Personal Observations, Saint Petersburg
Having spent a very pleasant, and educational, few hours exploring the Peter and Paul Fortress it was definitely "that time of day". The sun was out and this little outdoor cafe on the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island looked like an ideal spot to sit band enjoy it.
My request for a "Pivo pajalusta" was easily interpreted and the friendly guy serving gave me the option between the two on offer. Pointing to the one on the right, which I think was Sibirskaya Corona, produced the desired result and at 120 roubles was very reasonably priced.
With its location on the embankment, between the Rostral Columns, in front of the Old Bourse, this is an ideal spot to sit with a beer on a sunny afternoon and watch both the world and the river go by. In fact it was so pleasant I just had to have a second.
Lenin did the city which was to bear his name a major favour by relocating the Russian capital back to Moscow. Whether this was his intention or not the move meant that much of St Petersburg's Imperial splendour has been preserved, escaping the Constructivist architectural redevelopment which so dominates the modern capital.
There are however notable exceptions such as the State University of Technology and Design pictured. Personally I think that this building fits St Petersburg, despite its brutalist functionality. The University was originally The St Petersburg Institute of Practical Technology, founded by Nicholas I in 1828. In 1930 this became The Leningrad Textile Institute by order of the Presidium of the Supreme Economic Council of the USSR, decree No. 1287, of the 26th April.
The institute was established not just to specialise in textile development but also in the fields of chemical and industrial technology. The new building was constructed, perhaps coincidentally, at the same address as the original Fabergé basement workshop at Bolshaya Morskaya 18 and the institute moved into it in November 1930.
It is a building designed to house a practical educational establishment, which to my mind its design reflects and acts as a reminder of the commitment to education and training during the Soviet era. Following the collapse of Communism the Institute became the University in 1992 and has maintained an international reputation, expanding into design, engineering, humanities, economic and educational fields.
The University must agree with my aesthetic judgement since it uses a photo of the building as its "hero image" on its website homepage - http://sutd.ru/
As someone whose style of tourism is a bit random - usually just staggering from bar to bar - I am suitably impressed by how easy it is to get around St Petersburg.
Everything is well-signposted. The Metro not only has route maps but also easy to follow directions to the various exits. Street signs show the way to the nearest attractions, as well as maybe-useful things such as police stations and hospitals. And then the tourist maps at strategic locations show where you are and everything of interest in that immediate area.
All the signage and maps are written in both Cyrillic and Latin characters and so there's no excuse whatsoever for getting lost. The only thing to remember is that this is a big city and what looks like a 10 minute walk might take a little longer, especially when the pub doesn't close until 3 am ;-HIC!
This is another of the interesting things which caught my eye but I had no idea what they were about at the time. After a pleasant afternoon wandering the Peter and Paul Fortress and its environs I headed across the Birzhevoy Bridge to Vasilyevsky Island where we'd planned to meet for dinner that evening at Rosa.
In front of the Bourse are these two columns which turn out to be the famous St Petersburg "Rostral Columns". These were built as lighthouses in the early 1800's to mark the two channels where the Neva splits around the island and originally were fuelled by hemp oil burnt in the bowls on their tops.
Their design is based on the classical Greek and Roman naval victory columns which had the prows (rostra) of captured ships built into them.
These days the island is well enough lit for the columns to be redundant but I'm reliably informed that the columns have a mains gas connection and are spectacularly-lit on major celebration days, shooting their flames seven metres into the night sky.
Another reason for a planned revisit!
It was the signage that caught my eye with the word for "Onyx" which transliterates from Russian into a very rude phrase in Glaswegian.
However doing a little research leads to the fascinating world of Fabergé with its origins here in St Petersburg.
It all began in 1842 when the master goldsmith Gustav Faberge opened a basement workshop in Bolshaya Morskaya, adding the accented é to his name in the hope of appealing to the Francophile Russian aristocracy.
Business seems to have been good and Gustav's eldest son Peter Carl spent his formative years being educated at prestigious institutes around Europe. When Carl, as he became popularly known, returned to St Petersburg in 1872 his father had retired, leaving the business in the capable hands of his senior goldsmith Hiskias Pendin.
Carl worked under Pendin until the latter's death in 1882 and then, aged 36, took over the running of the company. He came to prominence with his involvement in restoring jewellery for the Hermitage. The then Tsar, Alexander III awarded the House of Fabergé an Imperial warrant, insisting that examples of its work be purchased to be displayed at the Hermitage as exemplifying the finest Russian craftsmanship.
In 1885 Alexander III commissioned the first "Fabergé Egg" as an Easter gift for his wife, thus beginning the association between the Imperial family and the House of Fabergé which was to last until the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
In addition to the work for the Tsars family Fabergé developed a reputation for producing only the finest commercial pieces, each passed personally by Carl with the tiniest imperfections resulting in rejection. Obviously the Imperial connection helped and such notables as the British royals became collectors.
In the early 1900's the company moved to a four storey premise, still on Bolshaya Morskaya, and was employing about 500 workers. As it expanded branches were opened in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and London whilst the commitment to quality was maintained.
It all fell apart when the Bolsheviks nationalised the House in 1918. Carl fled via Riga to Germany. His sons were imprisoned and press-ganged into assisting with the sale of the pieces remaining in Russia. Carl died in Lausanne in 1920 whilst two of his sons, having escaped Russia, set up as Fabergé et Cie in Paris in 1924. They found moderate success but never achieved quite the same standards set by their father.
The name "Fabergé" was held in such high esteem that as a trademark it was much coveted and bought, sold and variously hijacked for the rest of the century. In 2007 a London investment firm acquired the name at an undisclosed cost and brought on board two of the Faberge family members to relaunch the House of Fabergé. Their vision is to restore the company to its pre-revolutionary glory as a producer of only the finest jewellery and timepieces.
Judging by the website, www.faberge.com they seem to be doing just that.
I was so happy to meet Igor and do a free tour with him because he's so knowlegable about his city.
Fondest memory: I recommend Igor Rogovtsev to show you around Saint Petersburg. His company is called "Saint-Petersburg Feel Free Tour". You can contact Igor
His website is www.feelfreetour.net
St. Petersburg is a wonderful city, but I suggest that you go there either with a group, or go on your own if you know Russian.
There are no English signs and it is really difficult to move around if you are on your own.
The alternative is to visit St. Petersburg and stay with your Russian friend.
This is the best.
St. Petersburg has many indoor and outdoor markets for for all kinds of fresh groceries or used stuff including soviet memoriabilia.
The atmosphere in these markets is often interesting and gives you a fair insight into the local life. As Russia is Europe's leading honey producer you will find many market stalls offering honey from different origins.
So don't miss the opportunity to visit a few markets, but beware of pickpockets. You find the markets which I visited under my "Shopping Tips".
St. Petersburg's metro is the deepest in the world. So the first thing you will notice are the long, steep and fast escalators packed with people. Construction started in 1940, but the first line was inaugurated in 1955.
Many stations are beautifully decorated. Unfortunately, taking photographs is prohibited. Nevertheless, I took a few photos in the less busy stations.
The stations of line 1 (red line) are especially worth seeing. I recommend having a closer look at Ploshad Vosstaniya, Ploshad Aleksandra Nevskogo, Pushkinskaya, Avtovo, Kirovskiy Zavod and Narvskaya.
For more info about the metro, please have a look at my "Transportation Tips".
It is quite interesting to note that many, many public buildings were in stages of restoration when we visited St. Petersburg. I, for one, am very happy that the need to preserve the beauty & history of St. Petersburg is being recognized and work is being done on such a grand scale. Nearly every important, historical building appeared to be undergoing restoration. However, I'm not sure that the same interest is being directed toward improving the general living conditions of the citizenry. Perhaps any measure of personal comfort still takes a backseat to other public works. Our guide explained to us that several families sharing an apartment is not an unusual circumstance even today.
Fondest memory: It is quite awe inspiring to be in the presence of a city and a people who withstood the 900 days Seige of Leningrad, and who are today gradually emerging from events they had no control over. I would like to listen to stories the people of St. Petersburg have to tell about their lives.
When you are inside museums it is difficult to setup a tripod, it is in the way of the people walking by and you really would need to make arrangements and pay a big fee for some special professional access. There are banned in the major museums for regular tourists.
Better to find some ways to get a sharp picture with other availalbel light techiniques like holding camera against an architectural element.
A person with a tripod really draws attention to themselves in these days of digital photography. While you are concentrating through the viewfinder a pickpocket may be concettrating on your valuables.
I find the little pocket tripods handy sometimes, especially for self-timer shots. On word of warning, don't wander far fromyour camera with the self-timer set, as you walk back to position you may find your camera no longer there!
There is an American Clinic, a Medem Clinic, and then for a good Russian clinic you can use the Polyclinic Complex.
It is clean, professional and not as expensive as the foreign run clinics. Best if you speak Russian, but they can work with Englsih speakers too.
In operation since 1948.
Fondest memory: 812-316-58-81
I've always been one of those who prefer „Plastic Money“ and therefore I travel with minimal cash or T-Cheques.
Here is my tip on getting Money on a cheap and safe way in St. Petersburg...
During my stay I picked up cash at the CitiBank ATM on Newskij Prospekt. CitiBank has one ATM within walking distance from the Hotel Grand Europe. If you have a Bank Card from CitiBank you can withdraw Money in Rubles or USD without any fees based on daily rates.
There is no easier way to get money.
PS - I don't work for CitiBank, I am just a satisfied customer:-)
You need crisp new bills to exchange in Russia.
Damaged bills will be refused. The rates change daily and signs posted outside banks let you know when the exchange rate is.
Generally, you can get a better rate off Nevsky Prospect. And the Government bank, Sberbank, usually is not a good rate. I have good luck on Sennaya Ploschad to find a good rate for US dollars. Bankomats or ATM machines are also excellent for travelers. As usual, the ATM will charge a small fee for the transaction and exchange your currency to rubles. many Bankomats give dollars or Rubles, but rubles are the only official currency of Russia.
In 2007 the exchange was below 26 rubles to the dollar, but euros are 34 rubles. The dollar has devalued over the past few years while the euro has been strong in Russia.
Fondest memory: The least fondest is receiving a damaged 500 ruble note from the Russian government bank, Sberbank. No one including Sberbank would take it back.
Sberbank also gave me a counterfeit $100 bill that was confiscated by another bank.
Look at your bills when you get them!
The main unit of Russian currency is the ruble which is made up of 100 kopecs. We could have changed money on our ship, but didn't because we thought we'd have a chance to do so on shore. This didn't happen, but we were happy to find that everywhere we went in St. Petersburg, either American dollars or major credit cards were accepted. It seemed as though we actually had more bargaining power and got better deals when paying in American cash with people trying to sell you souvenirs on the street.
We were advised not to "change" money with anyone on the street even though we would probably have gotten a much better exchange rate than with your average cambio. This most likely would have been viewed in an extremely poor light by Russian authorities to say the least. Use your own judgement but because dollars are accepted I see no need to be cavalier.