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Hidden places of St. Petersburg

Saint-Petersburg is full of surprises… From surprisingly beautiful sights to surprisingly small prices. You will enjoy this city even if you visit just the main tourist attractions, but believe us, a lot of amazing places are hidden on those streets..

Here is our top!

  • Nelson yard
Picture: Nelson Yard, Saint-Petersburg
Dvor Nelsona, Polozova Ulitsa, 6, St Petersburg

Bard Nelson fought gray routine and created in the yard area of the house on a small Polozov street a bright colorful atmosphere. The musician managed to create the most amazing courtyard of the Petrograd side with the help of a spray paint, applying imagination and using all the trash that had been gathering dust on the mezzanine for many years.

  • Chufalnya on Aprashka Market
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Chifanka (Chufalnya), Sadovaya Street, 28, St. Petersburg

” Chufalnya ” is in the third house on the right, if you go on Apraksin Market through the gate with Apraksino lane. Here, as before, (in 90s) the authenticity is turned to the maximum: the owners and cooks are Chinese, the wall menu with touching mistakes in translation, the complete lack of interior, ridiculous prices and a whole rack of Chinese goods — from bamboo rugs to wood mushrooms. However, because of the increased attention on the part of students and fashionistas the titular nation in the room appears in a noticeable minority and the place is becoming not that unknown.

  • Kabinet bar
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Kabinet, Malaya Sadovaya Street, 8, St Petersburg

The establishment of the famous bartender in the city is made in the style of a closed poker club or an illegal casino of the 30s. Entrance to the” Kabinet ” is through the diner Grill Brothers: you need to find the door with the inscription” only for staff ” and go down the stairs to the basement. However, to get to the bar itself is possible only upon prior reservation, contacts for which you have to search in social networks under the hashtag #вкабинетпожалуйста.

  • The house of Buck
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Kirochnaya Ulitsa, 24, St. Petersburg (currently in restoration)

Apartment house of Buck, whose name has become an integral part of the name of the building, is interesting from all sides: its amazing facade is one of the dominants of Kirochnaya street, in the front it is still preserved part of the interior decoration, which can be judged on the solvency of the former tenants. Unfortunately, the house of Buck is in a depressing condition, but also on the dirty marble stairs, broken in places stained glass, apartments, first 15-room, but later given to the communal, as well as dusty twisted railing bars can restore the image of the former splendor of the house.

  • Rotunda
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Fontanka River Embankment, 81, St. Petersburg (Gorokhovaya Street, 57А, St Petersburg)

In the house on the corner of Gorokhovaya street and Fontanka embankment you can find the most mystical city object — Rotunda. The house is not noticeable, it is a typical structure for St. Petersburg. It’s all about the Rotunda — a round building with six free-standing columns. The curves of the walls repeat the stairs, as if striving endlessly upwards. The rotunda received the title of a cult place in the 70-80s of the last century – the time of the emergence of informal movements among the Soviet youth. Representatives of different subcultures gathered here — rockers, hippies, punks.

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Cultural Fact

Rasputin

Before being this good song by Boney M, Rasputin was a man, a priest, a healer, a prophet… or a sinner, a charlatan, a liar, a spy… In a good or in a bad way, he always made a very strong impression on the people he met (especially the ladies of the court apparently). Adored by the imperial family, hated both by the nobility and the Soviet regime, this character is still fascinating nowadays. Have you ever wondered who was this man? How did he become so famous that he got his own song? So put on your headphones and listen to it while I tell you the story (and legend) of ‘The Mad Monk’ Rasputin.

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A Photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

Grigori Efimovitch Rasputin is probably born around the year 1869 in Pokrovskoye, a small town in Siberia. He got interested in the Bible very early, and he made several pilgrimages. He was known for having some mystical powers such as prediction but most importantly a healing gift.

This gift brought him to St Petersburg. The Tsarevitch Alexei is hemophiliac (a blood illness that can make any bleeding mortal) and in this time, doctors were powerless against this illness. Introduced to the family by nobles he met during his pilgrimages, he was able to calm the Tsarevitch pain after he got hurt. It impresses the imperial family so much that they decided to keep the monk with them since he seemed to be the only one able to calm their son’s pain. His “powers” were probably a mix between his extraordinary charisma and … defying the doctors by preventing the patient to take aspirin an anticoagulant (they didn’t know it then) making the disease even worse. Progresses were made till then so if you are hemophiliac no need for a strange Siberian monk!

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Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra Fedorovna, their 5 children (source: Wikicommons)

Rasputin became a very important counselor of the imperial family and an attraction for the capital’s elite (especially with women ). This charismatic character really made an impression on everyone he met, his eyes were said to be fascinating and even hypnotizing. His political views, pleading for peace, and its… let’s say… quite immoral behavior, made him many enemies amongst the nobility. After the start of the first World War he was seen as a danger for Russia as well as the Tsarina who had German origins.

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Another photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

 

His death is certainly the most controversial part of his story. It’s hard to know where the legend starts. He was killed by a conspiracy of monarchists who disliked the influence he had on the Tsar and feared he would bring him to make peace with Germany. Felix Yusupov, one of the richest noble of St Petersburg, invited him to his Palace (by the way you can visit it with a guide just here). He was given poisoned food and wine but it did not seem to affect him, they hence shot him. Seeing that the monk was still not dead, they beat him up, shot him several times (again), wrapped him into some piece of clothes to throw him into the river. His body was found a few days later, a doctor who examined the body claimed that he didn’t die because of the poison nor the gunshot but by drowning (Russian Die Hard).

As cool and incredible this story is, it is probably false. The doctor who gave the poison later said he gave some harmless product because he had remorses. The doctor who examined the body also remade his statement saying that most of the contusions and wounds were made post-mortem (meaning he was already dead when they threw him into the river).

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Caricature of an “Evil” Rasputin – 1916 (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Another very important part of his legend is the letter he wrote and in which he predicted his death, and with it the death of the imperial family within two years!!! (he died in 1916 and the imperial family was killed in 1918 in Ekaterinburg) This is another mystical stuff but let’s focus on the most important… he may not have written it!!! Again? you would say. So what’s the point with this guy if nothing is true? I’ll answer you that it’s how a legend works, no one knows the truth, but it could be true.

With the fall of the monarchy and the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, Rasputin was used as the symbol of the moral decay of the Tsars. They greatly participated in the edification of the myth of the “mad monk”.

 

Now that you know more about this central character of Russian history why not come to Russia and visit the places he has been! Book your guided tour on Tsar Visit!

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Cultural Fact

Russian contemporary art

Russian art and artistic life are mainly known for the imperial architecture, the classic music and literature and the Soviet modern art. More, Russia is often seen as a country where contemporary culture doesn’t exist. It couldn’t be more wrong. Indeed the Russian contemporary artistic life is rich, diversified and of high quality! However it’s true that Russian contemporary is most of the time a bit hidden. Why? First because it rarely (and very sadly) goes out of the country due to a clichés and low interest from foreigners (bad). Second because Russian contemporary art isn’t about gigantism or pop art (yes I despised Jeff Koons). But missing Russian contemporary art is missing what Russia really is nowadays and it’s staying on the surface of a buzzing society.

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Of course, to better know the Russian contemporary art, you can go in well-known museums and galleries. Among them, the best are the Garage Museum and Winzavod gallery in Moscow, and the Erarta Museum of St Petersburg!

Starting with the Erarta Museum in St Petersburg, because this one is my favorite (and trust me I know about art). The Erarta Museum is the most important museum of contemporary art in Russia despite being opened in 2010. It displays more than 2300 objects d’art. But to me the most important is its philosophy. Indeed, the philosophy of the Museum is to combine the elements of the participation of the visitor with the preference given to talented artists over popular artists. Finally a museum of contemporary art that gives the way to talent over popularity!

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In Moscow the two museums that deal with contemporary art are the Garage Museum and the Winzavod gallery. The first one is a well-known and good quality museum in the heart of Gorky Park. It’s rather small but often has good exhibitions. Even if, to be honest, you need to be careful when choosing as some of them are more modern art than contemporary and so a bit… different.

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The Winzavod gallery is different (and free). It exhibits contemporary art project in a big industrial building. You’ll therefore meet young artists, often a bit underground and discover many styles and personalities!

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But if you want to discover the Russian contemporary art, the best remains to explore, walk by the streets, go to gallery openings and find the doors to the underground. Good luck!

 

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Cultural Fact

Victory Day in Russia (9th of May)

In Russia, the end of World War II and the defeat of nazism isn’t celebrated on the 8th of May but on the 9th of May. Indeed, when the armistice was signed between the Allied and the Nazi leadership, it was already May 9th in Russia. Nowadays, the 9th of May is one of the most important day in Russia and in the lives of many Russians (if not the most important). Indeed, if in Western Europe the end of World War II is celebrated through official ceremonials and bank holiday, in Russia it became a real commitment for the people to celebrate the USSR victory over nazism and the sacrifice of millions of Soviets.

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The Victory Day became an official celebration and non-working day in 1965. Since then military parades have been held almost every five or 10 years to celebrate the different anniversary of the nazi defeat. Progressively the victory of the Great Patriotic War has been erected a founding myth for the USSR…and more recently to the Russian international power and strength. The military parade on the Red Square became an annual unmissable event in 2008. It aims, as almost every military parade across the world, at spreading patriotism among the population and showing to the world the military strength of the country.

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But what makes the Victory Day celebrations in Russia so special is what follows. Indeed, many countries can brag and show their newest military toys in city centers. But what is really unique and impressive in Russia is the Immortal’s Regiment. After the military parade, thousands of Russian march on Moscow’s biggest boulevard towards the Red Square, handling picture of their fallen relatives. Even more than 70 years later, and because the Soviet Union lost about 27 billions people during World War II, Russians continue to mourn their death and remember their sacrifice. The atmosphere there is unique: a mix of sadness, happiness, mourning, gratefulness and joy!

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Cultural Fact

The art of icons

Coming from the greek word “icone”, icona means “holy image”. Indeed, above the painting, an icona traditionally is a guide to the Holy Spirit.

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An icona should be representing things that are invisible and can’t be represented by the non-religious arts. That’s why the Orthodox art of iconas painting defined its rules and models more than 10 centuries ago…and never changed it since then! Indeed, how painting Holy iconas could be something else than pure truth and perfection?

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One of the first principle of iconas painting is the minimisation of material and physical objects. Usually, iconas are made on lime tree covered by linen. According to the millenary tradition, painters rely on the soak technic. They must also use golden leaves to represent the Holy light around Saints.

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In Russia some icons remain more important than others due to their spirituality or their beauty. Among them, we can think of the Virgin of Vladimir, the Virgin of Kazan and the Holy Trinity.

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Cultural Fact

Maslenitsa tradition for Easter

Each year, exactly a week before the Orthodox Great Lent, Russians are braving the cold to eat, dance and play in parks. Why? Because of Maslenitsa of course!

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Because Maslenitsa is a celebration during which we say bye to Winter and praise Spring to come faster. And we’re doing in a very Russian way: playing, dancing and eating!

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Maslenitsa relies indeed on two essentials go-to if you don’t want an endless winter (and seriously, who does?): burning the Lady Maslenitsa, and eating the Sun (aka a big and delicious blinis). While being an old tradition, it remains today a very popular celebration that gather Russians in parks to play traditional games, dance, and above all to eat blinis!

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If you have the opportunity, definitely go in Russia for Maslenitsa. It’s warming and delicious!

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