The Opening of the Fountains in Peterhof/
Открытие фонтанов в Петергофе
Большой Петергофский дворец, Петергоф, Россия
Cost: 500 rubles (400 w/ student ID)
Open: 10am-6pm Daily; 10am-7pm on Holidays and Weekdays
For the small city of Peterhof located less than 20 miles outside of Russia’s “northern capital” of St. Petersburg, the third Saturday of every May is a day of unrivalled festivities. This is the day that more than 150 fountains of the Lower Park (Нижний парк) and, most famously, the Big Cascade with the fountain of Sampson (Большой каскад с фонтаном «Сампсон») located on the sprawling palace grounds are officially and festively opened. Put more simply, this is the day the former summer getaway of the tsar, which is also known as the “capital of fountains” (столица фонтанов), is inundated with trigger happy, camera toting tourists – myself included.
However, before we get to the festivities, our first order of business is of course how to get there. Note that most students on SRAS’ regular study abroad programs held while Peterhof 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).
Having just landed in a local apartment-turned-hostel with a great location and even better value for a couple days stay, I asked one of the residents for some tips on how to best get to Peterhof from our place in the center of the city. After a small debate ensued, I was told to hop on the metro and get off at the station Avtovo (станция Автово). From there, all that remained was to cross the street (проспект Стачек) and board one of the smaller buses with a big “Peterhof” («Петергоф») plastered over its front windshield.
Here I’d like to note one of the differences I’ve noticed traveling outside of Vladivostok, where I’ve just completed an academic year of study abroad. As opposed to the system I had become accustomed to, buses in other cities often ask you to pay the fare upon boarding rather than exiting. Some of the buses in Artyom even worked in the older fashion with a conductor (кондуктор) who walked around the bus collecting fares from the passengers. Keeping this in mind, I made sure I had some change at the ready, paid the 60 ruble fee and arrived at my destination in less than an hour’s time. Getting back was just as easy as I found a bus with “Metro” («метро») written somewhere on it at the entry to the grounds and was back in St. Petersburg in just as much time.
I should note that you also have the option of purchasing tickets for an excursion that shuttles you to and from Peterhof and includes a guided tour around the premises. I would highly recommend that you save your money and go by bus. Most of the excursions I encountered that day looked lost and confused as they tried to follow their guides through the throngs of visitors. Perhaps excursions are better if not held on the crowded day of the fountain’s openings. The crowds also meant, I should add, a long line waiting for the bus. So if you want to beat the multitudes and have a good spot for the hour-long celebration, get out there early.
Although I arrived a bit later than intended (with just 30 minutes to spare), a pair of sharp elbows and my not insignificant height allowed me to get a fairly good view of the festivities preceding the opening of the golden figurine-encrusted Big Cascade. A short recap via loudspeaker of some of the significant dates in the history of the palace was interspersed by dramatic orchestral and operatic numbers and dance performances of various styles. This reached its crescendo in a firework emblazoned display as the fountains spewed forth and water poured down the stone steps of the cascade.
As the weather was particularly warm for this time of the year, I spent the next five hours wandering the grounds, napping on the shore of the Bay of Finland (Финский залив), napping on park benches, against trees and just flat on the ground. While travel exhaustion was obviously weighing on me, I can’t count out the effect of the overwhelming natural beauty that everywhere encircled me.
While I in no way regret being a part of this celebration, I would also like to stroll the grounds of the Lower Park when they are a little less populated. This, of course, is based on personal taste. I should also note that although this may have been the official opening, the grounds, park and even most of the fountains had already been functioning and open to the public for some weeks. So if you are in the city during the summer, late spring or early fall, do yourself a favor and set aside an afternoon to spend in the luxurious and peaceful surrounding of Peterhof.