Back to St Petersburg
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Returning to St Petersburg 20 years after her first visit as a vodka-swilling student, Viv Groskop finds one of Europe's most romantic cities in the grip of reinvention...
Facade of the Church of the Savior on Blood
Slow Images/Getty Images
You can't fail to soak up culture on every corner
I first visited St Petersburg as a language
student in the summer of 1992 and lived
there for the best part of the next two years. It was a strange and wonderful time. I turned 21 when I was there, celebrating my
birthday with a party on a canal boat with vodka and caviar. I lived in a communal flat, learnt to speak Russian fluently and went through several ill-advised boyfriends who were quite drunk a lot of the time.
So far, so student life. But in St Petersburg you also can't fail to soak up culture on every corner. This is the city of Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. It is home to one of the greatest dance companies in the world, the Mariinsky Ballet (the Bolshoi's great rival). This is where Russia's greatest poet Pushkin wrote most of his major works — and was killed in a duel with his wife's lover. Twenty years ago I spent three hours travelling by tram in the snow to the exact spot where he died, only to discover that it was a patch of grass in the middle of a housing estate.
St Petersburg is seductive, charming, and a little eccentric. It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as an act of will — most of the city is built on swampland, with mosquitoes still a problem — and almost all of its original Baroque architecture remains intact. But the city is undergoing rapid renovation — and on the 20th anniversary of my first visit, I've come back to see just how things have changed.
Way to go
British Airways flies to St Petersburg from
London Heathrow once a day. Flight time:
about three hours.
Join the Executive Club and earn up to 6,500 Avios points when you fly Club World to St Petersburg (return). Or redeem your points: you only need 20,000 to get to St Petersburg (World Traveller return, excluding taxes, fees and surcharges).
Book now at ba.com