St Petersburg & Russia

Swetlana’s Sint-Petersblog

Swetlana Datsenko is Russian and has been Hermitage Amsterdam’s permanent representative in St Petersburg since 2005. Who better to advise visitors what to see and where to go in this magnificent city? In this blog, Swetlana offers a regular supply of tips from inside St Petersburg.

Visitors to this page are not just casual googlers. Readers of this blog are looking for information about exhibitions, concerts, lectures and educational programmes at Hermitage Amsterdam. Or information about St Petersburg, home of the State Museum, the original Hermitage.

In June 2009, the Amsterdam satellite opened in the magnificent renovated Amstelhof, with a gigantic exhibition At the Russian Court. To stick to the theme of the show I shall offer a few royalty tips for those planning a visit to St Petersburg in the coming months and eager to discover the imperial side of the city. And, since it’s summer, a romantic suggestion to start.

Swetlana Datsenko

09.05.09

Zomer in Sint-Petersburg

Summer in St Petersburg

White nights: from late May to mid-July, this is a truly magical time in St Petersburg. It barely gets dark at night at all, especially if the sun has been shining during the day. Sometimes you hardly know whether to go to sleep when it’s so light, especially since it’s so busy in the heart of the city. And added to that, the school year ends in late June. If you happen to be in St Petersburg on the third Friday in June, treat yourself to an enormous party on and around Palace Square, which is organised specially for school children. Magnificent fireworks, concerts - in other locations in the city centre too - and as the highlight, a show on the Neva between the Hermitage and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Around two at night, a ship comes up the river with red sails - the symbol for all the pupils who say goodbye to their childhood and enter adult life that night.

The motto for this and other June days is: the more romantic, the better. So if you’re in love and want to surprise your lover with a magical weekend, then this is definitely the time of year to come to St Petersburg. A night boat on the Neva and the city’s canals, and you have to kiss under each bridge - all 365 of them. How could that disappoint?

When:Late May to mid-June
Red Sail festival: Each year on the third Friday in June

09.05.09

Imperial Palaces around St Petersburg

Which to Choose?

Following the At the Russian Court exhibition, a visit to the former imperial palaces of the Romanovs is certainly a must. They are worth seeing any time of the year. Travel guides invariably recommend anyone interested in the country estates to visit Tsarskoye Selo. Although this is indeed a beautiful and impressive palace, with its renowned Amber Hall, I would nevertheless advise choosing Pavlovsk or Peterhof, especially for a short visit to St Petersburg. On the way to Pavlovsk you will be able to enjoy a view of Catharine Palace in nearby Tsarskoye Selo.

Peterhof

Versailles maybe nearer to Holland, but it’s interesting to know that when Tsar Peter the Great saw the plans of the French palace he ordered an even more beautiful palace with fountains to be built in the vicinity of St Petersburg: the famous Peterhof. Both park and palace overwhelm everyone who sees them; for those interested in industrial design, a visit to the caves underneath the palace will be especially rewarding - that is where the water supply that feeds the fountains is regulated by 18th-century technology. Without using pumps, the water in the largest Peterhof fountain - Samson - reaches a height of 47 metres.

Where:Peterhof, park and palace. Fountains open from late May to late September
How to get there:In the summer by hydrofoil (Meteor) from the pier opposite the Hermitage – around 30 minutes. Buy a return ticket to get back to the centre of town the same afternoon just as quickly. Less fun perhaps, but cheaper is bus 424A from opposite Avtovo station.

www.peterhofmuseum.ru

Pavlovsk

It would be an understatement to say that the Russian tsars lived on a grand scale. And yet that’s not entirely true, as a day out at Pavlovsk will prove. This relatively small palace was built in 1777 for the son of Catharine the Great, Paul I. It was home to a large family: Paul and his wife had ten children, including the future queen of Holland, Grand Princess Anna Pavlovna. The palace is located in a large park covering almost 600 hectares, a superb place for a long walk or cycle ride. Cycling in the city itself is not recommended. It is extremely dangerous. So hire a bike here and discover the small pavilions in the distant corners of the park. Or treat yourself to a horse ride. In the summer the Russians consider it a little common, but in the winter it’s a great experience: riding in a sleigh amid the snow-covered trees. Laid out in English landscape style, in 200 years the park has become a genuine wood. Don’t forget to take a bag of nuts to Pavlovsk - for the squirrels that eat from your hand.

Where:Pavlovsk, palace and park.
How to get there:Train - 30 minutes from Vitebsky station (Russia’s first railway station!). Beware of pickpockets!

www.pavlovskmuseum.ru

Food and Drink

There are two places here on the edge of St Petersburg where lunch and dinner are both excellent. In Pavlovsk there’s Podvorje Restaurant – a large wooden house in the old Russian style with superb Russian cuisine and Russian entertainment: folk dancing and folk songs. Filtrovskoye Shosse 16, Pavlovsk, www.podvorye.ru.

In Tsarskoye Selo, not far from Pavlovsk, there’s Old Tower, St Petersburg’s smallest restaurant with the largest menu. It only seats 16 and the impression is of a dining room in the early 20th century: with old photos on the walls, thick table cloths, old chairs and a sideboard. It is advisable to book in advance since the restaurant is as popular as it is small. Akademicheski Prospekt 14, Pushkin, + 7 812 466 66 98.

09.05.09

Museum of the History of St Petersburg in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Local history museums are usually the least interesting - or so I used to think. They may be educational, but hardly exciting. I had to swallow my words when I visited the commandant’s residence at the Peter and Paul Fortress which houses an exhibition on the history of St Petersburg. Almost every tourist to the city visits the fortress cathedral, with the tombs of the Romanovs, but without a guide, the uniform gravestones in the church signify little.

So take a little extra time and go to the museum by the side of the cathedral. The presentation is a little old-fashioned at first, with models of villages that once stood where St Petersburg was founded in 1703. But all that changes on the first floor. Historical objects tell the city’s story, including old typewriters and a piece of a safe wall from a St Petersburg bank. Each room features a costume from the period. Menus and card tables, old photos, a dolls’ house with a St Petersburg fin-de-siècle interior – the atmosphere of the old city comes to life. To enjoy everything the museum has to offer it would helpful to have a knowledge of Russian, but there are guides available, and a visit to the museum is worth while with or without.

www.spbmuseum.ru

Opening hours

Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed on April 26 and December 25

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