FROM THE COLUMNS OF SAINT ISAAC´S CATHEDRAL
On your city tour, you should not miss visiting it from the outside, inside and from its dome. There are multiple and varied points to enjoy the views of the city from above, but no viewpoint of the historic center beats the panorama you will get from the golden dome of Saint Isaac´s Cathedral. It rises elegantly above the historic centre´s Italianate mansions and Baroque palaces.
With certainty and without fear of being wrong, we can affirm that Saint Isaac´s Cathedral is the most imposing of the churches in Saint Petersburg and one of the most outstanding neoclassical monuments of Russian architecture of the 19th century. Completed in 1858, this grand cathedral is located in the very heart of the city, very close to other points of interest such as Nevsky Avenue
and the Hermitage Museum.
The original church was built in wood in 1707 and later replaced by one in stone. Until at the beginning of the 19th century, Czar Alexander I decided to build the colossal temple that you can enjoy today. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac, as it is the saint of the date of birth of Pedro I the Great, on May 30.
The architect August de Monferrand would encounter major construction problems given the weakness of the land on which they were going to build since it could not support the weight of the building. So he turned to a technique used in other places with the soft ground, such as Amsterdam and Venice, where most of their buildings are built on wooden stilts.
To get an idea of the magnitude of the cathedral, the cost of its construction was 10 times higher than that of the Winter Palace. It has a huge dome and is the second tallest Orthodox church globally, at 101.5 meters high, second only to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow at 103 meters. The interior will leave you speechless both for its size with capacity for 14,000 people and for the richness of its decoration with colourful mosaics, precious frescoes, malachite and marble columns.
It is the ideal place to dominate the city. Its huge central dome, bathed in gold leaf, is supported by an arcade and a balustrade with 24 sculptures of angels and archangels. We recommend you ascend the 226 steps if your physical form accompanies you to the viewpoint under the dome. You will get indescribable views over the river, the Winter Palace and the roofs of the sumptuous palaces.
You can ascend upon payment of 250 rubles from 10:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.
Address: St. Isaac´s Square, 4, St. Petersburg, Russia, 190000
HOW RED IS BORSCH SOUP!
Borsch soup is probably the most popular dish of the Slavic peoples and Eastern Europe. Even though the Russians know that it is originally a Ukrainian dish, just as the French know that the origin of the croissant is Austrian, in Saint Petersburg, you will find it on the menu of all local gastronomy restaurants.
Borsch is an evolution of an old soup cooked with pickled stems, leaves and twigs of spondylium or "bear´s foot", not literally. It is a sour soup that uses beetroot as its main ingredient. Hence, that reddish color is so characteristic that it will catch your attention. Are you already imagining Putin riding a plantigrade? Bear´s foot is a herbaceous plant that grows in moist meadows.
It combines beef or pork broth with a sautéed vegetable for its preparation. The queen is beet, to which carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes and onions will also be added. There are a large number of regional variants, where the recipe will be modified depending on the ingredients or preparation: There is a summer version that is taken cold, hot in winter, with chunks of vegetables, crushed in the form of cream, vegetarian, forceful in a pot, as a clear or even fish broth. It is usually a classic to accompany this soup with a touch of sour cream and dill.
Its fame has crossed borders, and this icon of Slavic gastronomy is well known internationally, being able to find the same thing in a restaurant in Saint Petersburg, New York, Buenos Aires or Paris. The Jews who fled pogroms and the holocaust in Europe throughout the 20th century exported it to the American continent. About 20,000 Russians created a community in Hong Kong. After World War II, they took the recipe with them. Even Tsar Alexander I´s cook would be the one who would borrow this recipe and popularise it in France.
As it will be apparent to you, for these people, talking about borsch soup is almost as serious as talking about paella for a Valencian. The relevance of this dish is such that the poor quality of its meat was the main reason for the revolts of the Battleship Potemkin. There is also an urban legend that Leonidas Brezhnev, who was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, seems to have taken it daily while staying in the Kremlin. Or the cosmonaut and Soviet hero himself Yuri Gagarin, during his first space mission in 1961, the drink seemed to be packed in tubes.
TAKE THE SPOON AND ENJOY!
GOURMET PRODUCTS IN YELISEEV STORES
When one thinks of Russia, vodka and caviar quickly come to mind. You can find them in many businesses in Saint Petersburg. Still, if what you are looking for is an authentic gourmet delicatessen, your place cannot be other than the famous store of the Eliseev brothers.
The history of this famous family tells us about Piotr Eliseev. Working as a gardener in one of Count Sheremetev´s palaces, he surprised his lord with a plate of fresh strawberries that he had grown during the harsh Russian winter. The count decided to reward his servant with his freedom and an economic endowment, thanks to which Eliseev started a small street fruit business. Over time and as he earned capital, he turned into small groceries in Saint Petersburg. One of his descendants, Grigori Eliseev, would give a boost to the family grocery business, turning it into a gastronomic empire that spread its influences throughout Europe.
These delicatessen and grocery stores quickly became the favourites of the nobles and upper classes who flocked to buy exclusive products for a country with the harsh climate of Russia, such as exotic fruits, cheeses, chocolates, truffles, coffee, anchovies, Italian, French or Spanish wines. Such was the success that they became suppliers to the Romanovs, giving them the right to use the double-headed eagle as an emblem on their products.
Even if your intention is not to buy delicatessen, do not forget to visit this 1903 building in which it seems that time has stopped. Built by the architect Gavriil Baranovski in a striking Art Noveau architecture, the 4 unique sculptures stand out in the corners of the building representing commerce, industry, art and science. Its location is unbeatable. It will not be difficult for you to find it since it is located on Nevsky Avenue, very close to the Hermitage, the Yossupov Palace, which was the residence of Rasputin, and many other palaces of the nobility.
Let yourself be carried away by its beautiful shop windows and orderly shelves full of caviar, vodka and gourmet products, which delight tourists and exclusive clients. During Soviet times, the warehouses were nationalized, but continued to operate despite shortages as grocers of select products, in this case for high-ranking Communist Party officials. After Perestroika and with an intense restoration, they have recovered the splendor of yesteryear.
Treat yourself and enjoy a good coffee accompanied by some delicacy, either one of its delicious sweets or one of its select chocolates. They will make your experience perfect: the piano music in the background, its elegant and diligent waiters, the penetrating aroma of coffee or chocolate.
If you are looking for a specific exclusive product with tradition and quality, you will find it here!
Address: Nevsky Ave, 56, St. Petersburg, Russia, 191011
BETWEEN LIMOUSINES AND NEWLYWEDS
The city of Saint Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter I the Great, who, finding himself at a clear commercial disadvantage with other Western European countries, wanted to give the Russian
Empire an outlet to the North Sea.
From its origins, it was known as Saint Petersburg in honour of the Tsar to whom we owe its foundation, until 1917 when, with the Russian revolution, it briefly changed its name to "Petrograd".
With the death of Lenin in 1924, it would be renamed "Leningrad", recovering the original name of St. Petersburg with the disappearance of the Soviet Union.
Be that as it may, the inhabitants of the city know it by the affectionate name of "Piter", and that it is called in many ways: The Capital of the North, the City of Pedro, the Palmyra of the North, the city of white nights, the city on the Neva River, even the Venice of the North, a privilege that it shares with many cities such as Bruges, Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
Suppose we can certainly suggest a special place where you can take an essential photo. In that case, this will be none other than the beautiful Stock Exchange Square on Vasilievski Island, also known as Strelka. All these names refer to the charm surrounding this city crossed by canals and closely linked to water.
This old pier of the merchant port is one of the emblems of Piter, and it is from here that excellent views of the city are obtained. You will capture a majestic picture of the Neva River, the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, the beautiful Italian architecture palaces, and the Fortress of Saint Peter and Saint Paul as a backdrop. It will be tough for you to give your camera a break!
The square receives its name from the building that presides over it as if it were a Roman temple stands the current Naval Museum, an old stock exchange. In addition to the views, the place is of great beauty in itself, where the sphinxes of the boardwalk stand out as a symbol of strength and wisdom. These imposing statues that watch over the steps over the Neva were brought from Egypt on a journey that lasted a year.
Strelka is so popular among the inhabitants of Piter that there will be no newlywed couple who does not have a photograph in their best clothes in this place. While you try to take some photos here, you will see how wedding couples arrive in a very ostentatious way with imposing limousines, toast with champagne and take a photo book. It is a remarkably romantic corner of the city.
Address: Birzhevaya Ploshchad´, St. Petersburg, Russia, 199034
HE AURORA: THE BEGINNING OF THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION
The Aurora ship is one of those outstanding monuments in its own right for its history. In its little more than a century of life, it has become a valid symbol for the city and for the country´s history.
To such an extent that disputes over its use and ownership have been ongoing between the Russian Navy and the Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg, which is the one who currently enjoys this symbol.
The Aurora ship is a Diana-class cruiser launched in 1903 in St. Petersburg. She was part of the Pacific Fleet, participated in the Japanese-Russo war and had her baptism of fire in the Battle of Tsushima, a natural catastrophe for Russia. The morale of the Russians was rock bottom and more so after having treated their enemy in terms of racial inferiority. In that battle, two-thirds of the Russian naval ships were sunk, with 4,380 casualties and 5,917 prisoners. The Russian Empire would never recover from that painful defeat. The Aurora managed to escape from Tsushima and take refuge in the port of Manila before returning to Piter.
During the First World War, she participated in the fighting of the Baltic Fleet against the German Navy. Returning for repair to the Petrograd shipyards in 1916, it became not silent but rather "noisy" the protagonist of the revolutionary events that had their fuse lit in Piter.
Yes, this may sound like absolute nonsense. On October 25, 1917, at 9:40 P.M, a salvo fired from the Aurora was the agreed signal for the start of the October revolution, which paradoxically took place in November. At that time, the Julian calendar was used. When Lenin assumed power, among many other things, the old calendar system was abolished, adapting it to the Gregorian like the rest of western countries. This is why the October revolution is celebrated on November 7.
Currently, the Aurora is a museum ship located on the banks of the Neva River. Although we are not talking about a monumental palace or anything like it, it is a valid symbol of the communist revolution and an important legacy of Russian history.
Address: Petrogradskaya embankment, St. Petersburg, Russia, 197046
A RUSSIAN BANYA
As in other cultures like the Finns with their saunas, the Japanese with their onsen, the Russians have their banya. It is the traditional Russian spa, an almost vital activity for them. It is a place to socialize with friends or family and a health, wellness, and relaxation centre. Considering the harsh climate of these latitudes, it is a perfect place to "cleanse the soul and heal the body of any disease", whether relaxing with a bath, massage, eating and drinking with friends, or the complete package. Will you dare to visit them?
The Russians affirm that you cannot say you know their country if you have not lived the experience of an authentic banya that, being comparable to the current spas, includes a sauna, massages and relaxation therapies. The traditional banya is still one of those religiously practised activities at least once a week by the vast majority of Russians.
The Russian banya follows a ritual that must be performed sequentially. This tradition, so ingrained in the culture of Russia, has its origin in an ancient Viking settlement, known as Veliky Novgorov, southeast of Saint Petersburg. The first thing you should know is that it will be separated into areas for men and women, being able to find them currently mixed. Keep in mind that you enter a banya totally naked, just as you came into this world! Do you dare?
You will find three clearly differentiated spaces. The first serves as a dressing room and rest area where food and drinks are served while you chat with your family, friends or colleagues who cover their noble parts with a towel just like you, lest someone get a digestive tract or drink badly! The next space is the shower and baths at different temperatures. The third and last one is destined for the sauna. You do the circuit several times and go out to have vodka or beer with friends.
We will recommend the most popular and historic in St. Petersburg, the Yamsk Baths or Yamskie banya. Enjoy this healthy and highly recommended experience in an environment of unparalleled beauty since they were the favourite baths of Dostoevsky or Lenin, among other illustrious personalities. In addition to the traditional bath, it has numerous health and well-being services, such as a cryogenic chamber, an infrared sauna, different massages, and a solarium. To complete your experience in these historic baths, do not forget to try the kvass, which is a traditional drink made from rye flour. If you do not want to experience vodka, it is also an option.
You can visit them from 08:00 A.M. to 09:00 P.M, which is the last admission, depending on the services you require, the price can vary, the most basic being 450 rubles for two hours of enjoyment of its facilities.
Address: Ulitsa Dostoyevskogo, 9, 1, 4 ????, St. Petersburg, Russia, 191002
THE LARGEST MUSEUM IN THE WORLD WITH PERMISSION FROM THE LOUVRE
Indeed, one of the must-see monuments on your visit to St. Petersburg will be the Hermitage, made up of a complex of several buildings on the banks of the Neva River. The most outstanding of them is the Winter Palace, which was the official residence of the former tsars, with what this mammoth complex historically entails.
It would be Catalina the Great who would establish her official residence in the palace. In 1764, after buying a collection of 225 Flemish paintings, she began to decorate the palace with all kinds of works of art from Western Europe. The Russian diplomats of the time were in charge of buying all kinds of items of artistic value, whether they were paintings, jewellery, books, or documents to enrich the Winter Palace. The obsession was that only the dining room was decorated with 92 pictures. This was the way of the beginning of what today we can consider as one of the largest art collections, if not the largest in the world.
The Hermitage Museum was formed based on the private art collection the tsars acquired over the centuries. Imagine the magnitude that this museum is considered one of the world´s most extensive art galleries and museums of antiquities, disputing the honour of being the largest with the Louvre in Paris. More than 3 million works of art are exhibited in this museum, ranging from paintings, sculptures, archeology pieces, jewellery, and many precious art objects. Gossips say that if you spend a minute on each of the exhibits, you would need 11 years to see them all, if you spent 8 hours a day here. The route through all its rooms would total a distance of 24km, so you will need to be in shape to do more than a half marathon.
Among the museum´s works is a 1638 painting by Van Dyck, which is very famous not only for being a masterpiece but also for the mistake made by the author. It is a painting of Charles I of England in which the author painted him with two gloves on his right hand. That´s what it takes to be ambidextrous!
There are multiple legends around the Hermitage, part of the city´s mythology. The most popular tells us stories of ghosts that roam the rooms. These characters come out of the paintings and are the most famous of all, which means that the wax figure of Peter the Great goes for a walk at night, even doing a bow if someone crosses your path. Suitable manner comes first!
The visiting hours of this exceptional museum are from 10:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., and it costs 600 rubles.
Address: Palace Square, 2, St. Petersburg, Russia, 190000
Every great city worth its salt has a great avenue, the Champs Elysees in Paris, Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. In the case that concerns us, it is Nevsky Avenue. We dare to say that with its 4 kilometres of contrasts, it is the soul of the city and one of the main arteries of Saint Petersburg.
Nevsky Avenue is the heart of Saint Petersburg, and its main street consists of a large avenue divided into 2 sections. A wider and older one that goes from the Palace Square to the Insurrection Square, and starting from this point, another narrower one that culminates in the Moscow hotel and the Alexander Nevsky monastery. The avenue is crossed by 3 canals and their respective bridges: Moika, Gribodéov and Fontanka.
In this one-hour walk, you will discover endless contrasts, finding modern, humble vestiges and the opulence of the palaces that frame this avenue. Throughout your beautiful hike, you will visit important monuments, museums, the leading shops, theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bookstores and cultural institutions of the city.
We recommend you start your walk from the Palace Square, where the Winter Palace is located, with its unmistakable blue and white baroque architecture, the colossal 47.5-meter-high column of Alexander I and the neoclassical palaces, which harmoniously enrich the set. Crossing the Moika River through the Zelonyy Bridge, you will discover an imposing avenue of unparalleled beauty. At number 17, you will see the Stroganov Palace, a late Baroque work and property of the wealthiest family in Russia at the time of its construction. At number 18, you will have the Literary Cafe, a meeting point for writers such as Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
You will find an authentic icon of Nevski and of Art Nouveau a little further on. This Singer house at the time of its construction belonged to the typewriter firm and is currently the largest bookstore in Piter. Opposite the Singer building, you will find the neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the seat of the Orthodox Bishop of Piter. You will see the Town Hall Tower a little further on and pass by the Grand Europa Hotel, Eliseev storage houses. In front of these, you will also find the sculpture of Catherine the Great and the National Library of Russia with 17 million books. You will pass through the Alexandrinsky Theater, a work by Carlo Rosi from 1832.
After passing the stores, look and walk through the shops of Valentino, Gucci, Chanel, the 36-meter-high obelisk to the hero of the city of Leningrad and countless palaces, and then reach Alexander Nevsky Square with its monastery. At this point, where the oldest monastery in the town of 1710 and famous pilgrimage point is, you will have travelled the entire historic avenue.
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