It was raining in St. Petersburg, and there were no street signs as David and I picked our way from Gorkovskaya Station to Pevchecky Street. Raindrops slowly wrecked the soft paper from our Lonely Planet pullout map as the station, which recalled a burnished bronze whale or a beached spaceship, receded around the curve of the road. It was more or less seven in the morning, and we had more or less slept in the airport that night.
Pevchecky St., whose location we’d more or less guessed since every map we’d looked at spelled it differently, would not be found, and our Russian, which was more or less nonexistent, was of no help. We were feeling very neither here nor there as we rounded another corner, past a street of gutted brick buildings draped in wafting blue plastic, when Pevchecky St. opened up before us. At least, we assumed so based on our ever-narrowing circles and multiple map cross-references. There were, of course, no street signs.
St. Petersburg itself is a city neither here nor there. A closer look at its prettily-knit pastel canals reveals chipping walls and white paint going gray. Its gold-gilt domes and churches are covered with plastic wrap, and a layer of scum rims the decorative ponds. But hidden behind these crumbling facades and cold Soviet structures is a legacy of lavish excess and an underground St. Petersburg that hides itself from tourists – hipster coffee shops and old world cafés, elegant speakeasies and fine art. Beneath the city, these divergent worlds collide. In the Avtovo Station, giant pillars covered in intricate crystal designs line the platform; on each pillar, a crystal hammer and sickle. History is layered.
And food is hidden. The best food we found in St. Petersburg were in the most unexpected places. Halfway into a day-long walking tour, convinced I was about to die without caffeine, we stopped at the crumbling doorway of a kafe with half the letters missing – but inside was a spacious coffee shop, a long wooden table covered in MacBooks and baristas pulling carefully foamed cappuccinos. » Continue reading this post…