Tour with Anna, St Petersburg, Russia

I’ve heard it many times, “a tour with a local can really bring a city to life”. I’ve just never experienced it until now. I met my charming homestay host, Anna, after class and we began the tour just around the corner from school at the Palace Square where she explained that the Alexander Column is fixed in place by its weight alone.

To ease the mind of locals fearful that it might fall over, the architect would walk around it daily to reassure everyone that it was indeed a solid and safe structure.

We then notice the convenient toilet buses that she tells me are a Russian invention.

Next we walk past the beautiful mint green Winter Palace to the New Hermitage where she has me make a wish and rub the big toe of one of the colossal figures that grace the entrance.

We then walk along the canals and enter the courtyard of the Kapella Concert Hall, passing through one of the alleyways that connect the city blocks. Here there are few tourists. Anna explains that many of these passage ways have been closed to keep onlookers out.

 We are on our way to a Soviet style pishki shop. There is a queue when we arrive but the line goes fast and we soon have our fresh pishki, a sort of Russian yeast donut, and milky sweet coffee drink, a light snack before dinner.

Next we head to an exhibition on Nevisky Prospect, the former 4th floor studio of German photographer Karl Bulla, active before and after the Russia Revolution. He was well known during his life time and besides photographing celebrities he also had access to military and government installations and documented events of the time. The curator speaks only Russian so it is helpful to bring along an interpreter if you don’t speak the language. There is a book on the front desk with descriptions in English and Russian.

On the upper floor an display of period erotica.

On the way to dinner we stop at a shop that was built for a wealthy fruit and vegetable trader at the turn of the century. It is now, Magazin Kuptsov Yeliseyevykh, a fancy sweets shop and café retaining the decorations of the belle époque.

We turn the corner where tourists toss coins at a metal cat sitting on a ledge. If your coin stay put your wish will come true. Across the street sits his mate. Below is a fountain with a large stone ball that spins on water. Try to change the direction of this heavy sphere.

Dinner is at Kvartirka, a charming Soviet style café that is decorated in early Soviet style with period pieces from the early 20th century. The place has a cozy Russian Grandmother’s living room vibe. The menu includes many Russian favorites, nicely done and not too expensive.

After dinner we head a couple of metro stops north to a roof top concert of Otava Yo. The Russian folk group has a lively following on this warm summer evening. Great fun.

August 9, 2019

For links to all the posts in this series see the St Petersburg page.

For more posts on travel in Russia see the Russia page.