Destination: St Petersburg – a Cultural Feast

 

It is often referred to as the Venice of the North or the Paris of the East. The city centre is set on the south bank of the Neva river.

 

Modern St Petersburg has no shortage of restaurants, and plenty of variety. Aside from traditional Russian restaurants, Chinese and Japanese cuisine is popular, with sushi a recent craze.

 

St Petersburg has a vibrant, varied nightlife ranging from opera and ballet to nightclubs, rock concerts, jazz clubs, and acid house raves. How ever, the scene is constantly changing with new venues opening and old ones closing. Most of the decent night life is in the city centre.

 

The local currency is the ruble. The market near the Spilled Blood Cathedral offers every thing from matrioshka dolls to hand-painted lacquer boxes in a wide range of quality and prices.

 

The main square of St Petersburg is one of the world’s most magnificent plazas. Palace Square contains the picturesque Baroque buildings of the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum on one side and the Classical yellow and white former General Staff buildings of the Russian army on the other. The main point of the square is the Alexander Column, a tall monolith of red granite topped by a cross and the statue of an angel, dedicated to the Russian military victory in the Napoleonic wars. Palace Square has been the site of numerous political protests, most notably the demonstrations of Bloody Sunday in 1905 that started the first Russian Revolution. Today the square, with the views of the Admiralty’s golden spire and the dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral from across the vast stone paving, is filled with markets, outdoor cafes and the sound of horse-drawn carriages.

 

The Bronze Horseman, on Senatskaia Ploschad Square, facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty, St Isaac’s Cathedral. The monument was built by order of the Empress Catherine the Great as a tribute to her famous predecessor on the Russian throne, Peter the Great. According to a 19th century legend, enemy forces will never take St. Petersburg while the Bronze Horseman stands in the middle of the city. During the Second World War the statue was not taken down, but was protected with sand bags and a wooden shelter.

 

Flying is the best means of visiting this remote city in Northeastern Europe, since overland transport is time consuming and ultimately costs the same. Most flights arrive at Pulkovo international airport with some budget routes recently introduced.

 

The network of public transportation in St Petersburg is quite extensive; however, resources of public transportation are quite over-stretched and most public transport is not particularly user-friendly. Nonetheless, the metro is reliable and cost-effective for medium- and long-distance transportation. For the shorter trips you can try trams, buses and trolleybuses, or taxis.

St Petersburg is a cultural gem that is less popular than other historic and grand European cities since tourist to Russia has been hampered in the past and the infrastructure is gradually catching up.

Doug is a travel writer and specialist on Russia, he flies there often.

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