White nights in St.Petersburg, Russia

The chance to spend a weekend in St Petersburg was one that I leapt at; I visited in June in the middle of their very short, very beautiful summer and was intrigued about what it was like living with the seasons so far north. It is such a beautiful city and the White Nights (the brief summer with near 24 hours of daylight) is a magical time to be there.
The word most widely used by the Russians I spoke to when discussing their winter was a resounding “depressing”, but everyone was so enthusiastic about the fun and life of the period when everything turns bright and warm and so was I.

I arrived in St Petersburg and made my way to meet up with a friend of a friend, who was to be my hostess for the weekend. She was interning at New Holland Island, a small triangle of land divided by 3 narrow canals, recently bought by the girlfriend of Roman Abramovich (Chelsea football club owner) and turned into something of a party spot. There are art galleries, games and activities, bars and eateries and a stage for bands to play. It is very much the place to be and be seen in the summer. It was packed with hipsters of all ages, quirkily dressed, carrying this season’s Chanel handbags and sipping complimentary champagne in the VIP area. I felt a tad unfashionable surrounded by the elite of the St Petersburg social scene, but no-one else seemed to have noticed!

At about midnight New Holland was no longer the place to be and a group of us walked on to our next destination. Walking through the city with the skies still the colour of late afternoon, looking at the beautiful buildings, canals, retro cars and people was magical. One of my new friends, a translator, who spoke perfect English with an astoundingly English accent, was acting as my own personal tour guide, telling me all about the city she grew up in and obviously loves.

She showed me how the facades of buildings are mostly freshly painted and in good condition, but if you look a little closer and down the side of them they’re still very soviet, with peeling paint and pockmarks. The architecture was one of my favourite aspects of St Petersburg. A juxtaposition of incredibly grand and total disrepair is something I’ve always found beautiful, like some of the old colonial palaces in India. It is a gorgeous city to see both on foot and from a boat on the canals, providing a totally different angle. The city has a decidedly European feel to it, from the architecture to the people; with some twists you could be in Amsterdam or Paris.

The following day we began with a walk around Peter and Paul’s fortress, then watched Russian Orthodox worshipers taking communion at St Nicholas’ Cathedral, then my favourite, St Isaac’s Cathedral. The word magnificent just doesn’t even scratch the surface, but it’s the only one I can find to describe the incredible mosaic interior of this historical building. I made the traditional wish standing directly below the dove in the centre of the colossal domed ceiling, insisted my guide make one too and then we moved on.

After a morning with my guide we parted ways outside the unfeasibly large Hermitage, the world famous art gallery, home to 21 original Picassos and countless other treasures. I wandered around on my own, illegally drifting after any English guides I heard, and saw some amazing things; an incredibly preserved mummy in Antiquities of Siberia, a beautiful library in Palace Interiors, a gorgeously ornate jewellery box and stunning paintings from all over the world. There is so much to see here, that to make the most of your time I would definitely recommend a guide, or the audio guide’s available offer a good alternative.

After the few hours spent wandering I then made the 40 minute walk down the main street, Nevsky Prospekt, back to my hotel. I stopped off at Kupetz Eliseevs, a ridiculously deluxe and expensive food hall with a grand piano in the centre, selling macaroons and sweet treats of every colour of the rainbow. I was here that I bought and consumed the nicest chocolate muffin I’ve ever had (for a hefty price!). It’s worth a visit here even if you’re not intending to buy anything, but I would recommend you treat yourself to a macaroon, for which they’re famed.

Next I did the European thing and sat having coffee with another new friend, a photographer, who told me about life in St Petersburg, utilising the weather and the seasons, hibernating in winter and bursting into bloom in the summer for all night parties and socialising. We ate hot cheburerky (soft pastry filled with cheese or meat) dipped in soured cream – I thought it sounded awful but it was delicious, all accompanied by White Russians. I walked home alone in the rain, which provided the perfect opportunity to just take everything in.

For me, the people are what made St Petersburg. There is a stigma on the Russian people; it’s thought that they are quite abrupt and stern, but St Petersburg is different, everyone I met was warm, welcoming and happy. I think this ‘European’ city is a wonderful and gentle introduction to this vast country. I flew home the next morning and my time in St Petersburg was far too brief. I would head back in an instant to spend the whole summer there!

“Steppes Travel are experts in Russia holidays. They specialise in holidays to Moscow, St Petersburg, and other parts of Russia.”

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