St Petersburg: This winter paradise is your gateway to Europe
DT Next brings you the travel guide to the world's northernmost city and the gateway to Europe, St Petersburg in Russia. The cultural capital of the massive country has a lot to offer for the tourist across the year. However, the northern city's winter and white night from April to August are the best time to take a stroll around the city
CHENNAI: We land in Pulkovo Airport at around noon and St Petersburg is freezing at minus three degrees. Even before we could make it to the hotel which is a 45-minute drive from the airport, the snowfall began and the city looked clad in a white and golden robe.
After our check in we rushed to the historic Mariinsky theatre that is located on Theatre Square. The theatre that is named after Maria Alexandrovna, the empress of Alexander II is a sight to behold. The neoclassical building stuns us right from the word 'go' and its interiors that are neo-byzantine designs leave us speechless.
Since 1860, the theatre has stood witness to several masterpieces and we were the audience of the ballet, La Bayadere which is based on an Indian romantic legend. Talk about coincidence.
The three-hour ballet ran to full house and ended with a standing ovation from a full house audience across the world. You definitely wouldn't want the play to end and to leave the theatre but to spend more time enjoying the architectural marvel. Unlike other Russian cities, St Petersburg has European influence in terms of architecture, lifestyle and food.
Our guide, Elena Vassilieva says that Peter the Great traveled to western Europe and was majorly influenced by their culture. St Petersburg partially resembles Paris, Rome and even Amsterdam because of its canals. Elena points out to one of the canals and says, "We call this the blue bridge because the railings are painted in blue.
It is because the noble families here spoke French and for their workers to know the landmark bridges were painted in blue, yellow and red so that it is easy for them to identify."
The best part of the trip comes when we enter the Hermitage Museum. The six-building museum has antiquities from across the world that were collected by Empress Catherine the great. Make sure that you spend at least over five hours to take a look at the collection that includes works of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.
The tour was organised on a select invite by Saint Petersburg Convention Bureau. Korneev Sergei Evgenevich, Chairman of the Tourism Development Committee of Saint Petersburg wastes no time and doesn't mince words. "You have heard several things about Russia over the last few months. Now I am pretty sure that you would believe the country is safe for tourists, especially St Petersburg.
It is best to visit once and know it yourself rather than to hear something 1,000 times on television and news channels. We are coming up with several plans of which one is to have more direct flight from important cities of the world in 2023. So that you do not have a layover in Moscow as long as you have the capital city in the itinerary," he remarks.
For Indian travelers, there are Indian cuisines available in St Petersburg and the food, unlike the rest of Europe, isn't bland. Post the meeting, Anna Kagan, the Director of PR and Marketing took us on a tour of Corinthia hotel in St Petersburg which is located in the city center, Nevsky Prospect.
The hotel is clad with Greek Marbles and to our surprise, we see a Tamil film crew that is shooting in the hotel. "We have been home to several film shoots and a movie team from India is currently filming important scenes in our hotel. We are a five-star property but priced at only 100 US Dollars per night," she reveals.
Before we leave we visit the Expo Forum, the most innovative convention and exhibition center in Russia and Europe convention and exhibition where more than 200 events of various formats and the highest level are held annually.
Inna Vernidub took us around and said, "These are all moving and soundproof walls and you can adjust them according to the capacity. We have been home to film festivals as well."
She takes us to another huge hall and says, "This auditorium is the size of seven football fields and we have had martial arts championships and ballet for differently-abled people here." Visa processing time for Indian tourists to Russia takes seven working days.