Sunday, 11 January 2015

From Russia with Love: Flo's St Petersburg

While Elle broke her tradition of celebrating New Years' Eve abroad with Georgie, I switched roles and decided to spend this NYE in St Petersburg along with 6 days to explore the city...

We arrived to be met by heavy snow and an uncomfortably cold evening of minus fifteen degrees. We braved what should have been a shortish walk between our hotel and the Mariinsky theatre but which ended up taking about half an hour because of how slippery the ice was. We saw the Nutcracker there which was fun and seasonal but the real interest was in the glitzy theatre and its entourage - luxurious fur coats upon arrival, women with painted on faces, children prancing around the enclaves in princess outfits, selfie sticks and a few dresses to die for.

The following days were taken up with various sightseeing - the Kazan Cathedral and Chuch of Our Savoiur built on Spilt Blood, Christmas Markets, The Hermitage, The Russian Museum, The Faberge Museum and Catherine's Palace in Pushkin about half an hours drive away. 

Catherine's Palace 
The Russian Museum has a fantastic collection of Modern Russian Art - Serov, Malovich, Vrubel and many more...

The Hermitage meanwhile has an incredible selection of ancient artefacts from Siberia and the Caucasus that are far less crowded than other wings of the museum. 

I was a little more sceptical of the Faberge Museum but the craftsmanship of these ornate eggs is remarkable, each containing a 'surprise' such as a clockwork singing bird as small as a five pence coin emerging from a bejewelled tree.

Egg in egg

The food was pretty disappointing, but then I am really not a fan of Russian cuisine. The restaurant scene is predominantly made up of old world and overpriced 'luxury' Russian-European restaurants, mediocre Italians and cheap and cheerful locals. Try anything more exotic at your own risk! 

At the premium end, restaurants such as L'Europe and Palkin offer impeccable service but outdated food - overcooked meat and uninspired flavours. That said, L'Europe's famous 'egg in egg' - truffled scrambled egg topped with three different types of caviar - is delicious. 

There are also a few gems - Duo Gastrobar and Kokoko - that serve more modern food that is pretty good and well priced.

Koko's Steak Tartare

Kokoko's 'my nother's favourite flower'

Duo's Tuna Tataki

Duo's Steak

Shopping isn't much cheaper in Russia for most things (other than Vodka) but there are some pretty nice shops and designers that haven't come to our shores. My favourite two are 8 Store in Taiga Art Space (pretty hard to find since you have to go into an unmarked apartment building and up some stairs to find it), and JBNY, a Chinese designer I first discovered in Beijing that does some lovely knitwear.

8 Store

For New Years' Eve, St Petersburg is less of a party place than Moscow and the bars and clubs tend to be pretty studenty or mass market. We found a few of bars that could make decent cocktails - Bar 812, Terminal Bar and Hat Bar - but nothing all that impressive. 

Overall it was a cosy winters break with lots of curling up to a steaming mug of tea or warming cocktail. While I wouldn't rush back, there are lots of things to love and I am very glad I went.

If you too are planning to go please find my magpie guide to St Petersburg here, and the map that relates to it

The morning after...