I can't remember why exactly we chose to go to St. Petersburg. It might have been because the Russian city is listed in one of our Louis Vuitton guidebooks. I didn't even do much homework on the city before leaving as it was mostly Chris who wanted to go. But because I spotted somewhere an engaging picture of St. Petersburg with fountains and colorful buildings, combined with the cache of going to Russia, we thought it was the perfect place to visit in August.
As our driver whisked us away from the small and dated airport to our hotel, my first impression of St. Petersburg wasn't favorable. It seemed harsh. Sure, every other building was in different hues of blue, yellow and pink, but where were the trees? And their flower choices were a bit odd as marigolds and other low lying plants spotted the city landscape (being a lover of nature it's one of the first details I noticed). It didn't help either that we couldn't read a thing. So when we reached the Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel, I was a bit disgruntled (flying home from the States a day earlier surely didn't help matters).
But over the next few days, my attitude slowly changed from one with tones of negativity to one that was more favorable. Our tour guide, Helen, was most helpful in winning us over with her commentary of everything St. Petersburg (because without her knowledge, you truly wouldn't digest the city's rich history - such as why the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna never stayed in Mariinskiy Palace due to the palace's direct facing of a horse's behind). We visited churches, souvenir shops, grand palaces and more; all of which had their own special appeal.
So is St. Petersburg tops on our list of vacation hot spots? The "Venice of the North" loses points for being a bit difficult to reach (a Visa is needed). And with the fall of Communism just over 16 years ago, the city itself is still being born. Restaurants are finding their way to the mainstream as well as recognized retailers (what, no Gap?). St. Petersburg does, however, win back some love with must-sees including the Church of Spilled Blood, Peterhof, and our favorite Russian Pie maker Stolle.
In the end, St. Petersburg may not make our top three, four or even five, but the city formerly known as Leningrad (changed in World War I because the original name sounded too German) still has plenty of reasons to visit - even without the opinion of the overpriced luggage maker. Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Europe
It's not where we slept, but we found this hotel just up the street to be more upscale and worth the additional 50 euros per night (over the Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel). And for all the boys who need a workout while on holiday (it always makes me feel better), the Grand Europe had more free weights (so there's less need to be creative with the Nautilus). Go to www.grandhoteleurope.com
for more information.Where to Shop: Red October Art Shop
According to our tour guide Helen, it's rated best souvenir shop by her guests. But don't expect a Stucky's knick knack selection with decorated shells and pecan rolls. Red October houses upscale local arts and crafts. If I had known we were going to drop over 700 euros inside for various Christmas and personal gifts, I might have told the driver to push the metal to the pedal. Located at 6, Konnogvardeisky Avenue. Telephone: +7 812 312 02 81. Email: email@example.com. Where to Eat: Stolle
We are so grateful Helen introduced us to Stolle for lunch. This chain of six restaurants in St. Petersburg bakes the most delicious Russian pies with various meat and fruit fillings including beef, chicken, salmon, apple and cherry. The crust isn't flaky like traditional pastries, but rather like challah bread (similiar to a Runza for all you from the Midwest). We visited twice and probably would have returned again if time would have allowed. Order my favorite - beef. For locations, go to www.stolle.ru
.Where to Dine: Podvorie
It's a favorite of Vladimir Putin's and will probably be one of your highlights from St. Petersburg too once you absorb the atmosphere of this traditional Russian restaurant. Located near the Pavlovsk Palace and Catherine Palace, Podvorie is reminiscient of someone's home - minus the giant stuffed bear offering vodka inside the entryway. I ordered Venison - which was a mistake as it has a "gamey smell" that evokes bad memories. But the plates ordered by Helen and Chris were delicious - including Beef Stroganoff with mashed potatoes and roasted corn. Located at 16, Filtrovskoe shosse. Phone: 466-85-44. Visit their website at www.podvorye.ru
. Where to Sightsee: Peterhof, Catherine Palace, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of Spilled Blood and Hermitage Museum
With it's naturally working fountains (from May to September) and organized landscaping, Peterhof is most impressive. Catherine's Palace, and its Amber Room, shouldn't be missed. St. Isaac's Catherdral is grand in nature. Church of the Spilled Blood demonstrates traditional Russian architecture with an interior gleaming with tile mosaics. And the Hermitage Museum will keep you walking for hours - or days. I made my way through in a dead heat (with Chris and Helen lagging behind). How to Sightsee: Farmakovskaya Elena (aka Helen)
Thanks to Helen, I learned Beef Stroganoff was created because Count Stroganoff was having a guest for dinner who couldn't use a knife and fork properly. So, the Count asked his chef to cut the meat into small pieces. And that's just one of many tidbits she offered as she presented St. Petersburg to Chris and I. To contact Helen, send her an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.This album is powered by BubbleShare - Add to my blog