A May 2005 trip
to St. Petersburg by KDKerr
Quote: Peter the Great envisioned St. Petersburg as a reflection of the great European cities and the primary Russian shipping port via the Baltic Sea. While Petersburg is equal in prominence to Moscow, its European-influenced architecture makes it less Russian than the country's capital.
The Hermitage is a must, but the collection is so overwhelming that a week long visit wouldn't provide enough time to take in everything on display. If you find yourself with limited time, have a list of the most important sights to view during your visit. My next trip to the Hermitage will include a viewing of the peacock clock in action, which only occurs at 5pm on Wednesdays.
Of all the amazing places in St. Petersburg or Russia for that matter, the Church of the Savior on the Blood is the most breathtaking in appearance. Long before the Franks (Lloyd Wright and Gehry) became reknowned for their inventive architecture, some mad genius dreamed up this awe inspring design atop the site of Alexander II's assasination. The exterior of the church is an amazing mix of colors and shapes, and the interior is filled with the world's largest collection of mosaics. Deservedly so, the Church of the Savior of the Blood is one of St. Petersburg's main tourist attractions.
The Pulkovskaya Hotel is a modern collection of three of these gigantic structures. It is located eight kilometers from downtown St. Petersburg, and it is self-described as having international luxury-class accommodations. Sorry, but I must disagree. I'm certain that I was staying in the most basic of rooms, but I think U.S. prisons offer more space with larger, softer beds.
The hotel has 840 rooms with 17 luxury rooms and 80 first-class single rooms. Again, I would have loved to have seen the amenities that met the luxury and first-class standard. The hotel claims that every room has high-class furnishing (disagree), four-channel radio (didn't use), television (ancient model), refrigerator (small but nice), and highly efficient air-conditioning (hardly!).
While the rooms aren't spectacular, a wide range of amenities does exist within the hotel, including restaurants, a lobby bar, a beauty salon, a newsstand, gift and convenience shops, currency exchange and ATMs, and clothing/shoe repair services. While I never enjoyed a meal there, the Paulaner Brewery was recommended by many people within my tour group and got quite lively with Polka music and dancing in the early evening hours. The hotel lobby is also great for people watching with great seating and a lively late-night bar near the Odyssey Restaurant.
The Pulkovskaya Hotel is so incredibly large that I didn't even realize it also housed a 500-seat concert hall and "A Foreign Affair," an American-based marriage agency. Prior to my trip, I jokingly told my parents that I was going to find a mail-order bride during our stay. It never even occured to me that I could have so conveniently gone through with it.
I wasn't impressed with this hotel in the slightest, and I assure you that it is the furthest thing from luxury accommodations. However, I don't really have a problem with sleeping in lower-quality surroundings. My biggest problem was that the hotel was located so far from the downtown area. The closest Metro was a 10-minute walk, and many taxis refused to drive out to the southern suburbs. For a future stay, I would gladly spend a little extra on a more accessible location.
One positive about the hotel's location is the Victory Monument that sits next to it in the center of ploschad Pobedy. You have to take an underpass beneath the busy street to see it up-close, but it is a truly breathtaking tribute to the hardships endured during the WWII blockade of the city.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on June 10, 2005
Ploschad Pobedy 1
St. Petersburg, Russia
La Strada's decor is meant to evoke the feeling of sitting at a table on a rustic Italian side street. Seating is available surrounding the pizza preparation area or on a small Florentine balcony overlooking the main floor. A semi-cylindrical glass ceiling, referred to as the crystal cupola, runs the entire length of the long, narrow restaurant. While adding natural light to the eatery's intimate atmosphere, it unfortunately creates a hot and humid climate akin to dining in a greenhouse. I'm not sure adding solar heat to a brick oven environment was a stroke of architectural brilliance.
The waitstaff are exceptionally friendly, and they are quick to prepare and provide your made-to-order pizza. My family and I decided upon simple toppings of pepperoni and plain cheese, but there are more exotic choices like the Pizza La Strada, which is covered with fresh seafood. If pizza is not to your liking, alternative Italian dishes such as vegetarian lasagne, carpaccio, baked potatoes, or a selection of cheeses, as well as a salad bar, are tasty menu options.
La Strada is also a very "kid-friendly" place with a children's nursery and opportunities for catered birthday celebrations. I personally took advantage of the children's ice cream menu as a reward for completing my lunch in lieu of the highly-touted tiramisu.
If you find yourself tiring of traditional Russian meals, La Strada's Italian fare is not a bad choice for cleansing your palette. In my opinion, sampling the foreign offerings of ethnic food is equal in importance to partaking in a country's national dishes. Besides, were I given a choice between beer and pizza versus vodka and caviar, I'd definitely be pledging my allegiance to the Italians.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 6, 2005
Bolshaia Koniushennaia, 27
St. Petersburg, Russia 190000
+7 812 314 0347
Attraction | "Nevsky Souvenir - Best Store Ever!"
True to form, I arrived in St. Petersburg and couldn't wait to start buying Matryoshka dolls, faux-fur hats, and magnets, certain that I would never see the same thing hundreds of other places. After coming to the realization that I was going to see plenty of local handicrafts during my stay, I finally was able to get my hyperactive spending mechanism under control.
For the next few days, I saw a seemingly unending supply of souvenirs exactly the same as the lot that I purchased on that first day. That is, until I stumbled into a store on Nevsky Prospect simply called Nevsky Souvenir.
Like the facade of any store located in an American tourist trap, it is easy to discount Nevsky Souvenir by its humble exterior. Just the word "souvenir" in the store's name is enough to make most people assume it's a place to buy "My parent's visited Russia and all I got was this crappy T-shirt" type items. However, upon entering the small but well-organized store, you know you are being presented with higher-quality merchandise than that being offered by the multitude of sellers elsewhere.
For one thing, much of the merchandise available in Nevsky Souvenir is priced for many thousands of rubles (equivalent to hundreds of US dollars) and protected within locked glass cases. Less-expensive but quality items are also placed on open shelves for your closer inspection.
With the exception of one of the store's owners, the entire staff speaks nearly perfect English and will happily spend time telling you about any item of interest to you. Personally, I learned more about the symbolism behind the colors and decorations used on Matryoshka dolls than most average Russians probably know. The employees will also tell you about the local artists who provide them with all of their handicrafts.
Two 18-year-old university students, Olga and Anna, spent close to an hour helping my parents, and I pick out things from their large inventory. They also carry calculators to quickly convert an item's cost into US currency to show exactly how much you are spending. Olga and Anna are 2 years into a 5-year university program to become certified Russian guides, so their knowledge of local history and culture is quite extensive.
If you find yourself walking down Nevsky Prospect near The Hermitage, please stop in and see what this store has to offer. If Olga or Anna comes around to help you, tell them Kevan says, "Hello!"
The store is open daily from 10am to 9pm, and you can view the Nevsky Souvenir site at any time. If you wish to contact the store outside of Russia, send an email via email@example.com or phone 7(812) 312-66-76.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 8, 2005
22-24, Nevsky Prospekt (entrance Bolshaya Konyushennaya 12)
St. Petersburg, Russia
Gotika sits inside of a picturesque European-style courtyard, just off Nevsky Prospekt. Open 24 hours, the private establishment is housed within a basement illuminated outside by a dark red lamp. Pressing the doorbell outside of the club will result in an exchange of hellos before being allowed entry. Just inside the door, a thuggish comrade behind a desk is at the ready to collect the 200 rubles ($7.50 U.S.) entry fee.
Gotika is a narrow but cosy space with seating available in cushy, red leather booths or four barstools at the very back. After being seated, the women don't take long to make themselves your company. Few of them speak very good (if any) English, so count on there being a language barrier. The ladies waste no time in asking you to buy them all drinks or requesting that you whisk one of them away to a private room. It was like being in a group of the most high-pressure, used-car salesmen where no one has visited the lot in years.
I definitely felt forced to choose someone quickly, since buying a table full of watered-down drinks was the more expensive and less pleasing option. Once a selection has been made, you are shown a "crazy menu" of activities sorted by cost. To my recollection, it started with a table-side dance for 500 rubles ($20 U.S.) and ended with something called the "Stone Face" that cost 30,000 rubles ($1,100 U.S.). I did not get or want the stone face treatment!
After being seductively separated from a large portion of cash, I decided to call it a night. The entire time I was there, I felt very pressured, when I was hoping for a more relaxed evening. If I ever decided to partake in these types of services again, I would spend my time elsewhere.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on July 5, 2005
Nevsky Pr 88
St. Petersburg, Russia
Fortunately, my experience with the border patrol could almost be described as pleasant. My entire tour group, nearly 40 people, made it through in a snappy hour and a half. After entering the country, a time-consuming bus ride into St. Petersburg remained. I'm 6 feet, 3 inches, so cramped seating on planes and buses always prevents any thought of a blissful rest. Needless to say, I was exhausted upon arrival to the hotel, and I was scheduled to take a 2-hour evening cruise along the Fontanka and Neva Rivers.
My group was set to depart the hotel for the boat at 8:30pm. At this point, I was having some serious second thoughts about the cruise because my physical and mental stamina was so thoroughly drained. I managed to conjure up some extra energy and felt peppy once aboard the boat. Inside, we were seated at small tables that included vodka, champagne, and caviar hors d'oeuvres while a small folklore group performed at the front of the vessel.
While sailing along the Fontanka River, we noticed a teenage boy running alongside our tour. As the cruise went on, the boy stayed comfortably in stride with our watercraft. He would occasionally run ahead so that he could stop and wave. For the entire 2 hours, he accompanied us on foot as we enjoyed St. Petersburg's sights from the water.
We had many theories about his reason for following along. The most popular one being that he was a "special" child attracted to boats in the same way that a dog chases cars that pass it by. The cruise finally concluded, and the boy sat down at the pier and waited for everyone to disembark. Almost everyone in the group gave him some kind of donation. He probably collected somewhere between $50 to $75.
I've lived in NYC for 9 years, and I've seen plenty of unique street performances. However, this kid's schtick was pure genius in its simplicity, and best of all, it was paid healthy living. Two days later, during the afternoon, my nephew and I were walking along the Fontanka on our way to pay homage to Chizik Pyzhik. We noticed another cruise making its return to the pier, and sure enough, here came St. Petersburg's Forrest Gump doing his thing. This kid must be one of the most athletic and profitable entrepreneurs in the city, especially if he does this routine multiple times each day. If you find yourself on a cruise in St. Petersburg, be on the lookout for this kid and try not to yell out, "Run, Forrest, Run!"
Please note that if you are confined to a wheelchair, it is nearly impossible to board the enclosed boats. You cross a very narrow wooden plank that is much thinner than the width of a wheelchair's tires. Additionally, there are three small boards crossing the top of the plank that must be overcome. For disabled tourists, I would suggest finding an alternative tour. My mother, who has MS, can still walk short distances, and it was even difficult for her to get onboard.