Saturday, May 10, 2008

St Peterburg Highlights


We've spent five jammed packed days getting a taste of St Petersburg. What do we think? Here's a little snapshot of our favourite discoveries.

Walking through history

We loved walking around admiring the city at ground level, it really has a buzz and atmosphere about it... we did, however, seriously understimate the sheer scale of the streets and blocks on the map, resulting in 2 very tired tourists at the end of each trek. One day we enlisted a local guide, Sascha, to show us the city off the beaten tourist trail. Looking dishevelled, big burly Sascha turned up to our hostel in the morning looking like a hairy shaggy dog. After a series of stopoffs to Cafes all over the city and five coffees later, he transformed into something more human.

We sampled the best local produce at Kuznecky farmers market, right in the heart of inner city St Petersburg. Here we tried pickled gherkins, pickled wild garlic and a sort of Russian curd similar to ricotta.


We also stopped off in a little artistic quarter, which opens into a courtyard painted in psychadelic colours dedicated to the Beatles. The artists based here had been squatting for several decades, at one stage coming head to head with local government officials. Nowadays, they are allowed to stay and in exchange the government takes credit for this initiative as their own.

Whilst Sascha downed his coffee, we were able to try Kvas, a non-alcoholic Russian beer brewed from bread.... its not as bad as it sounds! It's actually quite delicious and is enjoying something of a renaissance after it fell out of favour in Soviet times due to its connection with old monarchists who supported the Tsars. Following the fall of the Soviet union, western soft drinks such as coca cola were all the rage so Kvas even went out of production. We are certainly glad it's back!

Other quarters were home to best known Russian poets and writers, local neighbourhoods were the inspiration for the likes of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Seeing these settings helped to make these stories leap off the page a little.

Beautiful Buildings

St Petersburg's star attraction, and deservedly so, is the Hermitage museum. Housed in the winter palace of the Tsars, we saw a beautiful collection of artwork from all periods of history, all over the world. Most spectacular, though, were the decor and furnishings of this palace. Each set of rooms with their own themes and ornate trimmings. We had to be careful in rooms which were gilded in gold as we would receive the wrath of museum attendants for leaning on gold columns or against gorgeous doorways or walls.

There were loads of other beautiful buildings: St Isaacs Cathedral, the Church on the spilled blood and many palaces mostly built by famous Italian architects...including quite a few which Catherine the Great built as presents to her lovers!
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