Thursday, 2 December 2010

Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is one of those cities that for me has been shrouded in mystery. Ask anybody and they'll tell you how beautiful it is, but how many people do you know who have actually been there? The only reason people say it's beautiful is because other people have told them it is.
I don't mean that as a criticism, simply that it's a remote city with a big reputation that for me has been based more on rumor than fact.
I was a little worried this might be a recipe for disaster. Surely It wouldn't live up to these amazing expectations which I kind of had, but weren't really sure what they were.

But having now seen it with my own eyes, let me say one thing for certain. Saint Petersburg really is an achingly beautiful city. Believe the hype.

It is often referred to as the Venice of the north, and a comparison like this is a compliment to both cities. Character and charm drip from every building. It is as elegant a city I've ever been to, yet there was hardly a tourist to be seen, and while prices were high by Russian standards, they are still cheap by European or Australian standards.
I was also really impressed by the attitude of locals towards me. On the whole, the people I saw on the street in St Petersburg seemed to be the most affluent I'd seen in Russia. I was half expecting this to result in them being a bit snobbish and cold, but it was far from the truth. They were warm, friendly, down to earth, interesting and approachable.
The city was created from scratch 300 years ago under order of Peter the Great as Russia's new capital, and was designed to be a "window to Europe". As such it has a much more western-European flavor about it than other parts of Russia I've seen, but it combines the best of Europe and the best of Russia into a single, beautifully cohesive city.
It doesn't have the energy or dynamic feel of Moscow, but it more than makes up for it with an incredible charm.

This has got to be one of the best/worst kept secrets of Europe. I assume the hassles associated with getting a Russian Visa is the main reason the place isn't overrun by tourists. If so then make the most of it while you can. Getting a Russian Visa isn't that big a deal, but being able to experience a city like this without being run down by hundreds of tourist buses is well worth the hassle. Not to mention the fact you'll be able to afford much more on your holiday here.
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