I have loved my city for the very long time. And when you love something, you are jealous every time someone falls in love with your beloved one. This is why I always envy persons visiting St Petersburg for the very first time. When you live in a city ranked one of the world’s most beautiful by National Geographic, whether drinking coffee overlooking a view of places with a world-changing historical overtone or just coming everyday along the same route that your favourite character has traversed, the moment of the ‘first touch’ shades away.
During your first visit, keep in mind that there are actually two St Petersburgs. Let me be a high-brow snob for a while – in literature theory, this phenomenon is called the St Petersburg of Alexander Pushkin and the St Petersburg of Fedor Dostoesky.
The Pushkin’s city is a bourgeois, coruscating capital of Peter the Great’s majestic empire. There are number of catchy metaphors for this: “a window to Europe”, “Venice of the North”, “the cultural capital”. It is an imperial city erected in uninhabitable lands and then garnished and polished by an invited array of the world’s most-prominent designers and architects of its time, with a great number of museums and theatres. It is a city of culture and art – and, of course, fancy-dress balls. In more modern terms, it is a city where it is not unusual to see homeless people playing chess or a mate inviting his girlfriend for the first date to a museum or the theatre.
Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg, on the contrary, is a sombre city with its fearful underworld; the city of depression, despair and stalemates. Most of his characters wandered the back streets with self-destructive reflections. As so often happens with great minds, his thoughts outlived their creator, and communists – after depriving St Petersburg of its the capital status – tried to eradicate the bourgeois overtone of the city by constructing clumsy factories for workers of nearby villages and vilifying its monarchy past. Then St Petersburg experienced the subhuman conditions of a mortal siege in the WWII and repercussions of the so-called wild capitalist with its food-stamps queues of disoriented much-suffering people right after the Soviet Union’s collapse and the present chaotic development in terms of architecture and migration policy.
But Petersburg stands tall, intertwining the cities of these great minds into one. These contrasts – from occasional despair to subsequent bright victories in spite of everything – formed not only city, but also my own personality.
This section is designed to recommend you something as a local. So, I advise you to buy some gems of Russian literature and read them. Seriously, books are best guide to my city (along with me, of course).