You know you’ve hit your travel goals when you’ve finished exploring the Americas and begin looking for new places to visit. So, when I was presented with an opportunity – or rather a prospect – to visit Saint Petersburg, I didn’t hesitate.
Of course, heading to the most-renowned and sought-after spot in Russia wasn’t my initial target, but hey, we all need to start somewhere. And besides, it was my colleague Hasan who tempted me into heading there first. In his own words: “There’s much to experience in Saint Petersburg”. There’s no arguing with that, right?
Located west of the large country, this Russian city is also one of the most iconic places in the world. The ‘Bronze Horseman’ statue (of Peter the great), for instance, shares as much significance as the ‘Statue of Liberty’ in New York.
There’s much to do in Saint Petersburg than stare at a statue, though. For starters, it’s a hub for tourists looking to indulge in adventure or a quest to blend with nature. Ironically, despite being the country’s second-largest city, it still embraces its cultural roots.
Saint Petersburg houses some of the country’s largest museums and cathedrals. These grounds are teeming with tourists who try to soak in the cultures and traditions of this beautiful city. One spot that particularly struck a chord with me was the ‘Russian Museum’ which houses some rare paintings. The paintings of the Saviour Made Without Hands (1658) and the Angel with Golden Hair (12th Century) have been featured in several documentaries – and they were awe-inspiring to gawk at.
Another star attraction is the Mariinsky Theatre – the 19th century theatre famed for hosting some of Russia’s most revolutionary ballets and operas in the 1860s. Sure, it’s not as advanced as, say, the Royal Opera House Muscat, but it still adds traditional value to the region.
But dig deeper and into the history of this city, and you’ll come across something you would never have imagined: the Kunstkamera. As odd as its name sounds, I assure you that you’ll be treated to some gut-wrenching sights at this 16th century anthropology and ethnography museum. It’s the weirdest museum I’ve ever been to – and it holds over two million exhibits. If you’re curious enough to visit the museum, do keep in mind that exhibits include jars with deformed human babies. Ugh! Hasan was right, after all.
My favourite place As strange as it may sound, the Kunstkamera was the highlight of my journey. Sure, it’s the creepiest museum I had ever been to, but the fact that it holds some of the world’s most sought-after exhibits is something of a quirk. If pickled humans aren’t your interest, then head to the Singer House, which is also known as the “House of Books”. As its name suggests, it gives you access to books, but only those that are of importance to the culture and heritage of one of the world’s first (formerly) developed countries.
Highlights Saint Petersburg was designed with the future in mind, and in an effort to curb crowds and traffic, the roads are wide and the streets well-organised. This also means that you always have space as a traveller. I wasn’t exposed to any of the touristy things that you normally get to see in other parts of the world. The weather is lovely, with temperatures hitting the low 10°C in winter and peaking at 30°C in summer.
Lowlights Since this is the culture capital of the country, it’s best to keep your thoughts and beliefs to yourself – seriously! The residents can get a bit frisky if you commit acts that don’t necessarily align with theirs.
Souvenirs There are several cathedrals in the vicinity, and you can purchase old books and other religious ornaments. If not, you can buy amber souvenirs from museums or even porcelain utensils from the markets.
Getting there Etihad Airways and Emirates fly to Saint Petersburg daily. Keep in mind that you’ll be transiting the UAE for this flight.
Where to stay Don’t hesitate to opt for a star hotel as accommodation is cheap. A stay in the four-star Oktiabrskaya Hotel only set me back RO18.8