By Nick Marmet
Late summer is the time to explore the 42 islands that make up St. Petersburg. Daylight stretches past 11 p.m., and a burgeoning arts and nightlife scene keeps locals on their toes well into the bright nights. On July 31, the party hits the port for Navy Day, when sailors flood the streets in a massive celebration.
Photo by Sime/Estock Photo. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
With piles of thick white cream cheese, buckets of fresh honey and spicy pickled cucumbers, Kuznechny Market in St. Petersburg, Russia is a site not to miss. Before I visited Russia, I was told that St. Petersburg was the ‘Venice of the north,’ hailed for its haunting magnificence. Yet I only accurately came to know this truth through the faces and interactions I experienced within the markets I visited.
Some of my favorite encounters at Kuznechny Market lie on the surrounding narrow sidewalks, before you even step inside the main building. Elder men and women who seem to have history stored in every wrinkle, line the street with small blankets selling raw potatoes, fresh flowers or mounds of cranberries. As you venture inside the covered arched building, your nose fills with the scent of parsley and your ears overflow with the chatter of Russian small talk.
This market is best known...
By Nick Marmet
If you don’t know Andrei Rublev from Ilya Repin, the Russian Museum, above, (4 Inzhenernaya St.) provides a crash course in the country’s art history. For contemporary pieces, Loft Project Etagi (74 Ligovsky Prospekt) shows paintings, sculptures, and photographs by international artists in a former baking factory. The café welcomes late-night lingering, and garage sales offer vintage clothing and books.
Photo by Photo Nonstop/Superstock. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
By Nick Marmet
In a palace that dates back to 1820, the Four Seasons St. Petersburg opens this fall. Suites offer terraces that overlook St. Isaac’s Cathedral (by Auguste de Montferrand, the same architect who designed the palace). The hotel has a four-level spa with a Russian sauna and restaurants that feature the country’s current food obsessions: Japanese and Italian. From $450. 1 Voznesensky Prospekt, 7/(8) 812-339-8000, fourseasons.com
Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
By Nick Marmet
Swanky Dom Byta, above, (12 Razyezzhaya) has a name that means fix-it shop. Throwback teapots and ashtrays, not to mention spinning disco balls, evoke the ’70s.
Its name means lighthouse, but spotting Kafe Mayak (20 Mayakovskaya) is a challenge (look for a large bust of Lenin in the window.) Local workers smoke cigarettes over games of chess while young regulars order vodka, napitki (chasers), and zakuski (snacks) at the bar.
The notorious Purga (11 Fontanka) celebrates a mock Russian wedding and Soviet New Year every night. In summer, the club’s owners host the city’s wildest boat party. You’ll cruise the canals and the Neva River in nonstop carousel until the boat docks at 4:30 a.m.
Dunes (50 Ligovsky Prospekt) is an urban oasis set in a gritty courtyard with hip clubs like Dusche and Jesus. Order a pint of kvass, a fermented drink made from rye bread gone bad, and make...
Just before 6am, when the sky was still draped in black, my alarm wailed. Groggily, I rolled out of bed and proceeded to put on nearly every article of clothing I had in my possession. The object was to wear as many layers as humanly possible before venturing out into the sub-zero Suzdal morning.
No time for tea or breakfast, I quietly put on my shoes, opened the front door, and was greeted by a hearty blast of frigid air. My initial reaction? "Why didn't I just sleep through my alarm!?!"
But outside I went in spite of the cold. And let me say, it was so so worth enduring the cold!
Suzdal in the early morning was magical.
A wispy low-hanging fog skimmed the surface of the river.
Everything was covered in a generous layer of frost.
It seemed as though I was the only person out and about in town - everything was still and silent.
When I could no longer feel my appendages, I hurried back to my...
Affectionately called the "Venice of the North" by some of its citizens, this vantage point hints at why.
St. Petersburg is a city full of canals. Look for the Japanese Embassy just due east of the Hermitage and you'll find this place.
When visiting Moscow, one has to go to Red Square and the place that most stands out from a distance is St. Basil's Cathedral.
Along Russia’s Kamenka River, the medieval township of Suzdal draws weekenders from Moscow, about 130 miles southwest, to its opulent, onion-domed Orthodox churches and well-preserved monasteries. But Muscovites also visit to experience Suzdal’s other treasure: mead.
Russian mead, or medovukha, is a blend of fermented honey and yeast and has the approximate alcohol content of wine. Additional ingredients make the mead sour (lime), sweet (extra honey), spicy (pepper), or bitter (pine-tree buds). Sample Suzdal’s best at the Zal Degustatsii Medovukhi (Mead Tasting Hall), wedged behind the shops off the central Torgovaya (Trading) Square. Inside, the walls and arched ceilings are painted with ornate flowers and vines, and waitresses in embroidered aprons serve stacked trays of mead in small clay cups. Join customers on wooden benches toasting with a hearty “Budem zdorovy!” (Let’s be...
Originally built at the bequest of Catherine the Great and used as a trading center, then a huge department store in the Soviet era, and now a big upscale shopping mall right across from the Kremlin and Lenin's Tomb in Red Square.
I didn't actually find out that this was such a big deal until I got to St. Petersburg, but let me tell you, it's a big deal. The Neva River flows through the city of St. Petersburg with connecting bridges all along its path. These bridges open starting at 1:30AM to let the boats go through, and when I say open I mean split in half and pull apart. So we left our hostel at 1AM to head over thinking that it's the middle of the night, it might be dark and scary walking to the river. UH could we be more wrong?? At 1AM the sky is a gradient of blue, the streets still busy, and of course we get to the rivers edge only to join crowds of people waiting along with us. Tourists and Russians alike, everybody was out to celebrate the fleeting White Nights of Russian summers. It's a funny mix of feelings - euphoria, fascination, tiredness - so all in all, maybe a little deliriousness, but the...
Chef Andrey Makhov of Cafe Pushkin recently contributed to AFAR, and opened his second location in New York. But if you are in Moscow, you will want to check the original out. Open 24 hours, with a great vibe. You may want to ask for Dmitri, a friendly and good waiter.
We visited the Hermitage Museum on Monday (the day it's closed to the public) and were able to witness art students painting some of the museum's most famous works. If you go, definitely try to arrange a private tour. On a typical day, 10,000 visitors stream through the doors.*
*Statistic referenced by our guide who also emphatically claimed 1 hectare was equal to 2,000 acres. (1 hectare is equal to 2.4 acres)
One of the great things to do in St. Petersburg Russia is to spend an evening enjoying the opera at the historic Mariinsky Theater. They also have ballet and musical theater but we chose Boris Godunov (without Natasha- LOL) during the White Nights festival. Stay at the nearby Hotel Astoria (next to the famed Angleterre but more reasonably priced) and visit the Museums. The Hermitage - like the Louvre - is best in small doses since their collections are so extensive and the building itself is awe inspiring. We found the food marvelous if you do your research you will find many options but since the best restaurants (pectopah in Cyrillic) are not well marked on their facades always have the address with you for checking along the way. Make sure at least one evening you indulge in the caviar and vodka. The Grand Hotel Caviar Bar is a good bet.
What amazing ballet, wonderfully performed, beautifully costumed, in a special venue. It was a great treat.
The best part of my visit to St. Petersburg was experiencing the narrow waterways our ship had to navigate upon our departure. Located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg is strategically situated. Cruising out of the city, it was amazing to see all of the shipping activity. Definitely leave St. Petersburg by boat.
A nice "all Russian cooking" weekend started with a visit to the local market.
A lot of colors, familiar scents and some unusual produce.
We visited various sights in Moscow. The guide we had hired took us to an out of the way park where this memorial had been placed for the victims of Stalin's many pograms. It was quite striking but perhaps even more so, as at the same park were many statues of Stalin which had been removed from public places. The guide told us that there was still hesitation to destroy them completely but being no longer in favor they had been removed to this mostly unknown park. The irony of the victims memorial and the staute "cemetery" seemed somewhat lost upon our hostess.
By Nick Marmet
Ride down the endless escalators to the metro (St. Petersburg has the world’s deepest subway system) and head 20 minutes north to Udelnaya—“Udelka” locally. The sprawling flea market sells Russian military hats, children’s books about Lenin, and Soviet-era recordings by “subversive” groups. Cross the metro tracks from the Udelnaya station, turn right, and walk through the clothing market. Visit Saturday or Sunday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for the best finds.
Photo by Can Stock Photo Inc./Blinow 61. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
I didn't like ballets before this. I had actually never stayed awake for an entire balllet until this. But let me tell you, this may very well have been the most exciting part of my entire trip to Russia. The theater itself is amazing, and the people are a real sight to see. You have the refined old couples who are all dressed up and have their opera glasses (binoculars on a stick), and then there are those clueless tourists sporting backpacks and sandals. We got balcony seating and were sitting in the second row, quite unfortunately placed behind a tall Russian couple. I stood for the entire 3 hours (as did most people in the balconies), but enjoyed every moment of it. Grace and beauty. I would love to see it again.
Russian pies. Why in the world do people not talk more about these things. We unknowingly stepped into this wonderful smelling cafe and of course, ended up ordering almost every single type of pie they had to offer. Salmon, rabbit, egg with green onions, cabbage, whortleberry (what?). It's all good!! This is how good it was. We had it once in St. Petersburg and couldn't stop thinking about it, so on our last day in Moscow we went on a mission to find more (Cafe Stolle is a chain). We used literally the last Russian rubles we had to buy the tram ticket to the way-out-of-the-way cafe to get our fill or pies. Even bought two for the plane. It's still one of my fondest memories of Russia.