We asked three participants of our Art and Museums in Russia program in St. Petersburg: “Where in St. Petersburg have you felt the greatest amount of inspiration?”
Here are the students and inspiring cityscape locales they chose:
Sophia Fisher is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sophia believes that the exponential development of communication technology has made Russian language skills critical in all professional fields. In August, Sophia will return home to her native Ohio for a final semester at The Ohio State University, where she will receive a diploma in art history and Russian language. After graduation, Sophia plans on pursuing a career in arts management or public relations.
Sophia’s three favorite inspirational spots are listed below:
A jazz singer, classic cocktails, and bartenders with bottle tricks make this central Saint Petersburg gem a fantastic place to imbibe, muse, and truly experience the spirit of the city past. The staff is always eager to serve up the best of beverages and although on the higher end of the price scale, each drink at the Grand Hotel Europe comes with a spectacular snack tower of olives, nuts, and paprika chips. The financial sacrifice, I promise, is worth every kopek.
This foot traffic of this landmark bar is low, mostly guests of the hotel and international visitors speaking in low tones. For writers, I can recommend this as the perfect place to have a drink and draft something new. In the evening when the lighting is soft and the songstress croons in a velvet dress, diners truly feel transported into the earliest years of the twentieth century.
Perhaps the name of this establishment refers to the venerated poet Anna Akhmatova, whose apartment and memorial museum neighbors this bar by a five minute walk to the west. The interior of this bar is decidedly minimalist Art Deco. Large beveled mirrors and warm wooden tones provide a decidedly more open-air feel to this bar than that of The Grand Hotel Europe.
This bar offers an extensive drink menu, including an entire page of featured cocktails named after (surprise!) dead poets. The residential location, free WiFi, and affordable meal options ensure that this bar is packed nightly with expats and Russians alike, all seemingly unafraid of mingling and conversation. For hipsters of all nationalities looking for an off-the-path daytime place to hole up with a laptop, drink a few beers, and chat with a bearded bartender or two, this makes an excellent choice for a quiet study post.
Saint Petersburg’s first classic department store is an aesthetic indulgence beyond comparison. It is something close, perhaps, to what a union of Wes Anderson and Alphonse Mucha might be. French speakers will note that the name refers to a red bridge. This is красный мост which spans the Moyka Canal directly ahead of the main entrance. The exterior of this emporium is identifiable by a classic metal dome and spire similar to that of Dom Knigi. These identifiers, the bridge and spire, serve as massive landmarks and make Au Pont Rouge impossible to miss on a walk through the most touristic part of town.
The interior is organized meticulously, adorned with gorgeous amber glass and displays of luxurious international and Russian-designed couture clothing and goods. For the visual artist, this space would be an ideal source of inspiration. Surely, one could sit at the windows the first floor cafe, look out onto the canal, and sketch for hours.
Kimberly Gordy is a student at the University of Texas at Austin working to get a B.A. in Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies with a minor in history. Their interest is in medieval and tsarist Russia, and how creative pursuits such as art and literature shape the perception and flow of history. They have been studying Russian language in school for three years. Kimberly is in St. Petersburg for SRAS’s programs in both art and Russian as a second language.
Kimberly’s three favorite inspirational spots are listed below:
Letnii Sad, or the Summer Garden, is one of the many parks scattered about the Petersburg city center. It is my favorite, due to the combination of art (sculpture and fountain) and the enclosed feeling that the tall vine walls and trees give to the garden. It feels cozy and comfortable, and I love plants. I like drawing nature and seeing all the different shades. The Summer Garden has a lake, a display of fountains, flower gardens, performers, and sculpture, which can offer inspiration or just a generally nice place to relax or read.
Neva Embankment, Vasilevsky Island
There’s something weird about large bodies of water: they leave me entranced, and there are so many types of folklore and myth associated with water that if a mermaid popped her head out of the Neva, I wouldn’t even be surprised. That’s what I imagine when I sit along the edge of the embankment, all the fantasies that have been said to live in the Neva and all the human experiences that the river has seen.
It’s a place where I find myself sitting and thinking, and any time I have my sketchbook with me (which is, let’s be honest, always) I can’t help but pull it out and mark down a couple doodles or notes for story ideas based around the Neva’s odd melancholy feeling. The Vasilevsky Island side of the Neva has a number of points with stairs leading down into the Neva, where people occasionally sit. It’s peaceful, and the fishermen along the Neva tend to be fairly friendly if one wishes to talk to someone.
If someone told me that I was only allowed to draw one type of thing for the rest of my life, the thing I would willingly draw daily would have to be ocean creatures. I love them. I want to tell every single shark that it’s beautiful. Fortunately, the Okeanarium is within walking distance of the university dorms and abounds with odd fish, sharks and skates, and even reptiles. I’ve spent far too long just staring at jellyfish, and none of the security people seem to mind when I sit and stare for an age. It’s an abundance of references and live models, and one can’t help but feel inspired when surrounded by interesting fish.
Evan Fishburn is a senior at Boise State University, pursuing a degree in English Literature and a Certificate in Digital Media and Cinema. He appreciates the intersection of art, music, and literature, specifically as it occurs in the works of Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. Evan’s interests include classical piano, short stories, poetry, and photography (find him on Instagram, @evanfishburn). He is taking part in SRAS’s Art and Museums program and is studying the variety of memorial apartment museums throughout St. Petersburg.
Evan’s three favorite spots are listed below:
Here, at the Necropolis of the Masters of the Arts, visitors may pay homage to a number of significant figures in Russian musical, literary, and political history. Some of these include Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Glazunov, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolay Karamzin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Just off the end of Nevsky Prospekt, the grounds here are lush, green, and peaceful. There is a ticket office with maps for sale, as well as a large map near the lower left corner. It is also on the grounds of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, a prime example of Baroque architecture. Admire the elaborate tombstones, take your time strolling beneath the trees and pines, and leave some flowers at the foot of your favorite figure. Tikhvin Cemetery is a nice place to meditate, seek refuge, find inspiration to create your own work, or write down your observations.
Located outside the touristy central area of the city this is not very convenient for metro travel (it will take you about 20-30 minutes of walking from Chernyshevskaya). Along the way, however you can also walk through the Tauride gardens. You can’t miss the convent at the very end of Shpalernaya Ultisa, with its beautiful neoclassical architecture and well-kept grounds. The center piece is a blue and white cathedral with gold onion domes, designed by Rastrelli in the mid-18th century. Inside, you will find local Orthodox Christians praying to icons – remember that if you want to go inside, women must cover their heads with a scarf and men should wear appropriate clothing as well (no shorts, sandals, or bear shoulders). You can access the belfry for a small fee for panoramic views of the city from the east, including the domes of St. Isaacs Cathedral and the Church on Spilled Blood. You can also get a great view of the Neva as it bends south. Before you go, check out the scale model of the convent, constructed before the actual building was built, located in the upper story of the Imperial Academy of the Arts (University Embankment, 17); notice the differences between the two, of which there are many.
The gardens offer nice walking and running paths. You’ll find small bridges lead onto the island, a few benches to rest on, a playground for children, etc. There are birds, flowers, trees, and well-maintained, lush grounds in the summer. It’s no wonder this is a popular place for local students to escape from the madness of the construction, traffic, and crowds of Sadovaya Street. This is a great place to take photos, read a book, meditate, etc., and is not terribly far from St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, to the west, or Sennaya Ploshchad, to the east.