Moscow X Saint Petersburg. Fight!

    Hello, dear readers! 

    I hope you are doing great out there, and I really, really hope you are not reading this because your city is in lockdown again, and you are bored to death but can’t leave your home now, so you decided to read whatever shitty blog you could find on the internet and ended up in this page. I feel so sorry if accurately described your situation right now. 

    Anyway, I feel inspired these last few days, so I have been writing a lot. Hopefully you won’t get ODd with bad jokes. 

    Today I am going to write about a topic which is not polemic at all! We are simply going to decide which Russian city is better: Saint Petersburg or Moscow. If you have ever spoken to someone from either cities, you would know how serious this discussion can get. There are jokes and stereotypes from both sides. At one point I heard this great outrageous quote, “When someone decides to move from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, the average IQ increases in both cities.”

    Obviously, this is someone from Saint Petersburg. I will keep their identity anonymous, so no Muscovite will beat them up. 

How should we compare?

    Well, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I have no respect towards fancy things such as statistics, facts and objectivity. You can get these things in fancy places like Teleport.org or Expatistan. Fine, I will add a bit of facts in my text, but not too much. I don’t want people to get used to it.

This article is all about my subjective experiences from both cities, plus common opinions both Muscovites and Petersburgians have for both places. Believe it or not, I googled the word Petersburgian and found at least one online dictionary that mentions it. I have been living in Saint Petersburg for almost 2 years now, and I spent 4 years in Moscow, so I can say proudly that I know my shit what I am talking about. Mostly.

Saint Petersburg

Hero-city Leningrad. The Venice of the North. The Cultural Capital. Russia’s Window to the West. The Imperial capital of Russia. This city goes by many names, and I have heard all of them in less than 2 years spent in the city. They all remind us of the importance of Saint Petersburg in Russian history, and this city certainly delivers as the main stage of the country’s history and culture in the 18th-20th centuries. 

Saint Petersburg is home to all things baroque and imperial

Home to Hermitage and the Russian Museum, it has an immense number of activities for nerds culture lovers. The architecture of the imperial capital is a treasure in itself, as you would immediately find out after a quick walk in the city center. If you are a fan of Russian history and culture, you will love being here. Even in a quick trip you can enjoy the museums and city walks, but by living here and getting to know such cultured people, you will feel the full immersive experience of the cultural capital. 

By the way, the bar streets in Saint Petersburg caught my interest, this “bar street” culture is not very widespread in Moscow, but it thrives here. You will find many very comfortable places in Nekrasova and Rubinstein streets, which are ideal for a pub crawl and talks with artists, musicians, and pretty much anyone related to humanities. They all know that Saint Petersburg is their place. If you are into something more intense, you can also walk around Dumskaya street and find… Unique… Establishments. Don’t mind the occasional drunk fight.  

And let us not forget the white nights, these are certainly a natural beauty that Moscow cannot boast. Coming here by the end of June or beginning of July will ensure that you have 24 hours of natural light divided by only a small sunset or sunrise, depending on how you look at it. You can walk around the city, go to a bar, have a shavuha shaurma for breakfast after partying all night long, and then walk more. 

Moscow

Because who cares about the alphabetical order anyway?

Moscow requires no introduction. Anyone with a minimum knowledge of geography and history knows that Moscow is where all Russian roads lead. Not only it is the political center of the country, but it is also its financial and economic center, home to headquarters of all biggest Russian and international companies. 

By the way, I have also written a small and unusual tour guide earlier in my blog. Have a look if you are going there soon!

Let’s not be unfair, Moscow is undeniably the economic power in Russia and likely in all of Eastern Europe, but it is no less of a cultural giant. You also have lots of museums and art galleries around here, and of course, the worldwide famous Bolshoy Theater. The best universities, such as my alma mater Higher School of Economics, also have their main campuses in Moscow. 

Did you say “Financial Center?” 

If you are into charming small streets with bars and cafés, though, you will likely be disappointed. Except, perhaps, for Old Arbat and the Lyubyanka subway area, you won’t find lots of these small bars in Moscow, or at least not as many of them as you would find in Saint Petersburg. Some might even say that Moscow is overwhelming with its large concrete squares, wide concrete highways and massive concrete buildings. It was designed to show the greatness of the Soviet government, after all. 

Conclusion? 

Despite my friends’ best efforts to put me in a delicate position by asking which city is better, I always give a safe answer: it depends. Moscow offers the best when it comes to career opportunities, although Saint Petersburg does not fall behind when it comes to IT companies. If you like a quick-paced big city life, certainly choose Moscow. If you prefer a calmer life with cultural talks in small bars, Saint Petersburg is the place for you.  

Belgorod will always be the best anyway. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise. 

4 Places Where You Can Go in St. Petersburg’s Countryside

If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you likely already know which are the most obvious places and activities, and you may want to look outwards, instead. Or visit Moscow. The near region of St. Petersburg, or Leningradskaya Oblast (Lenoblast, for intimate friends), is quite full of surprises as well. We will cover a few of the places. 

1. Vyborg

Vyborg is a small medieval town, about 1h away from Saint Petersburg, and right next to the Finnish border. The city even belonged to Finland at a few times in history. You can easily book a train from the Finlyandskiy Railway Station and spend the day walking around the cute little medieval streets in the historic center. 

A personal tradition of mine is having lunch or dinner at a great medieval-style restaurant called Taverna. If you are randomly walking around the city, you will certainly notice this place because of its unending lines of eager guests. Yes, the food is worth the waiting. Nowadays, you can book tables there, so if you plan beforehand, you will be able to enjoy the great Russian medieval food without having to wait in the cold for over one hour. Having a menu in English might be not possible, though.

Other than the great food at Taverna, though, there are a few different places to visit in Vyborg, such as the Vyborg Castle. The fortress is located right in the center of the Vyborg Bay and is likely the first medieval building you will see while walking along the banks from the Railway Station. It was built in the 13th century by the Swedes, or so says Wikipedia.

The design looks great. The realization and logistics, not so much.

There is also the Monrepo Park, with great views of the Vyborg Bay and Ludwigsburg. Ludwigsburg, in this case, is not a city in Germany, but a small castle nested over a rocky cliff at Vyborg Bay, barely seen between the trees.

You can also walk by the historic city center and visit the Hermitage Museum in Vyborg. A personal advice, though, is that if you have been to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, you might not be impressed with the size of this one. 

2. Tsarskoe Selo, Pushkin or Catherine’s Palace and Park

If you ever heard of Catherine the Great,  you probably associate her with all the grandest buildings in St. Petersburg. You don’t? Oh, well, maybe you should read more about Russian history then, no? 

Tsarskoe Selo is just a train ride away from St. Petersburg. You can go there from the Baltiskiy Railway Station and pay less than 100 rubles for the ticket. These are prices from 2021, just in case.

The park near Catherine’s Palace. The entrance fee is really worth it.

Be prepared to spend the whole day walking around the palace grounds and admiring this beautiful park. Entrance is paid, and beware of the huge lines! Those are for entering the palace itself, not the park. 

If you are not into paying for visiting parks, not far from the palace there is a totally free of charge park with a few historical buildings that you can look. The park with paid entrance is totally worth it, though, especially during the summer and autumn. 

3. Peterhof

One of the greatest landmarks of Saint Petersburg, together with the winter palace. If you have ever looked at some tour guides for St. Petersburg, you have seen photos of its beautiful golden fountains. By the way, they were quite an engineering marvel at the time they were built.

Doing it tsar style

You can go the cheap way by bus or train and then walk around the city, which is quite beautiful and comes with lots of parks. Or you can go the expensive way via one of the Meteora boats and get there quite quickly. You’d also enjoy a great view of Saint Petersburg from the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland. 

Either way, if you want to see fountains working, make sure you go to Peterhof by late spring or no later than the first weeks of autumn. The fountains really add to the imperial atmosphere of the palace gardens, and it would be a shame to go there only to not see them working. Also, it gets very cold, windy and wet in the Gulf, so choose a warm day to go there. If you are not local, keep in mind that warm days are a rare sight in Saint Petersburg.

4. Repino and Komarovo

This one is for art lovers and beach lovers. Repino and Komarovo are two districts not far from each other, in the northwestern outskirts of Saint Petersburg.

There isn’t that much to see there, but you can still spend a good day at the beach after seeing Ilya Repin’s Dacha and walking around its grounds. A Dacha is a country house in Russia, but for some reason, Russians don’t translate it to country house, but simply say dacha, and so should you.

Komarovo and its many forest walkways

There are a lot of trees at Repin’s Dacha grounds, and they make for beautiful autumn images. I have even published a few shots from there in my Instagram. By simply crossing the street and walking a bit through the woods, you can go to the beach. If you are there during the summer, the water should be warm enough. Don’t bother to swim during the autumn, though.

Komarovo is quite analogous, as in you can look at rich people’s dachas, dream about being a millionaire, and go to the beach. Unless you are a millionaire reading my blog right now. In that case, please send me some money. And then go to the beach.

Thanks for reading! I hope you liked my suggestions for destinations in St. Petersburg. If you think I haven’t covered something, write in the comments, so I know what to talk about next!

Life in Russia during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Hello there! I was supposed to write something about coronavirus in October 2020, but you know how responsibly I lead my blog. In any case, since I am now infected with — guess what — Covid-19, and can’t leave my apartment for the next two weeks. I thought it would be a good time to write on my blog about it. 

In case you are worried about me, I am fine. Although, why would you worry about me anyway? I’m fine, mostly. I am coughing a bit and bored to death, staring at the ceiling in my own apartment, but other than that, pretty ok. 

How has the Russian government been dealing with the Covid pandemic?

That is a very good question! Almost as if I asked it myself.

As of the writing of this post, by mid-July 2021, the country is facing a third wave of infections. This could possibly be worse than the previous waves because of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious. The number of cases has been rising quite quickly, but the government is not repeating the measures imposed in similar situations in the past. In Moscow, not long ago you could only go to a restaurant if you were vaccinated or could present a PCR test made in the last 3 days, but these measures have already been dropped. 

I am currently living in Saint Petersburg, and the situation here was quite different from Moscow. There were no measures enforced by the government when the pandemic first started, back in April 2020. Then, there was a recommended social distancing policy, but nothing actually forbidding businesses from operating. It was the beginning of Spring and the weather was finally stopping being depressive and gloomy. If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you know how rare this is. It’s no surprise that, at that time, everyone was freely walking around the city center, often without masks, and going to bars and restaurants.

During the summer there was a temporary closure of venues and public gatherings. Other than that, people in Saint Petersburg were mostly ignoring social distancing and self-isolation measures. Businesses closed again for some time during the winter, but that was quite it. Up until now, masks are required in most closed spaces, but not on the street. 

How has the pandemic affected you personally? 

Well, at the moment I can’t travel outside of Russia. I do not have a temporary or permanent residency in the country, so the border security might not let me back in the country. I haven’t seen my family in 2 years almost, which sucks, really, so I can only keep dreaming of the time when I can take some vacations and travel somewhere with exotic food. My Russian friends can travel to a few countries already, so normally I check their Instagram stories in Bali, or Georgia, or Turkey, and then I cry myself to sleep. 

From April to September, I had to work from home, since the company decided that it was too risky to keep all employees working from the office. Oh, how fun it was to work from home during the summer with no Air Conditioning at home. Why no AC? It’s Saint Petersburg, after all. You don’t expect Saint Petersburg to be warm, not even in the summer.

By autumn, my office reopened for employees willing to take Covid-19 tests every two weeks. I thought I was done working from home, so applied to go back to the office. And then I regretted that I couldn’t work from home when the temperature reached -20 °C during the winter.

This spring, most restrictions regarding working from the office were finally lifted, and more employees started to go to the office more often. We even had a corporate party not long ago, as it was considered safe to gather large numbers of people again.  These small things, such as seeing coworkers personally, and having parties, even small ones, provide some relief from the fact that we are still living in a pandemic and most borders are still closed.

I would love to get travelling again without risking losing my work and apartment, but for now that is still impossible. 

Russia registered the first Covid-19 vaccine. Why hasn’t everyone vaccinated yet?

The vaccination campaign is going quite slowly in Russia. Unfortunately, people are too distrustful of the government, and don’t take seriously any information about the Covid-19 Pandemic or the need to vaccinate. People are so distrustful of vaccines in Russia that they’d rather buy a fake vaccination certificate. It does not help that Sputnik V has not been recognized by the World Health Organization. I am aware that it was already analyzed by national and international organizations. Many countries, including European ones, are importing it in order to vaccinate their own population. 

Russians, though, still fear that Sputnik V might have side effects that somehow are not worth the benefit of immunity against a lethal virus. Some believe the vaccine is completely inefficient. You’d think that only uneducated people with a minimal knowledge of science buy into anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but that is not the case in Russia. Many of my friends, some of them even work colleagues, with master’s degrees or PhDs, do not want to get vaccinated, and for several reasons.

One not so funny story that I experienced last year showcases this. I was talking to an acquaintance about the pandemic, which was something unknown and scary at the time. This “woke” guy tried to explain to me that the Russian government was just trying to portray a common flu as a serious pandemic in order to keep people obedient and fearful. He went as far as to say that his aunt got sick with a flu and was registered as being sick with Covid-19. After that, he said, his aunt managed to somehow win a court battle against the hospital that listed her as sick with Covid-19. Therefore, in his mind, everyone who was being registered as infected with Covid-19 was just actually suffering from a common flu.

I don’t know who his aunt was, but I am quite confident that you don’t drag someone into court just like that. That is not to mention all other logical flaws in his argument. I guess that if I had listened a bit longer to him, he could have just started shouting “Wake up, sheeple!” at random crowds in the street.

Why haven’t you vaccinated?

Here comes one of the most foolish stories I ever had to write about myself so far. 

I was going to. I really was. First, I consulted my insurance about it, but they said that the vaccine was free and therefore not offered by any insurance system at the time. But I am a foreigner, so I can’t get vaccinated for free. I would have to pay almost €100.00 for each dose, so I decided that maybe I’ll wait a bit longer. If you think that paying €200.00 isn’t that much, keep in mind that I am living in Russia, not in the European Union. The salaries here are much lower. And everyone else is getting the vaccine for free, so I felt quite like I was being tricked into something.

A while after that, a friend recommended another clinic where the vaccine was “free”, but required a paid consultation after receiving each dose. Because, of course, you need to have a paid consultation for each dose only if you are a foreigner. Anyway, the price was much lower, so I signed up. The very same day I was about to get vaccinated, I got the information that my company was going to organize a massive vaccination campaign for all employees, for free. Obviously I canceled the appointment and signed up for the office vaccination campaign. 

Then I got sick. Yay. 

While I recover from Covid-19, I do realize I should have vaccinated earlier, and I totally would have done it if the vaccine were available for foreigners. There will never be a perfect time, so better to vaccinate earlier, rather than later. 

Thanks for reading all the way down here. Stay healthy, vaccinate if you can! 

The Very Obvious Places You Should Check Out in Saint Petersburg

 Yo, my people! What’s crackin’? 

Just as I finished writing this article, I’d like to announce that this old bastard here has already been living over one year in Saint Petersburg. And wrote less than 10 posts for the blog this whole time. * C o m m i t m e n t *

Since I am almost a local now, and I have taken upon myself the task of visiting all the famous, and not so famous bars in Saint Petersburg. Now I can share a few pieces of advice about what you can do while visiting the cultural capital of Russia. 

When I wrote an article about what you can do in Moscow, I avoided talking too much about the main attractions. I will take a bit of a different approach this time. Here I’ll dedicate the whole post to St. Petersburg main sightseeing points and how to enjoy them, which will be specially useful if you are short on time. No need to thank me for it, I know I’m awesome. 

Maybe next time I’ll write about my favorite bars. There are many of them.

Hermitage and Russian Museums

If you are into art, culture, you should totally visit Hermitage and Russian museum. If you are not into art and culture, you shouldn’t really have chosen Saint Petersburg to begin with. Seriously, why else would you come here? 

Hermitage is incomparable if you are looking forward to experiencing all the gold and opulence you will never have in your life as a filthy peasant, so I do recommend going there. Make sure you look at all the detailed artwork and try not to cry at the white marble stairs when you realize how you suck at painting. That did not happen to me, I swear. 

I can assure you that Hermitage is definitely worth going at least once in your life before you die and let’s face it, 2020 is really trying to get you killed. However, if you are not looking forward to standing hours in lines, then Russian Museum is a great choice, often with smaller lines and I assure you: you will not regret exploring their exhibitions, although you might have an existential crisis there as well if you pay too much attention to the details in the paintings. 

Wow. Much gold. Very marble. Many Corinthian.

Both museums are in the city center and not far away from each other, so you can always go around between walks along the main streets.

Peterhof

If you want to get impressed with some outright decadently opulent architecture, a beautiful garden and a f*ckload of statues, you should totally visit Peterhof. It might sound like I am exaggerating, but man, Peter the Great went to town on that project. I wonder why would anyone even decide to build such a frigging huge palace. I guess he was trying to overcompensate something.

“Please kill me. End my suffering.” 

It is possible to get there by boat if you are a rich bitch and enjoy the view of the Gulf of Finland. I’d say that taking a cab for a family of 4, or just going by train if you are alone, are smarter choices. Make sure to enjoy the walk from the train station to the palace itself as well. It’s a very nice neighborhood.

Peterhof is a large territory, so you can be sure that you’ll spend the whole day looking at all the places there. Don’t forget to wear some very comfortable shoes and maybe pray your feet don’t hurt by the end of the day. Or use band-aids if that’s your thing. 

Also make sure to post a selfie with the weird lion statues. 

Canals & Bridges

Getting an excursion around the city canals is a lovely activity. If you want to freeze to death on those boats because damn that wind is cold enjoy a lovely view of Saint Petersburg’s main touristic attractions without having to walk, this is the perfect choice. An excursion through the canals of the city will certainly leave you wishing you had brought a warmer coat completely amazed at all the exquisite architecture of the city.

Be sure to take some photos of the Saint Isaacs Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and Trinity Cathedral. Please don’t drop your phone on the water.  

An even better opportunity to die a chilly death enjoy the Petersburg atmosphere is to watch the drawbridges opening, specially during the white nights. That happens not earlier than1am though, so you might want to prepare beforehand to make sure you are completely awake and rested when the excursion starts and bring a bigger coat, for God’s sake.

A beautiful pain in the neck

I have a funny personal story when I was still a tourist in Saint Petersburg. Some friends and I decided to go to one of the many local bars, and then to a club. After a few drinks, we decided we should definitely see the bridges lifting. We thought that, by leaving the club right away, we would get to the river Neva in time to see the last bridge opening up. We got there just in time. It was a good view, but not that impressive, to be honest. We were ready to go home now. Then we realized that all the bridges are open, and we can’t get home because we were staying across the river.

So take care. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the river after 2am, you might have to stay awake until the bridges are down again. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Just walk around and enjoy. Also, bars. 

Saint Petersburg has a city culture that is completely different from Moscow. Here it’s commonplace to simply enjoy a walk around the city center, looking at all the cute finely planned tidy streets. That is very contrasting to Moscow, where the only people walking around calmly are tourists.

Try to get lost in the city a bit but make sure you have Saint Petersburg Google Maps downloaded, you don’t want to actually get lost. You will find many monuments, squares, streets lined imperial era buildings, churches and museums.

The Cultural Capital of Russia boasts many palaces, and hispters, of course

While you are at it, make sure you have a walk along Rubinstein and Nekrasova streets. There you will find many unique places where you can sit and taste all kinds of cuisine and drinks. This bar culture makes Saint Petersburg look much more like Europe than Moscow as well. If you are lucky enough to visit the city on a warm day and that does not mean summer, sit outside and enjoy the view. 

But bring a bigger coat. And an umbrella. And sunglasses. You might use them all during your walk.