My previous business trips to Moscow had given me a taste of the extravagance of the Russian architecture and their love of showing off, so on arrival in St Petersburg I wasn’t surprised to find a metropolis of grand palaces and elegant gardens, encircled by cathedrals and churches with golden onion domes.
We chose to stay in a locally run boutique hotel that was simply called ‘A Boutique Hotel’ that was up on the fourth floor of what seemed to be a residential building. It was perfect, for it wasn’t overwhelming like the rest of the city.
Russia loves to show off, and it is here in St Petersburg that it really struts its stuff. The city was built to the liking of the Tsar, who loved the Parisian architecture along with the canals of Amsterdam. This was his ‘ultimate’ city and had all the beauty of the west combined with the indulgence of the empire.
The Russian empire simply loved to indulge, and a visit to The Hermitage will give you a glimpse of what life had been like for those at the top. From the floor tiles to the dinner plates, everything was made to impress, and impressed me it did, at the same time as it depressed me, for I thought of the worth of just one single gold spoon that could have fed an entire family living in poverty. The imperials lived such luxurious lives where their own people starved, such was the world the museums of St Petersburg reminded us, such is the world that despite the advances in living conditions in first world countries, we often forget we still lived in today.
Some of the Moscovites I know had said they didn’t like St Petersburg, which I put down as simply just a battle of the cities (like the Sydney vs Melbourne rivalry). The lifestyle is certainly a little different, for St Petersburg possessed a harbour that opened out to the sea, which gleamed and sparkled under the hot summer sun. Across the ‘river’ was a natural sand beach outsides the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress where one could enjoy a bit of sunbathing and swimming, if you are not averse to cold water, or you could choose to hire a small boat and leisurely float through the canals to avoid the traffic above.
In many ways, St Petersburg seems to be trying to out-do Moscow, at the same time being very careful not to go beyond its means. The Savior on the Spilled Blood cathedral is of similar design to St Basil’s on the Red Square in Moscow, yet it lacks the modernity and the superfluous showing of wealth that Moscow is so obsessed with. It is a city aimed to be fondly remembered whereas Moscow is a city aiming to be lusted over.
One each of our trips we choose one thing to indulge ourselves in, and while generally budget conscious, we couldn’t resist the temptation of being able to dine in Count Stroganoff’s palace dining room.
Yes, *that* Stroganoff. Depending on which versions of the story you believe in, he may have something to do with the invention of the dish Beef Stroganoff. Imagine eating out of delicately decorated cutlery and plates with each dish being delivered with a flourish, it was the experience we had to have in Tsar’s own city.