Russia has always been a bit of a bugger for Western tourists: signs written in a different alphabet and rocky political relations are but two of the obstacles for most British tourists. People who do manage the trip to St. Petersburg usually come by cruise, eliminating the need to navigate the complexities of the Russian public transport system. So when my Dad decided to come and visit, preparations began a few months in advance. After living the nightmare of applying for a Russian visa (and encountering the massive security guard at the door, who is quite hard for first-timers to ignore) and picking up a few basic pieces of vocabulary (‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Goodbye’ – unfortunately ‘Thank You’ proved to be the hardest to remember!) he set off for St. Petersburg. Although people say the best time to visit St. Petersburg is in the summer, he managed to miss the worst of the winter – just two days before he came the thaw came and most of the rivers melted.
We accomplished A LOT of tourism in the week here, so rather than giving a blow by blow account of every blini and babushka, I’ll give short itineraries and information about what we got up to.
- Dad arrives! Fails to find booked taxi. Panicked phone call. Finds booked taxi.
- Have dinner at ‘Mamalyga’, enjoyed Kachapuri, a Georgian bread filled with cheese and egg. Absolutely delicious and apparently a forthcoming food trend in London
- Visit the St. Peter and Paul Fortress. Get a little lost. Walk around the island and go and have a look at the Aurora, the battleship which fired the shot beginning the 1917 October Revolution.
- Some traditional Russian pirozhki for lunch on Nevsky Prospekt
- Visit the Russian Museum: containing works of art only from Russian artists. Home to Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ – whether you count it as art or not..! Also has a very stylish café (Russian museums are so massive that a coffee break midway through is not a bad idea)
- Dinner at ‘Yat’ – traditional Russian food and cosy. Live piano playing on a Saturday night too! Bumped into some German tourists who were reading the same Lonely Planet guidebook as we were studying at the table – we bonded. Also, this restaurant has a unique feature – some rabbits. Live rabbits. Just chilling by the toilets. You can give them a cuddle if you ask nicely. [http://eatinyat.com/home-english.html]
- Brunch at the Hotel Angleterre – fizzy wine, fresh coffee and a great view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
- Visit ‘Erata’, a modern art gallery slightly out of the historical centre. One of my favourite galleries in St. Petersburg, with a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
- This day was the day of the anti-corruption protests in the centre of the city. Was quite relieved to not have chosen the tourists sites around there that day, especially with my flatmate being an eye-witness to the arrests and informing me that it really wasn’t very safe in the centre.
- Dinner at ‘Biblioteka’ – modern European food. [http://www.ilovenevsky.ru]
- Whilst I’m at lessons, Dad wanders independently around the main sights in the sunshine. The Bronze Horseman statue, along some canals and around the Hermitage
- Dinner at Pelmeniyah – quick tasty dumplings of all kinds![https://www.tripadvisor.com.ph/Restaurant_Review-g298507-d10244837-Reviews-Pelmeniya_on_Marata-St_Petersburg_Northwestern_District.html]
- Go to the Mariniskii Theatre to see a showcase of Russian opera!
- Dad explores the Hermitage
- Together we go to the General Staff Building, the art gallery opposite the Hermitage. Contains more modern paintings, including works by Matisse and Picasso
- Dinner at The Idiot – a restaurant fashioned in the style of Dostoevsky-times. A cool atmosphere, but food was a bit disappointing. [http://idiot-spb.com/eng/]
- Meet up with my ex-Russian teacher! My school organises an exchange with a school in Velikii Novgorod, and they have a day trip to St. Petersburg. Lots of stories and laughs exchanged!
- Go to Fabergé Egg Museum with Dad, pay for guided tour – definitely worth the money! Very informative and much more access-friendly than the chunky guidebooks.
- Go to a Rotary Club International Meeting with Dad, who is a member of one of the Ipswich clubs. I act as his translator, but thankfully a few members speak good English
- Meet up with Marina, a friend from Kazan who was visiting St. Petersburg for a few days!
- Dad finishes exploring the Hermitage by himself
- Go for pyshki – wonderful Soviet doughnuts with sickly sweet coffee. [http://www.ipetersburg.ru/pyshechnaya-na-bolshoy-konyushennoy/]
- Go to the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games – reveal our competitive sides over the table ice-hockey
- Soviet-style dinner at Kvartirka, as feature in ‘Travel Man’ with Richard Ayoade. Dad finally tries Borscht! [https://www.tripadvisor.ru/Restaurant_Review-g298507-d3396477-Reviews-Kvartirka_Soviet_Cafe-St_Petersburg_Northwestern_District.html]
- Visit ‘Christ of Saviour on the Spilled Blood’ and the Kazan Cathedral – the two main churches along Nevsky Prospekt!
- Dinner at the Singer Café, which now also houses a bookshop and the headquarters of Vkontakte (the Russian Facebook!)
- Visit the Leningrad Siege Museum – worth grabbing an audioguide, because most of the exhibit is in Russian.
- A coffee and cake stop at one of the many bookshop-cafés of St. Petersburg. We went to ‘Книжная лавка писателей’
- Dinner at ‘Teplo’ [https://www.tripadvisor.ru/Restaurant_Review-g298507-d1111731-Reviews-Teplo-St_Petersburg_Northwestern_District.html]
- Last minute souvenir shopping!
- A last minute haggle with the taxi driver, and Dad speeds off to the airport. We were a little late and so I told the taxi-driver to go fast – he certainly listened, as his magnetic taxi sign ripped off on the motorway! I was pleased to hear that Dad finally got some experience
I was thrilled to finally show my Dad around Russia. It was his first time here, and a chance for him to understand why I’ve dedicated so many years of my life trying to learn its infuriating and beautiful language.