They say Moscow and Saint Petersburg are like divorced parents: of course you live with strict and dominant mother Moscow, but it’s when you go to St Petersburg that you really feel like home.
Our Moscow guide Anya travels to St Petersburg and shares with us her impressions of the city.
Typical St Petersburg
St Petersburg greeted us with cold and rainy weather. Once we dropped the bags in the apartment, we went for a stroll along Nevsky prospect – from Vosstaniya Square to the Admiralty, so that we would see all the main attractions during our first day in the city. Every time I go to Saint Petersburg (or Leningrad, which is the Soviet name of the city still used by some elderly people; or simply Peter, as most Russians lovingly call it) I can’t help admiring it: European architecture, clouds hanging low above the rooftops, glittering asphalt, reflecting the city after the rain. It seems that I’m unable to fully accept and understand the simple fact that I’m still in Russia – unless I see signs in Russian or somebody opens the mouth and I hear them speaking Russian.
Sightseeing in St Petersburg
But dreams aside, we didn’t expect the weather to be so cold and as a result got frozen quite quickly. To refuge we popped in the first café on our way, which was a nice place called Stolle, which specializes on all kinds of pies. The quality of food, the interior, the prices – everything was excellent there. At that moment, drinking hot tea, staring at the window and finally getting warm I thought that was the most delicious tea I had ever had.
Back on Nevsky Prospect we found out the rain had stopped so we continued our St Petersburg sightseeing. The Anichkov Bridge, Kazan Cathedral, The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, Saint Isaac Cathedral, the Winter Palace, the Admiralty and finally, what I wanted to see most of all – the Neva River. I prefer dropping a coin into the water on the very first day, to make sure I do it at all.
On my way back home I took a trolley bus. In St Petersburg you can either use a fare card or pay the fare once you get on a bus/trolley/tramway, and I did the latter and was given the so-called “lucky ticket”. The idea behind lucky tickets is quite simple: if you summarize the numbers of the ticket in groups of 3 and in the end you get 2 equal numbers – your ticket is lucky and you should keep it like a four-leaved clover.
Imperial St Petersburg
There are many reasons why St Petersburg is a unique city. St Pete is considered to be the cultural capital of Russia and there are a lot of things that prove this. To start with, it was the imperial city. After Peter the Great had transferred the capital to Saint Petersburg in 1712, all the tsars lived there for most part of the year. The Winter palace, which is now housing the Hermitage museum, was the residence of Russian monarchs from 1732 to 1917. After the revolution in February, 1917, Nicholas II abdicated and the royal Russian family was sent to Ekaterinburg, where all the members of the family were shot in July 1918. It was only in 1993 when the remains of the Romanovs were solemnly buried in Peter and Paul’s cathedral.
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Another thing to prove the cultural status of the city were the working hours of some places: a book store is open 24 hours while a grocery shop opens only at 11am. So If you’re staying in an apartment, you’d better think about breakfast in advance. Among cultural wonders the thing I liked best was St Isaac’s Cathedral, named after the patron saint of Peter the Great, St Isaac of Dalmatia. During Soviet era the cathedral was closed down and the antireligious museum was opened there. During the siege of Leningrad museum exhibits were kept there and the dome of the cathedral was painted so that Nazi air forces couldn’t find it. There is also an observation deck, the so-called colonnade of St Isaac, which offers a breathtaking panorama of the city.
Modern music in St Petersburg
Petersburg is not only considered the city of fine architecture, classical literature (Pushkin, Dostoevsky) but also the capital of modern rock music. There is something unique about bands from St Petersburg, as if they reflect rainy melancholy mood of the city. I played myself some songs while strolling along the Neva embankment and I strongly recommend listening to some songs to get the idea of what Russian modern music is like.
Of course, not everything was as perfect as I described above. One day of my trip was totally spoiled by endless queue to the Hermitage museum and the endless rain. It took me almost 4 hours to get the tickets and to enter the museum and by the time I was inside, I was tired, cold, wet and sick of it all. As a result, didn’t enjoy the masterpieces by world famous artists at all. Hence, the conclusion:
It’s better to pay a bit more and get tickets online. The price for the citizens of Russia and other countries is different, so if you are a Russian citizen and you have any privileges, you’d better come early in the morning, so that there would be the chance of spending less time in the queue. If you are not the citizen of Russia, the price will be the same as the price of online tickets, so in that case it’s 100% worth buying tickets in advance.
Here is a list of cool museums you should check out when in St Petersburg.
Navigating St Petersburg
When I go somewhere I usually don’t leave the hotel without a map. In Saint Petersburg you won’t need a map – the parallel streets are crossed by other parallel streets so if you look at the city from the air, you’ll see hundreds of small squares. The most difficult part is to keep in mind where you turned the corner.
Off the beaten path
Wandering along streets without a map is a good way to find some off the beaten track things – my own discovery was the bakery LeningradsKiye buns on Pestelya street, 21. It was so tasty and so cheap, I couldn’t help it but bought a huge bag of buns to take away.
Talking about off the beaten track path, a rooftop tour is a great idea! Many rooftops in the city center offer a breathtakingly beautiful view of the city. Besides, it is so romantic!
There is one more thing you shouldn’t miss – the project called “The Petersburg Number” http://www.callstpetersburg.ru/en/. The idea behind it is quite simple: Saint Petersburg is the first city in Russia which has its own number: +7 812 930 17 03. You can call this number and anyone from Saint Petersburg who is involved in the project can answer your call and your questions.
On my last day I popped in Ziferblat (Nevsky Prospekt, 81), the café where you pay for nothing but for the time you spend there. It’s a chain of cafes, the first one was opened in Moscow in 2011. Both in Moscow and in Petersburg Ziferblat cafes are venues for various events and I was happy to visit the exhibition of the young artist from Moscow, known under a pseudonym Green Lamp, which I loved a lot.
They say Saint Petersburg is a kind of a city that you either love or hate from the first sight. When you go to Petersburg, you have to discover your own world inside the city. On the day we were leaving it was sunny and warm. The city, which is usually grey and melancholic was radiant, domes of the numerous churches reflecting sunshine, the waves of the Neva lapping at the shore, people smiling. Don’t miss me, Petersburg, I’ll come back soon!
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