Saint Petersburg is the most beautiful city I ever saw. London, Chicago and Barcelona are fantastic, but I’ll never forget the capital of the tsars. The combination of light -I visited in 2008 during the legendary White Nights, Art Nouveau architecture, rivers, canals and history is just irresistible. And of course there’s the Hermitage, one of the largest art collections in the world.
One of the buildings that struck me the most, is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Its name is as thrilling as the structure itself. The church was built in 1883, right at the spot where tsar Alexander II was assassinated two years earlier. It took 24 years to complete the memorial for the lost ruler. No wonder, since the church contains 7500 square meters of colorful mosaic tiles. Even more famous spilled blood, is the juice of Rasputin. The ‘crazy monk’ was murdered at Yusupov Palace, at the banks of the Moika river. That is to say, prince Yusupov and his partners in crime tried to murder Rasputin: they fed him cakes and wine with an amount of poison that could kill five men, shot him four times in the back when he kept fighting, clubbed and gagged him and threw the hipster mystic in the ice cold Neva river. Even then he managed to break free, but eventually died. Cause of death? Drowning, as autopsy established.
Okay, back to beauty. Russian Art Nouveau is called Modern (Модерн) and St. Petersburg is the city where this style flourished. Keep walking along Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main avenue, and you’ll find great examples of Modern. Sometimes they’re very subtle, hidden in iron gates, doors and shop counters. More in your face, hard to miss, are the testaments to tsar Peter the Great: his Summer Garden (partly designed by Dutch gardeners), Winter Palace (now part of the Hermitage) and the Peterhof (a boat will take you there). The tsar also owned a cabinet of curiosities, but where the common rich man had a couple of bizarre objects, the Kunstkamera of Peter the Great consists of two million anthropological, ethnographical and zoological specimen. The Zoological museum of the Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences deserves an honourable mention with its large collection of taxidermy and preserved animals. The entree fee is a couple of euro’s and you’ll find yourself strolling through displays with stuffed pinguins, desert foxes, insects and mammoth bones for hours and hours.