* Prices may differ from that shown
I've been twice to Leningrad but never to St. Petersburg. "So what?", you may think, "I've been to many places twice and to others not at all." That may well be the case, but here we're talking about the same Russian city. Its first name was Saint Petersburg, this was changed to Petrograd in 1914, to Leningrad in 1924 and back to St. Petersburg in 1991.
Every year in the middle of June I remember a special night in Leningrad. I used to teach Russian at a secondary grammar school in Germany and went to Moscow and Leningrad twice on a one-week school trip with a group of students. We flew to Moscow and stayed there for half a week, then took the night train to Leningrad for the other half and returned to Germany from there.
It wasn't possible then to organise individual trips. Adults had to go with Intourist, the state-run tourist office. We had to go with Sputnik, the sub-organisation for youngsters. Before leaving the group leader (me) had to send a list of wishes, what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see, as well as a list of all names, addresses and passport numbers in twenty copies. (Wherever we went in Moscow and Leningrad, we would find someone waiting for us with a copy of this list in their hands. Spooky). At the airport groups were welcomed by an interpreter/chaperon/watchdog who accompanied them all the time, no matter if they knew the language or not.
In our case she (it was usually a woman) had our wish list which had transmogrified into a strict programme with some of our wishes but also items we hadn't dreamed of like visiting a summer camp on the Baltic Sea for the children of a textile factory in Leningrad (which turned out to be quite enjoyable) or a discussion with a group of Young Pioneers, the youth organisation of the Communist Party (we didn't go). For my second trip I had asked a friend to accompany me with whom I had studied Russian at university. The group consisted of fifteen well-behaved 17-year-old girls. I knew they wouldn't be trouble, but one can't do such trips alone. If a teacher has to accompany someone to hospital, for example, there must be someone who can stay with the group.
When we arrived at Moscow airport, we found a woman waiting for us, crumpled, crinkled and dead-tired. For some reason the Moscovite interpreters/chaperons/watchdogs were all occupied and Sputnik had called someone from Kiev. Ludmilla had been on the train longer than we had been on the plane which explained the way she looked. She turned out to be the best possible choice! She had been in Moscow and Leningrad many times, wasn't interested in making us 'work off' the items on our programme and, above all, wasn't afraid of any reprehensions. We studied the list together, she asked us if we wanted to go to wherever we were meant to go. When we declined, she called the people and simply said that we wouldn't come. She was a real treasure. She often stayed in her hotel room having seen the sights innumerable times and embroidered blouses with folkloristic motives. (She later made a beautiful one for my mother). We did what we wanted to do which was mainly walk around and inhale the atmosphere.
When we were in Leningrad my friend and I decided to thank Ludmilla by inviting her big-style to one of the best restaurants, the one on the ground floor of the 5-star Grand Hotel Europe on Nevsky Prospekt in the centre of the city. Nowadays we couldn't afford a night out there any more, but then, in the Soviet Union, we were rich with our Deutsche Mark against the Ruble. There were several other groups of people dining together, many from Western Europe. I'm not especially impressed by caviar, but we had it there, red one and black one, together with blinis (a type of thin pancake) and other specialities up and down the menu, accompanied by champagne from Crimea and a shot of vodka in the end. There was a small orchestra with a very good singer, a tenor, who specialised in Italian arias. No idea why he didn't sing Russian songs. Maybe the musicians thought that foreigners feel good when things aren't too foreign for them. (Which is indeed often the case). When midnight came, the festive evening ended rather abruptly. A grim, elderly charwoman appeared with a bucket full of water and a floor mop and began cleaning the floor between the tables.
So we left. We went to the nearest underground station, not drunk but tipsy enough to take the wrong underground train. Our hotel was far away from the centre somewhere in the periphery. When we noticed that we didn't recognise any of the names of the stations we passed, we got off. It was after midnight then, but not dark. The days in the middle of June are called the White Nights in this northern city. This is a period when many great cultural events take place. The sun shines until 10 / 10.30 pm and starts shining again at around 5 am. In between the sky is light grey. We had no idea where we were, our interpreter had never been to the outskirts before. Understandably, as all sights are in the centre. The good thing for my friend and me was, of course, that we had someone with us who could speak the language perfectly. But this didn't help much as at that time of night the streets were empty. We didn't feel too good as you can imagine. After some time the door of a high rise building opened and a young couple, dressed normally, and a young woman in a long nightie came out together with a dog which they wanted to walk. When they heard that we were lost, they decided that the dog wouldn't mind where it was walked. We were already near our hotel but approaching it from a different side, so we hadn't recognised the area. When we saw our hotel, we parted thanking our three saviours profusely.
Our students had also enjoyed the light night and walked around at a time when it was already pitch dark at home but none had such a nice story to tell. You can imagine that I have fond thoughts when thinking of this city and its people!
As with some of my other travel reviews, I will stick to writing about the highlights of my trip to St Petersburg.
1) The Hermitage. We arrived at about 9am and still queued for 2 hours before getting in. People arriving later had waits of up to 4 hours. Either get there first thing (it opens at 10.30am and there were queues when we arrived) or better still, book tickets online and bypass the queue.
2) Student cards. There are a few good discounts for students - the Hermitage was free and we got a discount at St Isaacs cathedral. You don't need to have an ISIC, you can just have your university membership card.
3) Go to the ballet. Kind of goes without saying. We went to the Mikhailovsky and brought tickets the day before, just make sure you buy them at the ticket office and not off touts.
4) The double decker tour bus was fun but not great value for money. Equally the metro was pretty sketchy and there can be long distances between stations. Pack good walking shoes or try and figure out the buses...
5) Try and take a decent map with you. There weren't loads of road name signs, and there is only one tourist information office (official). If you can find it...
6) Take maps in the Lonely Planet trans-siberian guide with a pinch of salt - it often shows restaurants etc... as being in the wrong location.
7) If you go in June / early July, take an eye mask - it doesn't get dark until late and can really upset your sleeping pattern!
8) Try and learn a few words of Russian, and learn the Cyrillic alphabet - it will make life an awful lot easier!
In December 2001 I went on a business trip to Saint Petersburg. The talks were tough, exhausting and, in my (interpreter’s) opinion, as nauseating as persistency of prostitutes who tried to impose themselves in vain on my sweet solitude. So I didn’t have much time to spare, and the few hours I managed to snatch from the busy schedule were spent on two or three walks down the Nevsky Prospekt and some shopping. It wasn’t my first visit to the city. I served in the army there. I frequented it later on. Spent a part of my honeymoon (even though that marriage collapsed soon, some memories of our honeymoon in Saint Petersburg are now bright rather than painful. It was summer and the city seemed to be at its prime then), used to have some friends there. But it was my first visit since the collapse of the USSR. Throughout my weeklong stay in Saint Petersburg I didn’t hear a single foul word on the street, and I am ready to praise the locals to the skies for such a souvenir (we, Moscovites, do not speak Russian – we speak a low language). I’ve always thought that Saint Petersburg looks more like a capital city than Moscow. Now, after I’ve almost used up my lucky share of foreign travels, I think that a Westerner would feel there more at home than in Moscow. If you try and imagine what would become of present-day Vienna after a decade or two of a serious financial and moral crisis, you would get a picture of what to expect in Saint Petersburg. Take crime rate into account, by all means. And if you are going to make a call home and see several international phone booths on the Nevsky Prospekt (not far from the Moskovsky railway station, at the Prospekt's opposite end to the Winter Palace), you’d better ignore them. They are run by a company called "Санкт-Петерk 3;ургские так
;софоны" ("Saint Petersburg Payphones", www.spt.ru)I tried to make a call to Moscow from the place and had to change three to four booths. I counted on a five-minute comfortable, amorous talk with my wife, but, since the line was either dead, or bad, or crossed, I had to squeeze what I had to say into a telegraph-style sentence (I regret - it was not “I just called to say I love you…”).
This must be one of the most amazing cities in the world. There is so much to see and do. It has had many name changes from Petrograd to Leningrad to St Petersburg. Among the locals it is simply known as Peter - after its founder Peter The Great. THE SIGHTS * The Hermitage Museum - if you visit only one sight in the city it has to be here. A day really isn't long enough to see the vast array of exhibits thoug. You can find everything from original works by Monet to Egyptian artefacts and of course you will see the history of Russia too. The settings of the exhibits can be almost as fascinating.Some of the exhibits are in the Winter Palace - setting for one of the most important events in the 1917 revolution * The Church of the Spilled Blood - a typical Russian style church which is very similar in design to St Basil's in Moscow. There are some very interesting icons and mosaics inside. * St Isaacs Cathedral - as well as the interior being of a spectacular design you must go up to the top of the cathedral for an incredible view of the city. You can see for miles on a clear day. * The Marinsky Theatre - no matter how much you have to pay for a ticket you really must try and see a production here. I saw War and Peace and it was a masterpiece - although entirely in Russian they do have a display in English. The interior of the theatre is well worth seeing too. Some fascinating architecture is on display. * Nevsky Prospekt - this is the main street in the city and is filled with designer shops alongside typical Russian kiosks selling almost anything. * The canals - you can take a boat ride on the canals for a fraction of the price you would pay in Venice. This is the Venice of the North. * The bridges - there are numerous bridges connecting the city. On an evening some of them are eaised to let the ships through. We had an amazing (unofficial) nightime trip into one of the raised bridges. <
br>* Peterhof - on the outskirts of the city is a summer palace with lots of fountains. It also has some very beautiful gardens to wander around. This only a brief guide to places. There are many more places to see. NIGHTLIFE There are numerous bars and clubs in the city where the locals enjoy themselves. Places such as the Tribunal have an excellent reputation ... but also the prices to go with that reputation. Some clubs are open 24 hours a day. EATING There is a wide variety of restaurants in the city ranging from Oriental food, to Mexican (Senor Pepes is excellent), to Fastfood joints and typical Russian cuisine. I spent a fortnight in the city and still didn't get to see everything that I wanted. The only downside to a trip is the visa bureaucracy. As regards safety in the city, I actually felt safer here wandering around on my own than in London.
St Petersburg is a breathtaking city. Beautiful beyond belief. As you emerge from the train station, above the clamour of the streets and shabbiness of its denizens, rises beautiful buildings. As you head down the main street, you see that the building of equal splendour line the streets and run round the corners...The scale is huge and just gets larger and larger until you get to a cathedral with a curved arcade of columns that you would swear dwarfed the colloseum. Down every avenue lies a museum or church, all worth the few roubles it costs to get in. And it all just gets grander and grander culminating in the Hermitage and Catherine’s palace. Combined with the Finnish Gulf and Peterhof (Peter’s Palace), St Petersburg is the grandest city I have been to, holding itself with great dignity and grace embued by the days when it was the capital. You can positively feel the city and it’s bygone-heyday. But take a stroll just a couple of streets off the main shopping runs and it’s eerily desolate. A strange city that can’t help but chase what it once had. Don't miss the canal ride. In typical Russian style, our boat broke down in open water when the guide had just told us that it was too cold to survive in those waters! It's the only way to see some of the architecture that fronts onto the water and the guides will let you in on all the insider information.
"Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург ) is a city located in Northwestern Federal District of Russia on the delta of the Neva River at the east end of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It is informally known as Piter (Питер) and was formerly known as Petrograd (Петрогра́д, 19141924) and Leningrad (Ленингра́д, 19241991). Founded by Tsar Peter the Great on May 16(27), 1703 as a "window to Europe", it served as the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years. St. Petersburg ceased being the capital when the capital was moved to Moscow after the Russian Revolution of 1917. With about 4.8 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city, Europe's eleventh largest metropolitan area, a major European cultural center, and the most important Russian port on the Baltic. The city has a total area of 1439 square km, which makes it the second biggest city in terms of area among cities with over a million inhabitants in Europe, after London."