‘St Petes’ is not the frozen abyss of James Bond villains it’s stereotyped as. The Russian capital is a hub of good, clean, unadulterated Slavic fun. Here are some tips for surviving a trip to St Petersburg..
1. It’s bloody freezing
(If you go during the winter) A personal low while I was there was watching the thermometer display on TV one morning, GMTV-style (where the temperature, not the time, is the main priority), plummet 10 degrees. And that was in the time it took to get my mascara out. Temperatures can drop to -20 and beyond during winter.
Instead go in the summer-time when it’s warm (around 25/30 degrees) and the White Nights when it doesn’t really ever go dark (the downside is that you get to see what people actually look like when they stagger out of the clubs at 5am and it’s not pretty). For climate reasons, the clubs’ cloakrooms are almost always FREE. Don’t get used to this and then demand it back home too like I did.
Speaking of coats…
2. Fur & Excessive Coat Wear
It’s everywhere. Because it’s so fucking freezing, Russian women adorn themselves in outrageous amounts of fur. (Men are mostly leather-clad strangely). It’s cheaper to buy over there too. If you’re not a fur fan, you might like to investigate the route I took which was this huge monstrosity of a ‘coat’ that made me look like the Michelin Man after a carby blow-out. Not necessarily the hottest look you’ll ever rock but does mean you won’t get hypothermia, and you can get away with over-doing it at dinner.
While we’re on the subject…
3. What to Eat
If there’s a crash diet that works anywhere in the world, it’s the I Went on Holiday to Russia diet. It’s all soups and stews during the winter, and Russian salads all summer long. Or perhaps it’s the culture shock itself that shakes the very appetite out of you. Anyway, expect to drop half a stone with minimal effort. The food itself is actually pretty good and trying out the local cuisine becomes all part of the fun. You have to try Borscht, the national dish. Buffets are all the rage so you can pick daintily at salads or load up heroically on the Goulash depending on what you’ve got on that evening.
4. What to drink
Vodka. All of it. It’s amazing. And it genuinely seems to be a better quality than the glamorous versions of paint-stripper I invariably end up drinking back home. The hangovers aren’t as bad either. Never ask for a ‘vodka coke’ – you’ll get a pint glass of Pepsi and a shot glass of vodka, and a huge amount of icy glares from the offended bar staff, as I discovered first-hand. The Russians also love their Champagne, so there’s enough of that everywhere to rival a sparkling Happy Hour.
5. What to wear
I fully adopted the local look, opting for a leopard print coat with thigh-high leather boots and no one batted an eyelid. It was unexpectedly good fun to dress in borderline drag but still look like ‘just one of the girls’. It doesn’t translate well back home so make sure you lose the garb before touching down at the airport.
6. What to Do
The Hermitage, the Church of Spilt Blood, the Dostoevsky Museum, the Peterhof Palace, the Museum of Curiosities, the amazing Russian ballet… The list is endless and the city is utterly beautiful with its wide historic streets and palace-like pretty architecture.
There’s so much more to St Petersburg than what immediately meets the eye. So get out there, and with these tips, get exploring! Just, don’t bring the leopard print/thigh-high stilettos combo home with you.