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St. Petersburg, Russia

With its elegant palace-lined waterways, gilded and domed skyline, and grand boulevards where Czars once traveled in golden carriages, the majestic city of St. Petersburg well-deserves its nickname as the "Empress of the Baltic."

Situated at the confluence of the Gulf of Finland and the mighty Neva River, this former imperial capital fascinates visitors with its strong European influences, grand residences, world-renown museums and extraordinary monuments to a glittering past gone by. Perhaps the city's founders chose this spot because it is where one experiences the Beliye Nochi, or White Nights, a wondrous phenomenon from late May to early July when the city's very northerly geographical location causes the nights to be as bright as day.

Famed throughout the world, the Hermitage Museum comprises the Winter Palace and four adjacent buildings forming one of the world's great architectural ensembles. The 1,000 rooms are home to one of the finest art collections in the world, including works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, and the fabled Fabergé eggs.

Designed by Rastrelli, Catherine Palace is a monument to the opulence of czarist Russia's ruling class. Nearly 1,000 feet in length, it features a striking blue color on its ornate facade and dazzling golden onion domes on its chapel, making it one of the most breathtaking sights in the world.

Peterhof Palace is also exceptional with its lovely yellow and white exterior and gilded trimmings. Situated on a 300-acre park with a series of spectacular fountains, it was designed by Peter the Great himself and built to rival Versailles.

St. Petersburg's great cathedrals serve as its cultural and historical touchstones, and they are glorious. Smolny Cathedral is topped by five gilded cupolas and is one of the finest examples of Rastrelli's Russian baroque style. The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, with the golden angel atop its tower that was kept in storage during the Communist years, is the final resting place for Russian czars from Peter I to Alexander III. St. Isaac's Cathedral, the city's largest church, is known as one of the world's largest domed structures, while the ornate Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood marks the spot where Czar Alexander II was murdered and the Russian Revolution began.

The pulse of the city can be found shopping and dining on the 3-mile long Nevsky Prospekt, the celebrated street dating back to the city's original construction. Local favorites include a cold soup called Akroshka with a beer base of kvas, light boiled pelmeni dumplings filled with meat and served with sour cream, and, of course, Russian tea. The Russian wooden nesting dolls Matryoshkas, amber jewelry, porcelain, lacquer boxes, shawls, caviar and vodka are all traditional local crafts found in the many shops.

St. Petersburg is filled with concert halls and theaters showcasing Russia's finest in music and dance. An evening of Russian folk music and dance will put you in tune with the passionate spirit of the Russian people while an evening of classical Russian ballet will leave you with an appreciation for Russia's artistry and tradition.
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