A Week In Saint Petersburg

I spent seven days in Saint Petersburg last May. It was a wonderful trip, both inspiring and educational.


A Week In Saint Petersburg

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

There are a million things to do in Saint Petersburg. The Hermitage is a must, but I frankly found it disappointing. Walking down Nevsy is fun and interesting. I recommend a trip to the Seige Museum which documents (a slightly sanitized version) of life during the German Seige of Saint Petersburg during WWII. The Nevsy Monastery is currently being renovated, but the grounds around it are still beautiful. The Peter and Paul Fortress is impressive, but don't plan to eat nearby, the restaurants are all horrible. ${QuickSuggestions} WATCH YOUR WALLET/PURSE!!!!! My friend's wallet was stolen on our last day while we were riding on the bus.
KEEP YOUR METRO/BUS TICKETS!!! Plain-clothes nspectors ruitinely ask for them, and if you're caught without one you will probably have to bribe your way out of the situation.
DON'T TAKE TAXIS! Except to and from the airport (arranged by your hotel). unless you speak unaccented Russian. The drivers will rip you off every time. I had a cab driver try to charge me the equivalent of $75 to go less than 2 miles. I think he thought I wouldn't be able to convert from Rubles to dollars in my head. I laughed, thanked him, hopped on a bus, and made the trip for a little less than 20 cents US. People say not to drink the water because of a local parasite that can cause stomache problems, but I didn't strictly adhere to that (I had ice and fresh fruits and veggies washed in water) and I didn't feel a thing. If you decide not to drink the water, remember to brush your teeth with bottled water. ${BestWay} DON'T TAKE THE TAXIS!!! I feel so strongly that I decided to say this again. Unless you speak fluent, unaccented Russian you will get ripped off. The buses are great. Cheap. Clean. Fast. The routes are easy to figure out (Recommend Lonely's Planet's City Map) if you have a good map. Just WATCH YOUR WALLET. Crowded buses are popular with pickpockets.
WARNING: THE METRO IS VERY VERY VERY DEEP!!!!! My friend had a panic attack on the escalator that goes down into the Pl. Vosstania metro stop. It goes down (literally) 15 stories. And you can't get back up without going all the way down. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. So if you have any claustrophobia or fear of being buried alive etc... don't use the metro. If you don't, the metro is a great way to get around, and some of the metro stops are actually very beautiful.

Hotel Oktyabrskaya

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

This is the least expensive major hotel in the city center. It's fine, but not nearly as nice as any of the other hotels I've stayed at throughout Eastern and Western Europe for the same money. The problem is, spend any less, and you're out of the historical heart of the city, and the next step up literally means adding at least $100-$150 a night to the price of a single! I usually spend between $100-$150 a night on a single, and recieve much more in terms of luxury than I did here.

That said. It's fine. It's clean, safe, the rooms are medium-sized, and the hotel offers every normal amenity. There are idiosyncracies though. There is a mini-fridge in each room, but they aren't stocked. (Not a nice thing to discover when the only thing you want is a beer after traveling for a day to make it to Saint Petersburg.) If you want to order a movie, you have to go down to the front desk (which is always swamped), and if you have your laundry done you have to go down to the front desk to pick it up.

WATCH OUT FOR THE PORN CHANNELS IF YOU HAVE LITTLE KIDS!!!! When you station hop on the TV the porn channels show up with all the other channels. There's no way to block them. I learned a few things, let me tell you.

DON'T GET A ROOM FACING THE STREET, GET A ROOM FACING THE INNER COURTYARD!!! The inner courtyard is unarguably ugly, but the noise from the street is unbearable. The hotel is surrounded by badly maintained trolly tracks that run all night. The sounds of the trollys bumping over the tracks will keep you up unless you sleep like the dead. I went with a friend who NEVER wakes up because of noise, but after one night in a street-side room he had to demand an inner room.

The hotel offers several cafes that make a decent beef stroganof, and a lobby bar that is nice, but a bit pricey by Russian standards. If you walk outside and halfway down the block you'll get a beer for 1/3 the price anywhere you go.

All this said, I have to recommend this hotel, just because there isn't really any alternative in the city center unless you have an unlimited budget.

Hotel Oktyabrskaya
Ligovsky Pr 10 In Front Of Ploshad' Vosstania Underground
St. Petersburg
7 (812) 578-15-15

Bistro Garcon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

All in all, the food in Russia is not good. At least not to my palate, and I'll pretty much try anything. The food is bland and repetitive.

Bistro Garcon is a true find in St. Petersburg. Everything on the menu is wonderful, but be careful, some dishes can be a little rich if you're used to light fare.

I ate breakfast here every day, and had came back for lunch or dinner (or both) most days too. The waitstaff is effecient and polite (when I went there was even a near-sighted waiter who inadvertently provided some light comedy), but not terribly fluent in English. Don't worry, you'll get your point across. I can't recommend this restaurant highly enough. Order some onion soup, sit back, and enjoy.

Bistro Garcon
Nevsy Pr. 95
St. Petersburg, Russia

The Grand Hotel Europe

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

I recommend having lunch at the outdoor cafe at the Grand Hotel Europe when you become truly starved for good food in Saint Petersburg. Their French-styles sandwhiches are expensive ($15!), but they're sooooooo good. A sandwich, a beer, and a coffee afterwards will run you almost $25, but it's guaranteed good food (that isn't beef stroganof!), which is not something to sneeze at in Russia.

Eating at the Grand Hotel Europe can be entertaining also. During my lunch one day, I watched two European Businessmen "wine and dine" two prostitutes in the cafe. Don't ask me how I knew they were prostitutes. After you've spent some time in Eastern Europe, you just know. I felt bad for the girls; the men were crass mannerless pigs.

The Grand Hotel Europe
Mikhailovskaya ul 1/7
St. Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

You have to go, but, frankly, I was disappointed. The Hermitage's art collection is not on par with the Louvre. It has many works by the great masters, but they tend to be works from the beginning or the end of careers, and therefore not the best of what the greats produced.

It's still worth going for the architecture and the Imperial Rooms. I literally would recommend skipping the canvases (unless there's something there you know you want to see) in order to focus more time on the Imperial Rooms and their furnishings.

If you're on a tight budget, don't eat at the Hermitage. It's expensive, and, honestly, not that great.

If you're headache prone, take an aspirin before you go. The marble floors and walls make it a noisy, echo-filled place. Take a sweaterm; it's usually cold.

Everyone complains that the Hermitage charges non-Russian visitors grossly more than Russian visitors. Just suck it up. It's still not expensive by Western standards.

Winter Palace/State Hermitage Museum
Palace Embankment, On The Neva River
St. Petersburg, Russia

The Blockade Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

This museum is dedicated to the German seige of St. Petersburg during WWII. It's harrowing and awe-inspiring, but it does sanitize history a little. There is no mention of the cannibalism that went on in St. Petersburg during the blockade, and no mention of the tactics the Russian officers used to "motivate" their troops on the frontlines (advancing behind them with their guns trained on the troops and orders to shoot if anyone retreated).

There is some English signage in the museum, but not a lot. It doesn't really matter because most of the exhibits are self-explanatory, including the exhibit focused around a morself of bread that represents the food ration Leningraders got during the blockade.

I don't recommend taking small children to this museum. It's upsetting.

The Blockade Museum
Solyanoy per 9
St. Petersburg, Russia

Food in Saint Petersburg

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Christine Noel on July 27, 2004

The good news: It's almost universally cheap by Western Standards unless you go to one of the Exclusive hotels on Nevsky for your meal, and the portions are large. That's it for the good news.

The bad news: Beef stroganof seems to be the only dish. Order any dish that's listed as being made with beef and you'll end up getting something that almost exactly resembles beef stroganor. I swear to God, you could order Sushi and you'd get beef stroganof. Russian beer is pretty crappy, but you can get good Czech and German beers almost everywhere. Russian vodka is obviously wonderful. The coffee is AWFUL!

I've never lost weight on a vacation before in my life. I spent 3 weeks in Eastern Europe and lost 7 pounds. The food's wholesome, edible, well-cooked, but it's BLAND BLAND BLAND.


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