Majestic Saint Petersburg, the "City of Three Revolutions," reclines on the banks of the mighty Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. This city has changed hands, and names, several times throughout its tumultuous history.
The former Swedish fortress town Nyen was claimed by Tsar Peter the Great back in 1703, and renamed Saint Petersburg. Since then it changed names to Petrograd, then Leningrad, before returning to the original Saint Petersburg.
Beyond the electrical wires, the lead pipes and the grime, this city is truly resplendent with its wide prospekts (avenues) and grandiose edifices. The vestiges of communism are still in evidence; in downtown Saint Petersburg, the majority of locals still live in kommunalkas, or shared apartments. These are slowly being replaced by low-cost housing on the outskirts.
Expats moving here may be put off by the run-down condition of many of the buildings’ facades. Don’t be discouraged; on the interior, apartments are often spacious and many have been renovated to western standards.
While you can find most western creature comforts here (try out the Kalinka Stockmann supermarket), you’ll probably find it easier to grab your foodstuffs at the local produkti (convenience shop). In the warmer months, the babushkas (elderly Russian women) sell some of the best summer produce on the street. Not only is this a great way to shop, but you will also be supporting the locals. Saint Petersburg also boasts some fantastic farmers' markets, such as Kuznechny Rynok.
The city is famed for its Winter Palace, and more prosaically, for its bitterly cold winters. Temperatures regularly plunge below minus 20 degrees Celsius, leaving buildings adorned with stalactites. The odd stalactite has been known to plummet to the streets below and, for this reason alone, it is worth investing in a generously fluffy hat.
Saint Petersburg abounds with such shops. Some may be tempted to purchase fox, sable or mink fur hats, but don’t feel pressured; rabbit and sheepskin alternatives are plentiful. The cultural experience that awaits you in Saint Petersburg is second-to-none; the city is crammed with enchanting secrets and hidden surprises that never cease to enthral, from your arrival until your departure.
What is special or unique about your city?
St. Petersburg is famous for the art collection housed in the Hermitage Museum. The city is named after Tsar Peter the Great, who founded the city as his "Window to the West."
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
The first impression of St. Petersburg is a beautiful, colourful, historic city. It has a very European sensibility, and feels quite intimate and small in comparison to Moscow.
Are these impressions likely to change?
What is the local language?
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
It is certainly possible to get by without learning the language, though knowledge of some basic Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet is certainly an advantage for getting around.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Russians can be quite superstitious, and you should respect that. For example, don’t whistle in front of other people; according to superstition, doing so brings bad luck and means that person will have no money!
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
The Russian winter is long (six months) and can be extremely cold. People stay at home a lot and don’t socialise much. Summers are hot and dry; during this time, the locals go out of the city to their datchas (summerhouses) and the city is quiet.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Russians can come across as quite distant and closed when you first meet them. They are proud by nature and a little cautious to things that are new and strange to them. But, don't let that deter you; once you've gotten to know them, you will find that they are very generous and hospitable and will do anything for you to make you feel welcome!