All the world’s great postal codes have one: an iconic grand boulevard that, when mentioned, one knows immediately which destination city it represents. Like Broadway, the Great White Way, in Midtown Manhattan; Wangfujing Street in Beijing; Regent Street in jolly old London; and, the Champs-Elysées in Paris, just to name a few.
Here in St. Petersburg, the city built from scratch in the 18th century by Emperor Peter I, the iconic high street is Nevsky Prospekt, the wide thoroughfare that begins and ends along the banks of the Neva River and cuts straight through the heart and soul of the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Armed with a map and guide book from the Crowne Plaza Ligovsky, our four-star digs while in the city, Orna O’Reilly and I, photojournalists invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to experience its Easy Pace Russia journey, take advantage of our free time — ahead of this evening’s welcome dinner, when we’ll meet our tour director and travel mates for the next week — and embark down the Nevsky and a few of its side streets for our first look at this once proud imperial city.
As I look around, dramatic, colorful architecture in varied styles abound; each building and monument represents an important chapter in the growth of the City of the Tsars. The scenes are inspiring and rival those found in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and even Venice. Lens caps off, let’s see what we can frame.
Midway through our photo-shoot stroll, we stop for lunch and enjoy some regional fare at the Soviet Cafe, a retro-looking basement locale along the Nevsky, complete with old Singer sewing machines and a not-so frost-free icebox. Decor aside, which, frankly, adds to the atmosphere, the Soviet Cafe grub, charcoal grilled chicken skewers and a cucumber-cabbage salad, is awfully tasty.
Nikolai Gogol, a 19th century dramatist and novelist, considered to have been the first realist writer in the Russian language, penned a short story titled after the namesake street. In the narrative, he observed about the iconic cobble, “Step into it, and you step into a fairground.”
After logging just over 18,000 steps, about 12 km, I’d have to agree with Gogol; it’s a carnival atmosphere all along the Nevsky.
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We’ll delve further into the lure of this grand city tomorrow when we meet up with Gennady, Insight’s Moscow-born travel director/concierge, and Gulya, Insight’s local expert, at the very spot where St. Petersburg began: the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island.
Dobroy nochi (Good night).
©The Palladian Traveler
Note: The Palladian Traveler’s participation in this journey was supported by Insight Vacations, which did not review or approve this article before publication.