Our days in Leningrad
04.08.2013 - 07.08.2013 30 °C
So how about some actual stuff about St Petersburg?
I knew the city was going to be incredibly beautiful, and it is. The cityscape reminds me of Vienna quite a lot -- mostly due to the beautiful old houses that could very well be found there. To get this out of the way now, though, there were also a few letdowns: The streets are huge (Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in the city centre, has six lanes of traffic!), probably also warranted by the amount of car traffic around, so of course the noise level is quite high near them and the Nevsky Prospekt oozes about as much charm as the Gürtel in Vienna. Also, everyone drives like a maniac, including the bikers who are probably scared to go on the streets and therefore use the sidewalks at insanely high speeds. There's quite a stench coming out of the sewer covers sometimes, but that's hardly different in New York. And the weapon of choice for the industrious ticket seller seems to be the megaphone -- some using it themselves, some playing some sort of pre-recorded message on a loop -- which can really get on your last nerve.
Other than that, and the fact that it was a bit hot for my taste (my weather app, the liar, steadfastly showed 23•C, but the thermometer outside Hermitage showed 32•C yesterday), out stay in St Petersburg was beautiful.
The metro as well as any city maps are very straightforward because all those signs are in Cyrillic as well as Latin, and while I'd learned the letters on the train, I read them at the speed of a five-year-old. We also tried our hand at taking buses, which worked well even when the bus turned out to be a tiny minibus (more of a large car) that basically stopped whenever someone asked the driver to.
Highlights of the sightseeing include the Church of Our Savious of the Spilled Blood, which doesn't just look amazing from the outside (I had a slight, wait, isn't that supposed to be in Moscow? moment, but apparently there are enough onion-domed towers to go around in Russia), but on the inside is covered in mosaics from floor to ceiling, and well worth the entrance fee.
St Isaac's Cathedral is lucky it has that golden dome, because otherwise it's pretty ugly, made of grey stone. However, going up to the colonade gives you an amazing view of the city; afterwards we were in need of a break, so we decided to drag our sweaty selves to the cute mint green and white café next to the church. We never got a name, but there are angels on the sign, and 2-for-1 prosecco which made us feel like we were back in civilised society after a day of sightseeing in the heat.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral in the middle of the Peter and Paul Fortress is also a nice church, probably mostly worth visiting if you want to see the controversial tomb of Csar Nicholas II. and his family, or try to decipher the names on all the other sarcophagi. The fact that there are people sunbathing and swimming around the fortress seems very nice until you have a closer look at the water -- definitely bearing the marks of the heavy boat traffic -- but it's still extremely refreshing to wade into, and I survived without catching some sort of disease. (Probably.)
The Hermitage museum in the Winter Palace is incredibly beautiful, of course. Given that it's a former palace in the city centre that was transformed into a museum, it reminds me quite a bit of the Louvre, only in green (a very fetching colour for palaces, if you ask me). We had to queue quite a bit for our free student tickets in the lovely courtyard (all the regular tourists barely had any waiting time), and given the size of the queue it's not surprising that it was quite crowded inside. The artwort was nice enough (I prefer to see painings in a less distracting, cleaner environment rather than a lavish one, to be honest), but most impressive were the State Rooms, especially the one all in gold and white (we dubbed it the ball room) with a door out into an atrium. Imagining living there and walking down the huge staircases for breakfast -- the mind boggles. I enjoyed other museums more in terms of the artwork, but it's still worth visiting, especially if you can get in for free as a student, and don't even think about paying the extra 200 roubles for photography -- no-one checked even once. I enjoyed the ambiance the most, and the little touches like the incredible hardwood floors.
Doing a boat tour through the canals of the city -- it reminds me more of Amsterdam than of Venice, to be honest, but that's probably splitting hairs -- is certainly a good idea, but in my opinion not a must if you've already see the city on foot.
Finally, we also went to the Museum of Political History, which is extremely well done, but certainly a bit more enjoyable for people who speak Russian, or possibly those who get the audio guide, as there are English signs in the exhibitions, but not quite as much as Russian info. We got an audiopen, which provided a shorter tour, but it felt a little incomplete. However, it's very interactive and beautifully presented, giving an overview of the Soviet era plus the political history of Russia both in the 19th century and recently. Also, you get to see Lenin's office.
Wie were staying at the Red House Hostel on Liteyny prospekt. It's located in the pretty green inner courtyard of a large old house and pretty nice, if a bit humid in general -- especially the bathrooms, and our room was stuffy at night. The staff (including the boss) was unfailingly great and fun and treated us to our first vodka In Russia (and then another, and then another). I can recommend this place for everyone -- it's quite cheap as well.
Trying to go out for more than a drink during the week is a sad affair, but food-wise we were more successful:
ZooM, the already mentioned TripAdvisor number 1, is not exactly cheap, but not expensive either and really very good. Be prepared to either arrive early or wait for quite a while, though -- they don't take reservations. Third time was the charm for us, the other times the wait was about an hour, which we refused. We got lucky finding alternatives, though,
Coffee Room, down the street, serves some excellent inexpensive food (portions aren't huge, but I got a filling Spaghetti Carbonara for less than €6.50) and the atmosphere is great,
Clean Plates Society, up the street from ZooM, is also very nice, great duck and roast beef for a very reasonable price.
And finally, for a quick bite in-between, there's Stolle not too far away from the Hermitage, and a pie shop recommended to us by a local at nab. Griboyedova Kanala 20.
Now I'm off to gett some sleep in order to experience Moscow in just two and a half days. One thing's for certain - our last night, a Friday, will be spent partying, just before the longest train ride on our itinerary