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Main Attractions of Saint Petersburg

saint-petersburg-restaurant-guide-winter-1

St. Petersburg’s charm is completely different from that of Moscow, and no wonder: there is a 600-year gap between their founding years. Moscow keeps the history of Russia’s medieval times and traditional lifestyle, while St. Petersburg from the very beginning has been the embodiment of Russia’s westernized culture and ideas. Its founder, Peter I the Great, was determined that 18th century Russia needed to borrow new ideas and material culture from the West, and was a big fan of maritime empires, such as Netherlands, so much that he used Amsterdam as architectural model for his new capital.

Looking at St. Petersburg today, it is hard to believe that the city rose from impassable northern marshes, but its ever-changing unpredictable weather gives you the chance to see all major landmarks in different light throughout your stay: from gloomy wet autumn days to summer weeks of white nights when the sun does not set at all.

1. The State Hermitage Museum

Winter Palace

St. Petersburg’s main unmissable attraction is this magnificent museum, founded in the middle of 18th century by empress Catherine II. It houses around 3 million pieces of art depicting the development of human civilization from ancient times to our days, uniting cultures of Europe and Asia under the roof of Hermitage complex of baroque buildings. Read more at http://www.hermitagemuseum.org

2. Kunstkamera museum

Kuntskamera

Across the bridge from Hermitage, you will find the Kunstkamera museum, founded by Peter the Great as a science academy to study the world’s most bizarre and curious phenomenons. It was then most famous for the collection of odd natural deformities and mutations, but as Kunstkamera grew, it gathered a large variety of minerals, anthropological and ethnographical findings from across the world. http://www.kunstkamera.ru

3. Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

The heart of St. Petersburg lies in this military bastion, Peter and Paul Fortress, that once also served as prison for most dangerous criminals of the state. Here you will find the tomb of Romanov dynasty (from Peter I to Nikolai II), Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, and Museum of History of St. Petersburg. Do not miss your chance to navigate the narrow corridors within fortress walls and poke your head into different chambers and corners. http://www.spbmuseum.ru

4. St. Isaac’s Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral

Peter I, who was born on 30th of May, considered St Isaac his very own patron saint, and the cathedral was built in his honor. Its exterior is impressive enough, but anyone will be amazed at the luxurious interior decorations. Religious services are still held here, and the schedule can be found on the front door. http://eng.cathedral.ru

5. Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg

Kazanskiy Cathedral on Nevskiy Avenue, St. Petersburg’s major street, is hard to miss when you navigate through the city center. It still functions as Orthodox religious center and can be visited for free, including the evening service.

The Moscow City Day

Moscow Kremlin. 17th century.

A fortified settlement existed on the site of modern-day capital all the way back in 11th century, but the first mention of Moscow appears in a medieval manuscript in 1147, as a place where local king Yuri the Long-Armed gathered with his buddies from a neighboring kingdom. In the middle of 19th century, the emperor suggested that Russia should have annual celebrations in honor of the former capital (by then, St Petersburg had taken its place as diplomatic and administrative center of the country).

View of Moscow from the Sparrow Hills.

Moscow city day is every kid’s favorite holiday and one of most cherished childhood memories for many adults. Every year, the celebration includes more and more events across different corners of the city, reflecting the variety of its cultural heritage. The city’s birthday is celebrated every first Saturday of September, but the program for the weekend usually appears online in mid-August. Public transportation is working long into the night on this occasion, allowing you to commute between parks on the outskirts of the city and downtown music bars and clubs.

Moscow, Bulgakov's Museum

The Moscow city day usually offers free access to multiple museums, art spaces, historical houses and galleries – both for those who were born and bred in the city, and for expats and travelers. Some museums offer special tours on this day: last year, for example, the Home Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov, one of the most prominent Muscovite writers of the early USSR, organized urban walks and opened up hidden rooms for those interested to see Moscow through the eyes of the writer and his wacky extraordinary characters.

Moscow Bike Parade

Sporting activities are not scarce either: you can get a free lesson on a paraplane or partake in a bike parade through the streets of Moscow, visit the biggest public swimming pool in the city or join go-cart racing. In the center, you will almost always stumble upon soap bubbles or dancing flashmob, as well as open creative spaces for graffiti artists, musicians, designers, photographers and poets.

Moscow City Day at the Red Square

When it comes to music, the choice is really vast: from well-known bands to rising independent artists, international performers and urban classical orchestras.

And then of course, fireworks. They usually start around 10:30PM and are best observed from Moscow’s bridges, skyscrapers, and viewpoints, such as the one opposite Moscow State University, or Poklonnaya Gora. One thing you can be sure of: the city will be crowded, and it will be unforgettable.

Moscow. Fireworks.

Moscow. Fireworks.

Urban legends of the Moscow metro

Sign-Moscow-metro

Moscow metro, or Metropolitén, is known to be one of the most beautiful underground systems in the world, with the diverse and luxurious decorations of its oldest stations, modeled on architectural styles of classical temples of antiquity, gothic cathedrals, traditional Russian art, and much more. As Moscow grows, the metro is also expanding, but newer stations do not lack designer’s touch either: everything from minimalistic approach to futuristic imagination that will boggle your mind as you are taking a ride outside the city center.

Although the first plans of underground railway system were created back in the end of 19th century, the metro was officially built and opened only in 1935, in Stalinist era, and its architecture was not simply decorative, but ideological, aiming to show the power of communist government and the USSR both to its citizens and foreign guests.

Moscow metro is notable not only for its architecture, but also for the mass of urban legends that surround its construction and everyday life.

Kievskaya Circular Line Station

First of all, one of the most convenient things about Moscow subway is the circular line. The legend says that it was not on the original metro plan that was brought to Stalin, but as he was sipping tea (or coffee) from a large cup he placed it on top of the blueprints, and the cup left a brown ring on top of the metro lines, which engineers, upon consideration, found quite a smart addition.

Moscow subway is also rumored to be filled with extraordinary flora and fauna, and some school and university groups even travel on expeditions down there to study microbiology of the underground world. The railway tunnels are said to be inhabited with ginormous radioactive rats that glow in the dark and can maul a stranded railway worker or two. There are also quite real stray dogs that you can see inside the metro cars: do not worry, they are not aggressive, and actually quite independent, passing though turnstiles on their own (they never pay though) and commuting between the city center and green suburbs.

Mapmetro2

The biggest conspiracy surrounds the so-called Metro-2, a system of underground metro lines that lies beneath the official metro, around 50-100 meters below the ground. This system was commissioned by Stalin in case of war, and was later developed to serve as nuclear shelter and the way for the government to escape any sort of cataclysm that would wipe out the rest of the city. The four lines of Metro-2 supposedly originate under the Kremlin and go all the way to the main building of Moscow State University. Many students attempted to find hidden access to the university catacombs, but even if someone did they never returned to tell the story.

There are also some esoteric interpretations of the 12 points where radial lines cross the circular line, corresponding to the 12 zodiac signs, and a legend about the ghost train that stops at the various stations with its lights off and doors shut – but sometimes it opens the doors and tries to lure in unsuspecting commuters and drive them into nowhere.

Anyway, the Moscow metro is indeed a place full of wonders, and much cheaper than any other urban commute system in Europe. Photography is allowed without special permit, unless you are a professional photographer or videographer and planning to use tripod, flash, and spend considerable amount of time adjusting the settings. In this case, in order not to stand in the crowd’s way, you need to obtain a permission for photography at specific allocated time and off-peak hours.