Last weekend I traveled to Russia, to Saint-Petersburg for the first time in my life. It takes only 3,5 hours in train to get there, but it seems that you have traveled to another world, to a world with glory and collapse, splendor and decadence, where everything is bigger and busier. St. Petersburg is so close to Helsinki – we used to be part of the same country for over a decade, our cuisines have a lot of similarities, we both love sauna – but at the same time we are so far. Different language, alphabet and mentality.
The first cultural differences you encounter already before leaving when applying the visa. It costs less if you do it yourself but it takes a whole lot of time – invitation letters, filling forms in internet, etc. Next time I’ll definitely use some travel agency, then all you need to do is to give your passport, a photo and some extra money.
The Allegro train is really nice and easy way to go to Saint-Petersburg; all the border controls are done inside the moving train. It also takes you from the centre of Helsinki to the centre of St. Petersburg. My only plans for the visit were to walk around, be curious and open to new things. Saint-Petersburg is known for splendid palaces – Winter Palace, Hermitage and many more – but I don’t think it makes any sense to spend your whole time in them. There is so much more; inner yards with art galleries (Pushkinskaya 10 is a classic!), new cultural centers, local design stores, little cafes, beautiful parks, amazing churches, little museums, etc. What amazed me especially is that the old centre is so wide and intact – during the 4 days we spend there I saw just one or two modern buildings. All the buildings represent either classical architecture from 1700’s or 1800’s or Jugend from the change of the century. Their conditions just vary from magnificence to complete decay. Saint-Petersburg is a city of contrasts, as you can see from the photos below. Not a city that you would necessary fall in love with immediately, but definitely worth visiting!
The Chruch of Our Savior on Spilled Blood