Coming to St. Petersburg?

Makhayev,_Kachalov_-_View_of_Neva_Downstream_between_Winter_Palace_and_Academy_of_Sciences_1753_(right)If you’re coming to St. Petersburg for the first time (like me), it’s great to get an introduction to some of the basics.  Amy Ballard, Senior Historic Preservation Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC shares her longtime passion for the city in today’s blog post.  We hope it inspires you as plan for the trip. LN.

I’ve been traveling to Russia since 1973 and there’s one place I keep returning to and that’s St. Petersburg. Every time I go I discover something new and I hope you will love it as much as I do. Here are just a few tips that may help!

About money: you can’t get rubles before arriving in Russia, but ATMs are prevalent and easy to use with instructions in English. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted most places. If you plan to bring US$, make sure the bills are new.

Although we have a full schedule, one needs to eat! And St. Petersburg is full of wonderful coffee shops (yes, there’s even a Starbucks), restaurants featuring every type of cuisine (with Russian and English menus), and fast food from McDonalds to Carl Jrs to name a few).  If you’re in the mood for Russian food, look no further than Russian Vodka Museum. Actually it’s a restaurant with a museum dedicated to the history of vodka. It’s next door to the Stroganoff Steak House, and a long-time St. Petersburg resident owns them both. They’re a short walk from the Hermitage, and St. Isaacs Square.

Any restaurant with the name “Ginza Group” is a sure bet for good food. The Ginza Group owns the “Mari Vanna” chain of Russian restaurants that are in London, New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. There’s one in St. Petersburg too.

Speaking of fast food, there’s the delicious Russian chain Teremok, where you can have a tasty meal of borscht  (beet and beef soup) and blini (Russian pancake with filling). Teremok features every kind of blini and is a good place for vegetarians. Another chain in town is Stolle. The decor is reminiscent of an early 20th century café with historic photos of the city on the wall. Stolle features pies of all kinds: cabbage, meat, fish, vegetables, and delicious berry pies for dessert.  There’s one close to the Hermitage on Nevsky Prospect (the 5th Avenue of Petersburg).

If you arrive in St. Petersburg and realize you have left something at home, you’ll have no problem. St. Petersburg has everything, even box stores.  OK, the “Target” of St. Petersburg, has a branch in the lower floor of the “Galleria” mall, adjacent to the Moscow train station mid-way up Nevsky Prospect. The Galleria is in a renovated Soviet building and has shops that will be very familiar. Small convenience stores abound where you can buy bottled water, yoghurt (there’s every kind) and snacks.

Looking for a book? Try Dom Knigi on Nevsky. Dom Knigi’s building was once the headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and is the place to go for residents and visitors. There’s a delicious café on the 1st floor with mouthwatering pastries. Dom Knigi is just a block from Gostiny Dvor, a shopping arcade built in the 19th century (good place for souvenirs).

The city has a thriving contemporary art scene. Two galleries are near the Hermitage and St. Isaacs Square: the St. Petersburg Union of Artists on Bolshoya Morskaya, and the SPAS Gallery on the Moika. Both feature works by the city’s best artists and students and will give you a glimpse into art in the city.

Finally – and I could write so much more – the music. “Music is Life,” as was so eloquently stated during the Siege of Leningrad.  St. Petersburg is home to two of the world’s finest orchestras: the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. Unfortunately for us, their season doesn’t begin until the end of September but that doesn’t mean you can’t hear just about any kind of music while you’re there.

Take a look at www.spbmusicguide.info and you will have your pick of a variety of genres. Your hotel can help arrange tickets for you.

St. Petersburg is a “wow” city, and its fascinating history has made it one of the most interesting and complex urban centers in the world. Its city center is basically intact, and if Pushkin were to walk along the Moika today, it’s a sure bet he would find his way home.

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