Saint Petersburg— Russia’s Bastion of Culture
When we arrived in Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург), we were completely exhausted, having less than an hour of sleep the night before to catch an early flight. We arrived alongside the dawn over the city. Escaping the bulbous mass of the extremely busy Pulkovo (Russian: Пулково) airport, we took a taxi deep into the city proper. We stayed at a rather quaint, yet cozy, hostel named inBox, which was reminiscent of Japanese sleeper hotels. Our private room had a shower, toilet, sink, heater and shelf on the first floor, and ladder access up to a bed with ample storage space and a 50″ television pre-loaded with movies, some even in English.
Apart from the dangerously slippery metal rung ladders, inBox was both accommodating and comfortable. Though, what really attracted us, was its location, only 15 minutes to the city centre and Palace Square.
We spent a great deal of time walking around the surrounding districts, taking in the incredible architectural beauty that is St. Petersburg. It is, essentially, the Russian interpretation of Western European culture and architecture. Each building could find a little sister counterpart in Paris, France or Bruges, Belgium, supersized and with distinct Soviet flair.
The impression I glanced from my time in the city is that the city has a massive disparity between the walls and the people that inhabit them. The city and the majority of its construction is anywhere between a hundred, two, even three hundred years old, yet, it seems that the inhabitants are decidedly youthful. The populace is happy, almost naive, and surprisingly polite, a trait that isn’t common among Russians, from my experience. They also have an energizing cultural competition with Moscow, and their pride of their city is apparent in almost every aspect of life in St. Petersburg.
Possibly the best aspect of the city was the night life. Of course, it’s only natural that a happy, proud and youthful city would have an outstanding culture at night, although this is due in no small part to St. Peterburg’s unique natural phenomenon. The city itself, being so very far north, suffers terrible cold fronts during the winters, to be sure, but this is offset by the fact that during the warmer months, St. Petersburg has something referred to by locals as a “white night” (Russian: белая ночь) where, even as late as midnight, the sun still hangs low in the sky and illuminates the city.
As for other, more worldly concerns, the bar and restaurant scene in St. Petersburg is world-class. We tried half a dozen of the finest establishments the city had to offer. While some were quite cumbersome on the wallet, the experience itself is completely worth it. I noticed, however, a trend of American or British influenced restaurants and bars. Texas-style Steakhouses and English-style pubs were significantly more common than distinctly Russian restaurants, which can be disappointing if you’re looking to steep yourself in the very rewarding and unique Russian cuisine. However, if you’ve got money to burn and you’re hunting for exquisite food, a great atmosphere and perhaps even alcoholic, tobacco or… female refreshment, then St. Petersburg has some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Though, the pinnacle of our time in St. Petersburg, and the reason we were forced to take an overnight flight, was the 2018 Roger Waters’ (of Pink Floyd) concert at the SKK arena. The whole concert is available to watch here. While I won’t talk too much about the concert, I can say it was an absolutely magnificent audio and visual experience that I would strongly recommend experiencing in person.
Though, not everything in St. Petersburg can be considered good. Being such a desirable tourism hotspot, the city centre has its own share of problems. The Living Statue scam is one we unfortunately fell pray to. The general idea is that a person dresses up in a mascot suit of a famous or recognizable character, and silly tourists (that was us) get their photo taken with them. Once the photo is taken, of course, the statues will demand payment, and their prices, especially if they believe they can overpower you, can be very steep. Thankfully, we weren’t carrying a great deal of notes on us at the time, though they were so insistent that they even took my Malaysian money.
In conclusion, St. Petersburg is a very old place that doesn’t feel old at all. The stores are modernized and premium, the bars are incredible and common (pub-crawling could be extremely fun, if you’ve the liver for it). The city, despite being a rich, central place is very safe, and despite the huge amount of money that flows through the city on a daily basis, the prices are very reasonable for a city of its class. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in St. Petersburg, and would certainly recommend it to anyone traveling Russia who wonders what the entirety of Russia itself might be in thirty, forty years or so.