no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

St Petersburg the Great Part 2

St Petersburg is a vast and rich subject to talk about, which for everyone who live(d) there or went there will be just as any other city unique. As I grew up in the suburbs, on the way to Moscow, with no immediate access to the metro that will take you to the centre in no time (almost), I regarded each trip to St Pete as a holiday (and it was usually some holiday), as a ‘going out’. Mom took us to the theater, museums, rarely to a store, or we would go there on a school bus trip. Even now I still consider going there as a certain ‘move’ and there are still so many places on the map that are to be united and linked to form the complete picture – you know, when you visit places by getting there from the nearest metro station or by bus or even on foot – these are truly different experiences. I would love to move around my city on bike too but unfortunately the centre is yet unbikeable, at least for those who would rather stay alive. It’s weird but most of the bikes in the centre are those rented by tourists. I prefer walking because even on a bike the experience is less intimate – you need to physically WALK those streets, bridges, parks and embankments. So let’s walk some more, eh? If you want, you can accompany our ramblings by google maps but you’ll see the itinerary is rather hectic.

Anichkov Bridge over Fontanka

{View from the famous Anichkov Bridge over Fontanka}

This IS what St Petersburg is all about for me – cable against the sky (not always THAT blue and bright) and the roofs (used to be all rusty when looked at from the astonishing 100 meter dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral), almost inevitable in all the photos. Sometimes the criss-crossing sagging cable looks a bit… menacing.

Lion Bridge over Griboyedova Canal

The cable is just everywhere, running from one building to another or in some unknown direction, you’ll spot it on the most of the photos. The bridge above is the Lion Bridge over Griboyedova Canal. The lions have lost their luster but still contributing greatly to the overall view – well, how would you look after some 190 years on the same place? 😉 We have lots of lions in the city (if you ever watch the USSR-Italy film the Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia, you’ll get an idea), poems and books are written about them. A royal city, no doubt. Also these straight lines for trolley bus is a characteristic trait of St Pete:

Mikhailovsky Castle

One of my favourite ‘objects’ to be photographed in any city – if there is such – is a street lantern against some building. This is the First Park Bridge next to the Mikhailovsky Park and Mikhailovsky (or Engineers’) Castle, late 1790s, built for Paul I who was into knights, military stuff and protecting himself from being assassinated. Sadly enough he actually WAS killed as soon as he moved to his new castle! I remember we went there with our class and only having arrived at the gates of the castle did we discover that it was closed and there will be no excursion. All the lunch lovingly packed by mothers was eaten the same moment everyone got on the bus again – this was actually one of the ‘points’ to go on an excursion for the children – be independent and eat something you would not normally eat, especially in my childhood when all the individually packed juice and buns and crackers and chips appeared in the market. First thing you do when you get on a bus? Tear open the potato chips and coca cola! By the way, there are also the cable lines for trams:

Tramway park

I came across this park on the Petrogradskaya side after a job interview, just after having read about the trams and konka (horse-driven carriages, also double-decked, which have become obsolete only in the 20th century. There were also large coaches on iron-bound wheels. Can you imagine the ‘pleasure’ of such a ride on a paved road?). The best way to explore any city is to ‘unleash’ yourself, forget about the direction and just walk. Just in case – take a map but do not restrain yourself to following some particular direction – just consult it every now and then not to walk into a highway or something. If you do walk like this, you might find an ex-factory (apparently very old) turned into a yoga centre, for example (this is a somewhat weird transformation but lots of factory buildings are now let as office premises):


Or you can even – sometimes unintentionally – follow somebody. A girl has just closed this solid looking door, disappearing inside one of the buildings along Izmailovsky Avenue. If you go along the avenue away from the Fontanka River, you’ll get to the Trinity Cathedral.

Izmaylovsky Avenue

Apart from lanterns, I love doors. Because they leave you musing upon what’s inside – for me also because I have rarely been to the old buildings in St Petersburg. There are doors like this – a typical 19th century paradnaya, a front entrance (in St Petersburg we call actually any door to a building paradnaya – the rest of the country calls it pod’ezd – hehe, even a wikipedia entry mentions this fact!):

Griboyedova Canal

{Griboedova Canal Embankment}

The external gutters (there on the left of this photo) amaze foreigners and represent a certain joy for the young rascals in spring – to hit the pipe’s end to release the ice inside. It was also used to burn your school diary with baaad marks (dunno if it’s used the same way now). Or there are doors like this:

door on Fontanka

Actually this is a front door to a house on the Fontanka River, right in the historic centre. I was lucky to have a peek inside expecting to see a dilapidated but formerly lush staircase…


Nope. A row of door bells underneath the post eeh slots. I wonder what’s behind this rock. A vintage staircase? 😉 Last time I told you about komunalka (shared apartments) a bit, this hallmark of the Soviet common-everything principle. But even in the times of the Russian empire, St Petersburg was the second most densely populated city after Moscow – by this I mean the number of people crowding in the same apartment – in 1910 there were 7 people per flat here (surpassed only by Moscow’s 8.7 and leaving far behind London’s 4.4 or Paris’s 2.7 around the same time). The typical building in Peter was a huge multi-flat 4-5 storied house, called dokhodny dom (a house which gives income (dokhod) for the owners),where people from all walks of life could find a place to live – a posh apartment with an enfilade of rooms – or an ‘angle’ – literally a small section of a room or a corridor where an entire family could thus ‘nestle’. Almost every building along Griboedova Canal was a dokhodny dom. Read Dostoevsky – his characters lived in a house with a blunt angle (the same Canal, No. 73)! Not this one, though, this is No. 100 and its trick is that it’s actually a diagonally broadening building which you’ll see if you move to the right a bit.

Griboedova Canal, dokhodny dom

This photo was taken a year ago back in March when I went to Mariinsky theater to get a job (still have some photos from the inside unpublished : ). This year I went by its new stage which looks not greater than a year ago when it was all under construction and there was still some hope of it getting better somehow. Well, it did not. I prefer the old building with all its Soviet entrails. There’s a line from the famous Soviet cartoon about Cheburashka (you definitely know this nondescript creature, it’s also our Olympic mascot) that people in Russia recall when talking about hmmm weird buildings to say the least – We have been constructing and constructing and finally we have constructed!

the old and new Mariinsky Theatre

The bridge is called Torgovy because there was a market place called Litovsky rynok, a historic place dating back to the late 18th century, demolished to build ehhh the new stage of Mariinsky. If you turn around on that bridge, you’ll see the subtle bell tower of Nikolskaya Church on the Kryukov Canal – and again some specimens of the St Pete architecture. To the left is the building belonging to the theater where on the unique day of each month every one from the simple mechanic to a diva elbow their way towards a small window to get their salary. As a true Soviet establishment, this place is ruled by the only god – bukhgalteria, accounts department.

Nikolskaya Churh on Kryukov Canal

And if you follow the same ex-Torgovaya Street away from the ugly new Mariinsky, you’ll get into a komunalka perhaps, if you’re lucky enough to know the owner of a room there. No, I didn’t get the photo of the corridor, nor the common kitchen, bathroom, etc. I would tell you just this – you’re all lucky NOT to be living in a komunalka. Yes, it’s a unique experience, who’d doubt it but… Count me out.

Casa Antonio

From the room’s window (which is in a late 1880s house) you’ll see one of the street’s numerous dokhodny dom (the sign reads Casa Antonio – could have been anything from a restaurant to a sanitary ware store somewhere in early 2000s). The Soviet power had not much to change to create komunalka there. A more lush view over the houses along Griboedova Canal (after the Lion Bridge heading towards Nevsky) with the stone embankment, one of the essential elements of St Petersburg:

Griboyedova Canal

No one can claim that St Pete is just this Europe-oriented city with straight lines of historic buildings. There are other things as well, such as the Soviet heritage, a view of a typical late Soviet mnogoetazhka (high-rise), called at the time of its construction novostroyka (taken from the window of an identical mnogoetazhka of a different colour). Now it’s getting battered quicker than buildings which are much older. Well, at least my grandparents were among the last lucky people who got their flat from the Soviet government, right on time. Because we were seven in our flat in the early 1990s, just as the statistics claimed for the 1910.

typical late Soviet architecture

{and yes, these are the future tomatoes… the annual job of my Granny}

And just for ‘fun’ – the entrance to the museum of Rimsky-Korsakov, the composer of the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) opera, actually, it it his flat with the preserved objects and furniture. The sign’s there since the 1960s I suppose 😉 We couldn’t find the entrance, I mean, what we supposed to be an entrance, just a regular ‘fortified’ door. Only later did we learn that you should just ring the inter-phone just as you would do for a regular flat. Next time! There are sooooo many museums in Peter, I’m ashamed I have been to a ridiculously small number of them.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Museum Entrance

{the museum is situated in a curious yard of Zagorodny Avenue, with a checkerboard on the ground}

Tired? Me too! Had to delete several photos… And after a walk in Tsarskoye Selo it occurred to me there will inevitably be a third part to this story.) Hope you’re tempted to see the Great St Petersburg, m?



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