilli's Island. Russian customs, where ever one passed through was an ordeal. Visas and passports were carefully checked and there were always people who were turned back at the border for some irregularity. Customs officials went through all baggage courteously, but with a fine-toothed comb. Everyone was equal in this treatment by customs, including Grand Dukes and other members of the aristocracy. Sometimes foreigners passing through customs had their first encounter with the graft of government officials, who were known to take bribes to pass luggage without examination.
Next photograph: On the Neva
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To see a large map of the center
of St. Petersburg go here.
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