Travel writer Tom Leaman writes about some of Exeter's lesser-known treasures.Written by Tom Leaman on 6th April 2018
A Postcard From: Saint Petersburg
Travel writer, Charlotte, shares her experience of spending summer in Saint Petersburg, a city of contradictions
Particularly in these times, Russia is a land stereotyped as corrupt, dangerous, and frightening time after time. Yet what people don’t often take care to see is the Russia that gave the world timeless music of Tchaikovsky that still echoes through music halls today, the comedies and tragedies of Chekhov, and, most importantly, vodka. A combined love for all of these things is what led me to spending my summer living with a family in Saint Petersburg as an exchange student.
As a Russian student, my classmates and I were offered the opportunity to live with a host family, which meant that we had the full experience of the Russian culture: food, theatre, and palaces. Nobody should go to Saint Petersburg without going to see the Hermitage museum, which, up until the Russian Revolution, was the home of the Russian Imperial Family, some of whose rooms are even preserved today. Entry is free if you’re a student (regardless of whether or not you are Russian), and if beautiful art, history, and culture isn’t what you’re in the mood for, then across the park is a vodka museum in which you can indulge in the finest vodkas, snacks, and peruse the history of vodka for the equivalent of a couple of pounds.
The main street, Nevsky Prospekt, has something on offer for everyone who wants to see, buy, or eat something authentically or fantastically Russian on their trip. It contains many Russian and Western restaurants and high-street fashion shops, huge market stalls from which you can buy mugs, shirts, matryoshka dolls, or anything else with Putin’s face on it. There are also beautiful, hand-painted matryoshka dolls, fur hats, scarves, and more serious souvenirs which you can buy for a surprisingly cheaper price. And if you fancy a bite of real Russian food without having to sacrifice much money, then the stolovaya, or cafeteria, will be open to you 24/7, where you can buy a full meal for less than a pound! The city is also home to a surprisingly large amount of themed or karaoke bars – we came across a Coyote Ugly themed bar and a Freddie Mercury themed pub, so no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll no doubt find it in Saint Petersburg!
“The one most startling thing upon arriving in Russia was the immense heat, sunshine, and complete lack of darkness.
Amongst all of the stereotypes that tend to cloud our perception of Russia, some of which are true, some of which aren’t - it is nonetheless worthwhile to explore this frightening and fascinating place. The culture is so different, so vast and incredible it is impossible to go there without finding something to fall in love with, whether it’s eating blinis with ice cream on a Sunday afternoon, getting lost in history of the Hermitage, or belting out classic rock tunes until sunrise.