IN THE LAND OF SNOW, Eda Işıkoğlu | 12.03.2015

The wish to welcome in the new year in a country that evokes winter and the new year's spirit led us to St. Petersburg. The fact that my sister is living there also helped! It was obvious from the start that this city, which was invisible from the plane due to mist and clouds, except for the city light reflections, was about to amaze us. I had never previously seen such low-lying clouds embracing a city.

In the 10 minutes between passport control and stepping outside to find a cab waiting for us, we first felt the cold weather substantially. Luckily while we there, the weather reached 0°C (32°F) from a low of -15°C (5°F). We were fortunate enough to experience St. Petersburg at one of the hottest times ever in winter.

We dropped our bags and immediately went out because we did not want to miss the Saturday night excitement. We had reservations at a place where we could eat and listen to music, which helped us to unwind and relax after our trip and fit in rapidly.

My first impression of the city was it was all snow and ice; however, it was extremely hot inside people’s apartments. When the weather drops below a certain temperature, the heating systems operate automatically and shut off when it warms up again. When you consider the fact that the weather is -20°C (-4°F) on average during winter, I think it's understandable that people keep their homes as hot as hell! During the 4 days we were there, it remained 0°C (32°F) and we were unable to adjust the heating system; so we had to leave the windows open... :)

When we hit the streets to fully experience the city, we had all the equipment we needed: snow boots, scarf, gloves, beret and of course, cameras... We jumped on the subway to start our exploration. It is important to mention the subway network of the city; it's not as extensive as the one in Moscow, but still quite good. I found the extremely long escalators particularly interesting. :) After walking a while, we still could not see the end of the road...

Finally, we arrived at Nevsky Prospect, one of the biggest and most popular streets in the city. This street and those parallel to it form a district where you can find anything you're looking for. Museums and cathedrals for cultural events, stores for shopping, nice cafes and restaurants for dining, and bars for those looking for a night out...

Our first stop on Nevsky Prospect was the Hermitage Museum, the biggest in Russia and one of the biggest in the world. If you spent 1 minute for each work of art (which total 3 million), you would need 10 years to see everything on display. I think this gives you an idea of how big the museum is! J One side of the museum faces the Neva River, while the other faces Palace Square The museum is part of a complex which comprises of 6 main buildings, one of them being the Winter Palace, which served as a home to 6 tsars throughout its history. The inside of the museum is as magnificent as you would expect from the outside. This museum is a must see with its baroque architecture, distinguished works of art, and also because it tells something of the rich history of the country.

There is a very welcome offer at the museum entrance: When you purchase your ticket and first enter, you are directed towards a checkroom where you may leave your coats, backpacks etc. It really was nice to walk around the museum unburdened...

After we left the Hermitage Museum, we had something to eat and relaxed for a while, and then were amazed by yet another magnificent building, the Kazan Cathedral and immediately went in to explore. This Orthodox church was built between 1801 and 1811, and it's impossible not to be touched by it. The lighting at night is also lovely. It is one of the most famous cathedrals in the city, and unlike some others, still serves as a church. I believe it would be interesting to witness a religious ceremony there.

On the topic of churches, I would also recommend visiting Saint Isaac's Cathedral. It serves as a museum and faces Saint Isaac's Square; it's impossible to miss this building with its huge golden dome. Climb up its towers to enjoy a spectacular elevated view of the city.

Another sight to see is the Church of the Savior on Blood. It resembles Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square, and took 24 years to complete. Alexander III of Russia ordered its construction as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. When Alexander II was assassinated, they painted the church red; this explains where the name Church on Spilled Blood and Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ comes from. The lighting at night is amazing... Once you're done visiting this church, stop by the market right behind it; it's ideal for souvenirs.

On the subject of dining, drinking,  and night life, there are plenty of nice cafes and restaurants on Nevsky Prospect. You should definitely try one of the many sushi restaurants. They are affordable (at least for us) and serve delicious food. There are fancy restaurants for a nice dinner on the street behind the Church of the Savior on Blood. The atmosphere is great at these places, but I must say they are a bit expensive. Buddha Bar is one such example. Cafe Singer right opposite Kazan Cathedral, is ideal for a short coffee break.

This nation loves having fun; so unsurprisingly they have a colorful night life. :) Rossy Club, Coyote Uglyand Hemingways are some of the lively places… Right next to Gostiny Dvor, the city's oldest shopping mall, is pretty much a "street of bars" where many students and young people hang out. Tasting this atmosphere for 1 night would do you good.

It is impossible not to mention the new year's spirit and the gigantic Christmas trees everywhere. On New Year's Eve, the streets were lively and joyful; it seemed no one had stayed home since it was “only” 0°C (32°F) outside.  We welcomed in the new year accompanied by concerts held on stages built on various spots on Nevsky Prospect and Palace Square, projected lightshows on the historical buildings, and fireworks. We enjoyed it all very much. Despite the enormous crowd, the mood was good natured; everyone was just after a fun night.

St. Petersburg is so big and majestic that you can find historical buildings, parks, and squares on every corner. To sum up the key places to visit and things to do, I would recommend:

  • Visiting the Hermitage Museum.
  • Seeing the city from the tower of Saint Isaac's Cathedral.
  • Going on a boat trip on Neva River.
  • Taking pictures on the bridge between the Summer Palace and Winter Palace.
  • Enjoying yourself in the Summer Palace garden and on the banks of Neva River.
  • Spending time at the oldest mall, Gostiny Dvor.
  • Staying up all night on the White Nights in June.
  • Enjoying some of the best sushi you can ever taste.
  • Not coming back without exploring the night life. :)

If you get the chance, you must experience the White Nights of summer and the snowy winter. The gray weather of the city and the covering of snow were particularly fascinating for me; however, I could see how colorful and green it could be once that snow melts away. St. Petersburg is a fascinating city to visit in any season.


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