8 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Petersburg
Eight Things You Didn’t Know About St. Petersburg
1. The Lucky Cat Yelisei
Looking for some luck? Make your way towards Malaya Sadovaya street (Малая Садовая улица) and look for a bronze cat sitting on a platform up over your head — in the eaves of the Eliseyev Emporium. Legend has it that throwing a coin to the cat’s feet will grant you a wish, so you’ll always find people tossing coins onto the shelf. Yelisei and his neighbor, Vasilisa (another cat across the street) are dedicated to the siege during World War II, when food was scarce and most domestic animals were sacrificed to avoid starvation. The lack of cats soon caused a public health menace: The rodent population rose, which caused an influx in disease and a shrinkage in food supplies. To restore the order, 5’000 cats were brought into the city and quickly saved the citizens from the epidemic.
2. Hermitage Cats (Эрмитажные коты)
Speaking of cats, the probably most infamous bunch lives in the Hermitage’s basement. Up to 70 stray cats have found a warm and loving shelter underground the Winter Palace, and it all started out with the museum director assistant’s pity towards the few malnourished felines hiding in the chambers of the basement. Today, an annual “Catfest” celebrates the inhabitants of the Hermitage with cat-painting contests and scavenger hunts for children. Donations and sponsors fund the “Hermitage Cat Department”, and the pampered animals have multiple full time volunteers and a press secretary dedicated to them (seriously).
3. Hermitage in Numbers
It’s widely known that the Hermitage is monumental. To give you an idea of just how big it is: If you were to spend one minute admiring each work of art for eight hours a day, you would take a whopping 25 years to cover everything displayed in the museum.
4. Gogol’s Nose
Some time ago, a certain Major Kovalyov woke up without a nose. The journey to recapture his rogue organ in 19th Century St. Petersburg made for a wonderfully absurd, classic story. If you are a fan of Gogol’s short story “Nose” (“нос”), then head over to Voznesenskiy Prospect (Вознесенский проспект), where you’ll find Major Kovalyov’s lost nose protruding out of a wall.
5. Piter: Home of the Hipster
One thing that genuinely surprised me upon my arrival in St. Petersburg was the sheer amount of progressive young adults rocking man-buns, tattoos, and New Balance sneakers. While the “hipster aesthetic” (or whatever else you may call the style in a post 2010 world) has ironically reached pretty much every metropolitan area on earth, I was stunned by just how prevalent mom-jeans and artisan coffee are around town. You can visit the epitome of the scene at Loft Project ETAGI (Лофт Проект ЭТАЖИ), a building that is designated to small concept stores and vegan/gluten-free/trendy street food (as well as amazing galleries).
6. 24/7 Coffee Shop Culture
This point goes in hand with the previous one: Due to the high demand (especially during the White Nights), many coffee shops throughout the center of Petersburg are open at ungodly hours. The most fascinating aspect is that these stores, indeed, seem to be portals into a different time dimension. As wild as the mood may be on Dumskaya street (думская улица) at 4am, a glance into the closest Coffee House will completely throw you off: Within those four walls, party-goers drink their Cappuccinos in a completely nonchalant and proper fashion, as if it were 4 in the afternoon.
7. St. Ann’s Church
St. Ann’s Church (Це́рковь Свято́й А́нны or Анненкирхе) on Kirochnaya street (ул. Кирочная) may look like any other old church from the outside, but it’s use throughout history is quite unusual: The church was originally built in a neoclassical style for the German Lutheran community, but it served as a movie theater during Soviet times. Beginning 2001, the building was supposed to be transformed back into a sanctuary. Big controversies arose, instead, when it became an unapproved and popular nightclub. Within a year, a dubious fire burned out the entire church; restorations by volunteer groups began in 2012. Visitors can check out the eery building free of charge, and it often serves as a concert venue on the weekends.
8. St. Peterburg Streetfood: Шаверма vs. Корюшка vs. Пышки
Whether you’re on the go or craving for food after a long night out: cheap, tasty food is around every corner of the city. You can stick to the classic Turkish import Shawerma (Шаверма), as the people of Piter call it, or get blini (блины) filled with whatever your heart desires. The brave have their go at Korushka (Корюшка), a local delicacy: fried smelt fish that supposedly smell like cucumber when fresh.
Standing in line for the infamous Pyshki (Пышки) on Bolshaya Konyushennaya (Большая Конюшенная) at least once is a must, though. The popular little Soviet cafe is the gem of the city; it’s stuck in time on the otherwise expensive street and is beloved by everyone. Once you try the piping hot, fluffy dough rings alongside a coffee cooked up with condensed milk, you’ll gladly stand in line with the nostalgic locals (and the millennials looking for great Instagram shots) over and over again.
Cynthia, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg