St.-Petersburg is founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, and currently counts almost 5 million inhabitants. The city is considered the “Window on Europe” because of its western orientation. Saint Petersburg is the most northly situated million-city. In 2003 Petersburg intensily celebrated its 300 years existence. In the preparation towards this birthday the city got a face-lift. “Piter”, as the city is called by its inhabitants, develops quickly to a modern metropole.
during the white nights Petersburg is amazingly beautiful
In June and July, during the so called “White Nights”, it is almost continously light. The average temperature in summer is about 20 degrees Celsius, in winter between minus 5 and minus 10 (although temperature might sometimes significantly drop to minus 25).
Till the October revolution of 1917, Saint Petersburg was the capital of Russia. During the communist era the city was renamed Leningrad. In 1991 the population chose back the old name. The most tragic period in the Petersburg history is the 900-day siege by the Germans during World War II. In this period almost one million citizens died. Saint Petersburg is the hometown of ex-president Vladimir Putin and current president Dmitry Medvedev.
Pictures of Saint Petersburg: Petersburg Pictures (online photo album).
St.-Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. Many composers (Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky) and writers (Dostoyevsky, Pushkin) come from this city. There are many museums of which the most famous is the Hermitage. Here all the biggest artists of the world are represented: Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Renoir, Ruebens and Rembrandt.
The Russian museum is impressive too. Here, the most important pieces of Russian art are exposed, of which the paintings of Ilya Repin are the most famous. The “Kunstkamera” is the museum with a personal collection of Peter the Great, mainly consisting of embryos with all kind of anatomic deficiencies. The Kunstkamera is situated at the Vasilievsky Island, nearly opposite the hermitage.
The Peter and Paul Fortress is located on a seperate island. This fort is characterised by a cathedral with a sharp golden bell-tower, with the guardian angel of Saint Petersburg on top. In the Peter and Paul Fortress the Romanov dynasty is buried (from Peter I till Alexander III).
Apart from museums, Saint Petersburg has many theaters. The Mariinsky Theatre is the home theatre of the world famous Kirov-ballet and director Valery Gergiev. The Mariinsky Theatre hosts a large number of operas and ballets which are worth visiting during your stay. Apart from the Mariinsky Theater, there are the Mussorgsky Theatre (opera and ballet), the BDT (drama theatre) and Alexandrinsky Theater (all kind of spectacles).
Saint Petersburg has a lots of chuches and cathedrals. The Saint Isaac’s Cathedral has one of the largest golden dome in the world. The interior at the cathedral is marvellous.
Church of the Saviour on Blood
The “Church of the Saviour on Blood” is a typical Russian church, characterised by the many colors used and the onion-shape cupolas. Inside the walls are coved with a total of 7700 square meters of mosaics. The design of the Kazan Cathedral was based on the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is considered a monument of the victory of general Kutuzov on Napoleon. In the Kazan Cathedral you can visit one of the regular Orthodox services. Other famous cathedrals in Saint Petersburg are the Nikolai-Cathedral, Smolny Convent, Trinity Cathedral and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Events and Holidays
During the year Saint Petersburg hosts many events. Important Russian holidays and yearly events are:
– January 1st – New year, the most important holiday of the year in Russia. After twelve o’clock the Nevsky Prospekt gets crowded. There is a main firework show at the Peter and Paul Fortress and on the Palace Square there are concerts till early morning.
– January 7th – Russian Orthodox Christmas
– January 14th – Russian Orthodox Newyear
– February 23rd – “Defender of the Fatherland Day”; in communist time this was the day of the army, now it has a more general meaning and is also called “Man’s Day” as an analogue for 8 of March. There are no specific events on this day in St. Petersburg, but put on your television to see shows with impressive army choirs
– March 8th -“International Women’s Day”, the second important holiday in the year; although there are no special events, but cafes, restaurants and cinemas will be fully booked. Do not forget to congratulate girls and women close to you, especially concern about your teacher! A day with flowers and chocolate, be aware flowers could be quite expensive on this day.
– April 30th – Queen’s Day – Of course: this is no Russian Holiday, but as we are a Dutch organisation we do not forget about our national holiday. A good party in the evening can be very well combined with the morning of the next Russian holiday!
– May 1st – Labour day, in communist day this holiday was celibrated more extensily than now, in Petersburg there are no parades anymore on this day.
– May 9th – “Victory Day”, in the morning there is the military parade at the Palace Square, in the afternoon there is the parade of the second world war veterans; on this day there are many concerts and ends with the so called “salut” (fireworks).
– May 27th – Birthday of Saint Petersburg; on this day (and often on succeeding days) there are many events of which the most famous is the carnaval parade on Nevsky Prospekt.
Nederlandse wagen tijdens het Carnaval op de Nevski Prospekt
– Beginning of June: “International Economic Forum”; since recent years this event has become very important for Russia to attract new investment capital, to close deals between Russian and foreign companies and to discuss the economic strategy of Russia. The Russian president normally invites presidents of other countries to visit Saint Petersburg during this forum. As a language course student you would probably not notice much of this event, perhaps you’ll see the 110-meter long yacht of Abramovich in the Neva.
– June 12th: “Russia Day” is a holiday which has been celibrated only since recently. There are several concerts in the city and a flower parade on Nevsky Prospekt.
– June – July: “White Nights”: during the white nights the daylight lasts longer and it does not get really dark during the night. We recommend you to go on a boat trip on the Neva river to view the opening bridges. The main event in this period is “Alye Parusa” a special Petersburg holiday on the last day of school. At the Palace Square there is a show with lots of music, dance and special effects. Very worth visiting. During the White Nights in the Mariinsky Theatre, there is the Festival “Stars of the White Nights”. At the Rostra Columns at the Vasilievksy Island you can see a fountain show every evening in the months June, July and August.
fountains with music in the Neva at the Vasilievsky Island
– November 4: “Unity Day” a new holiday, which at this moment not yet has much meaning for most of the people. This Holiday replaced the November 7th “Day of the Revolution”.
Except from the general holidays, Russia has a lot of holidays devoted to a certain part of the population or certain professions, like Student Day (January 25th), Kosmonaut Day (April 12th), Customs Day (May 28th), Constructor’s Day (second Sunday of August), Police Day (November 10th). For our organisation the most important day is of course the 5th of October: Teacher’s Day!
In the surroundings of Saint Petersburg, there are several palaces which you definitely should visit. Most famous is Peterhof or Petrodvorets. This is known as the Versailles of Russia. Peterhof is very famous because of its stretched out gardens, decorated with thousands of fountains. You can reach Peterhof by a special hydrofoil craft.
Also Pushkin (Tsarkoje Selo) is a place you should not miss. Just south from St. Petersburg. Here is the Ekaterina Palace situated, with the famous “amber” room.
Other palaces in the surroundings of Petersburg are Pavlovsk and Gatchina.
For those who come in summer, should definitely consider a Russian beach day. The North West of Petersburg hosts a very nice coast line, where you walk from the pine grove right on the sandy beach. On a nice summer day these beaches can be really crowded. To visit one of the beaches, just take the train at Finland Station (metro Ploshad Lenina) and get out at places like “Kurort”, “Solnechnoe”, “Repino”, “Komarova”, “Zelenogorsk”.
At a three hour drive from St. Petersburg, there is the city Veliki Novgorod, which is considered as one of the oldest cities of Russia. Novgorod (not to be confused by Nizhnyj Novgorod) played an important role in the Russian middle ages.
Saint Petersburg is the city of football club FC Zenit. The club won in 2007 the Russian Championship for the first time in 23 years. Recently, the success even got bigger, when Zenit won the UEFA cup, beating Glasgow Rangers by 2-0 in the final, and by defeating many established clubs like Olympique Marseille, Bayern Munchen, Villareal, Bayer Leverkusen, Standard Luik, AZ). Zenit plays in teh Petrovsky Stadion. Many participants of our language courses use the opportunity to visit one of the home matches of Zenit.
FC Zenit na het winnen van de EUFA-cup in 2008
Except for football, Petersburg is the home city of some famous sportsmen. Very well known in Russia is Evgeny Plyuchenko, the Olympic gold medal winner in figure-skating, and won recently with Dima Bilan the Eurovision-Songcontest. Nikolay Valuev, world champion in boxing, heavyweight class, comes from St. Petersburg. Other sportsmen: Alexander Khalifman (chess world champion 1999), Dmitry Shepel (European champion all-round speedskating 2001). Saint Petersburg is also hosts the ice-hockey club SKA. ice-hockey is, behind football, the second sport in Russia. In May 2008 Russia became world champion ice-hockey.
Who wants to do some sports during the stay in Petersburg, can go to one of the many fitness clubs. As most clubs basically focus on year passes, the price of a single visit is quite high. Planeta Fitness (Korablestroitelei) is quite a big fitness club near our accommodation. An all-inclusive visit (use of all devices, swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath) costs about 25 euro. Also on the Vasilievsky Island (not so far from our accommodation) is a tropical swimming pool “Waterville” (Korablestroitelei 14), with slides, saunas and wave pool. A visit (depending on the time of the day) costs between 15 and 25 euros. For those who come in winter: in the surroundings of St. Petersburg there are many possibilities for skiing and cross-country skiing. In St. Petersburg there are several stadiums for indoor skating.
In 1998 Russia faced a rouble crisis. In a few days time, the rouble suddenly devaluated by 5 times. Many foreign companies retreated and many Russian companies went bankrupt. A huge economic crises and very high unemployment. This period has been definitely left behind. Recent years show very high growth figures of the Russian economy.
Saint Petersburg is already called the “Detroit” of Russia, with car manufacterers as Ford, Nissan, Toyota, General Motors and Hyundi. Saint Petersburg also fulfills a very important function in the logistics chain, as the Petersburg port is the biggest port of Russia and for many types of goods the main flow goes through this port (for example: 80% of the Russian imports of fruits and vegetables goes through the Petersburg port).
The fast-growing economy is partly due to the high oil prices. Russia is one of the less countries in the world which significantly benefits from high prices of commodities. The skyline of St. Petersburg very soon have a mark with reference to this effect. Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, builds new head office: a 300-meter skyscraper with the shape of a flame.
Distances in Petersburg, a 5 million city, are pretty big. Travelling from the one end to the other end of the city will roughly take 40 kilometers. The latest years the car park quickly increased, resulting in many traffic jams on weekdays.
The most important type of transport is the metro. As metro stations are relatively far situated from eachother (avarage about 4 kilometers), it is possible to travel from one to the other side of the city in 30-40 minutes. Take into account that the metro is quite deep, and that each trip you will spend 6 minutes on the escalator (3 minutes gowing down, 3 minutes gowing up). The metro system works like in Paris, that is: a flat fee for all trips. You can travel with one metro coin until you come back at the surface.
metrostation Moskovsky Vokzal
The public transport also consists of busses, trolley busses, trams and so called “marshrutkas”. The latter are micro-busses which travel along a certain route and which you can halt on any place at this route. All above ground transport works with a flat fee (no matter if you step out the next stop or the last stop).
Public transport is relatively cheap, compared to other European cities. The prices of Metro coins and the above ground transport is approximately 50-60 euro cents.
The most central metro station is “Nevsky Prospekt” or “Gostinyj Dvor”. From our accommodation (metro Primorskaya) that is two metro stops.
The airport is quite difficult to reach per public transport. Only for those who know. Between the aiport and metro Moskovskaya there is a marshrutka number 13. If you have not been in Petersburg before or you don’t speak Russian it will not be very easy to get this bus in the right direction and get out at the right moment. In addition, it is not recommended to travel with suitcases in metro. As we do not want our participants to get lost directly, we meet everybody at the airport; transfers from and to the airport are standard included in the course fee.
If you want to visit the surroundings (like Repino, Komarova, Pavlovsk), the best way to go is by train. A ticket costs normally not more than a few euros. Also Moscow can be reached best by train, a one-way trip by a night train will cost between 30 and 80 euros; it will take about 9 hours. A fast train, travelling at daytime from Petersburg to Moscow in about 5 hours costs 70-80 euros.
Cost of Living
As a standard to measure the cost level in different countries, the so called “Big Mac Index” is used often. On June 1st 2008 a Big Mac in St. Petersburg costed 59 roubles (€ 1,60). This is quite lower than in many European countries where the a Big Mac costs between € 2,50 and € 3,00. Although a Big Mac is relatively cheap, the price level increased a lot in the recent years. Currently the inflation is about 10%.
The prices of food in the shops are comparable with the rest of Europe. In general imported products (especially fruits and vegetables) are more expensive. There can be a big price difference between big discounters and smaller supermarkets at the corner of the street. Big supermarkets are Lenta, Karussyel, O’key and Metro. There is a Lenta supermarket not far from our accommodation.
supermarkt Lenta, 12000 m2 supermarkt nabij het cursisten-verblijf
Clothes are in general more expensive than in Europe (about 25%). Prices of electronics are the same or a little bit lower. A taxi drive is relatively cheap (10 km costs about 7 euro), but that is not strange: a liter of unleaded petrol is less than half of European prices and costs only 65 eurocents.
There are a lot of bars and restaurants where you could eat pretty cheap. The price of a pizza ranges from 6 to 10 euro. Many restaurants have special lunch deals: soup, main course, drinks for 8 to 10 euro. Half a liter of beer costs 3 to 5 euro, a softdrink usually 1,50 to 2 euros.
For lodging Petersburg is a quite expensive city: a decent hotel is in the high season difficult to find for even 150-200 euros per night. Real estate is expensive, this concerns both buy as rental apartements; for an interesting investment you’re late in Petersburg, and you’ll better try an other Eastern European city.
Going out for dinner in St. Petersburg
There are many places in St. Petersburg where you can have a nice dinner and good value for your money. We just give you a few hints:
On walking distance from our accommodation:
– Pizza Ollis: Korablestroitelei 32, we recommend: “Pizza Pollo” (met chicken and vegetables), “Pizza Okeanika” (fish). Also delivering at home: +7812-3200600.
– Sushibar Evrazia: Kapitanskaya 4 (between 15:00 – 18:00 happy hour: for the price of one you get everything double),we recommend “Filadelfia Maki” (sushi with salmon, feta cheese, avocado), “Lapsha s owoshami” (noodles and vegetables)
– Bar SPB: Korablestroitelei 30, beer-bar, light food and snacks to eat when drinking beer.
pizzeria Ollis, op loopafstand van het cursisten-verblijf
A 20 minute walk from metro Primorskaya:
– Ugly Duclking, Ulitsa Gavanskaya 22, nice Danish restaurant with good food
Next to metro Vasiliostrovskaya
– Mama Roma: Srednyj prospekt V.O. 6/13, we recommend: cold/warm buffet
– Stolle: 1st Line V.O. 50, several typical “pirogi” (sweet and salty cakes), we recommend “pirog s kapustoi” (cake with cabbage)
– Dve Palochki: Srednyj Prospekt V.O. 16, sushi bar, nice design
– Tan Zhen: Bolshoj Prospekt V.O. 19, Chinese Restaurant, we recommend: “Kuritsa s Keshu” (chicken with cashew and vegetables), “Blinchiki s Owoshami” (fried rolls with vegetables), “Ryba v kyslosladkom sause” (fish in sweet-sour sauce)
– Ivanhoe: Naberezhnaja Leitenanta Schmidta 11, restaurant with medieval design.
– Grad Petrov: Universitetskaya Naberezhnaja 5, German kitchen, beer restaurant (with own brewed beer)
In the centre:
– Korovabar: Karavannaya Ulitsa 8, if you want a good steak, stylish interior, trendy clientele.
– Fiolet: Ploshad Lomonosova 8, good food, sophsiticated, to take your “date” or business partner for dinner.
Those who come with a notebook, can use the free of charge WiFi access in our accommodation. Many cafes and restaurants nowadays also offer free WiFi access.
If you did not take your notebook, you can visit one of the many internet-cafes in the city. Close to our accommodation is “Cyber Club” (Korablestroitelei 32, korpus 1), or “Arktika” (first building on the left if you cross the bridge near metro Primorskaya).
Internetcafes in the centre: Quo Vadis (Liteinyj Prospekt 63), Cafemax (Nevsky Prospekt 90/92), A-Club (Ulitsa Rubensteina 8).
Prices of using a computer at an internetcafe vary from 1 euro to 3 euros per hour.
Many people are scared off by “cowboy”-stories about Russia. Consider it as a normal European city, there are some things you should watch out for, as but as long as you know where to look, you reduce most of your risk. And those risks are probably not what you expect as dangers in Russia.
Most dangers come from:
1. The traffic; the Russian style of driving is the biggest danger. Be careful, especially as a pedestrian!
2. Pick-pockets. Be alert in the metro, especially on the green line between Gostinyj Dvor and Ploshad Vosstanya. In the crowd the pick-pockets seize the opportunity. Don’t take too much with you.
3. Black cabs might seem a bit cheaper than an official cab, but you’ll better go for safe. Some of our participants have been robbed taking a non official cab.
4. Ice; in winter, continous changes of frost and thaw, create large icicles on the roofs. Be alert as they might drop. Don’t walk upon ice sheets under which might be flowing water. Don’t just repeat what other people do: a Russian looks a bit different to risks than Europeans do.
Be careful for other people who are drunk. Often nice conversations end when someone is offended (for example when refusing to drink wodka together).
Be careful not to get drunk yourself and lose control. If you are drunk (especially as a foreigner) you are a target for people with bad intentions. Be careful and do not under-estimate the sudden knock-out some wodkas can give. Don’t go out partying alone!
Be careful with Vodka!
6. Women; for our male participants, some useful information/hints:
1) Russia has a large amount of HIV-infected people and this amount increases fast.
2) Not all the girls are interested in your beauty and charisma; watch out for the professionals!
3) Don’t leave your drinks alone; some of our participants got robbed after something was dropped in their drink.
7. Racism, unfortunately in Saint Petersburg attacks on people with a coloured skin are sometimes reported.
8. Countryside, there is no danger in visiting the surroundings like Pushkin, Pavlovsk, Petrodvorets, Gatchina, Novgorod and the coastal villages (Repino, Komarova, Zelenogorsk). But if you really go out of the city to the far country side, please realise that life could be much rougher than in the city. As a foreigner you might be vulnerable.