Our 230-square-metre apartment is in a mid-19th-century house which stands on a quiet, green street directly opposite the garden of the Academy of Arts.
Built in 1789, the Academy is a monumental Neoclassical block on the bank of the main river, on Vasilievsky Island, the district which Peter the Great originally intended to be the centre of his new capital city.
"Vaska", as it is affectionately known, has a tranquil, unhurried atmosphere that is untypical of this city - partly due to the fact that it never became its centre.
Behind the Academy are streets lined with a mix of restrained Classical houses and modest mansions, traditionally occupied by artists, academics, and students connected to the Academy or the Univsersity. Our own house - and quite probably our apartment - was at one time home to the famous artist, Ivan Shishkin.
From our house the Hermitage, St Isaac's, and the Mariinsky Theatre are all 15-20 minutes' walk away; the Menshikov Palace is only 5.
Turn right out of our front door, walk 150 metres, and you find yourself on the bank of the main river, with all of the centre of St Petersburg spread before you. Opposite and a little to the left are St Isaac’s and the statue of the Bronze Horseman. Beside you are the twin sphinxes crouching solemnly on the embankment in front of the Academy of Arts. This is an ideal spot from which to watch the raising of the bridges on summer nights.
The nearest metro station is Vasileostrovskaya (6-9 minutes' walk away, down the pedestrian boulevard of 6th/7th lines).
For quick journeys to Nevsky prospekt and the Hermitage, it is probably best to take a bus or trolleybus from the stop on 1st line (3 minutes' walk through the garden behind the Academy of Arts and then past another garden).
The building next door to us (no. 12) is the local market. Good for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, fish (select your own from the tank), milk and cheese, and also for seasonal treats such as forest mushrooms and berries (sold at stalls in the market's yard) and winter woollies (sold by women standing at the gate leadign into the yard from Bolshoy prospekt). The market building also contains a small bric-a-brac section and a stall selling wooden folk items.
There are now four small supermarkets within easy walking distance: a) Magnit (Магнит) is in the yard of the market building next door (go past the rubbish bins and some kiosks selling fruit and pots and pans - and then head diagonally left to a long building with a ramp leading up to its entrance); b) there are three Diksi (Дикси) supermarkets on the opposite side of Bolshoy prospekt - at Bolshoy 1, 15, and 29; the closest is at Bolshoy 15, which is on the opposite corner of Bolshoy and our own street). All these shops are open from 9 or 10 in the morning to 10 or 11 in the evening.
For larger shops there's a supermarket called Perekrеstok (Перекресток) in the shopping centre at the corner of 9th Line and Sredny prospekt (entrance through the glass doors on Sredny prospekt: go through both sets of doors, then keep to the right).
Local cafes and restaurants
The best place for a local cheap bite is just round the corner from us – Kanareyka
, a tiny Georgian cafe in Bugsky pereulok (turn right out of our front door, then take the first right; Kanareyka is at No. 6 – the first house after the children’s playground).
Taverna Grolle (Bolshoy prospekt, 20) is at the back of our house (turn left out of our front door, take the first left – Bolshoy prospekt – and proceed to the end of the block;
Taverna Grolle is in the opposite two-storey building with large arched windows). This extremely handy restaurant (open 24 hours a day) just happens to be one of St Petersburg’s best fish restaurants with a wide selection of fish freshly caught in the lakes to the north and east of the city.
Use the Taverna Grolle loyalty card on the sideboard in the hall of our geusthouse to claim a 5% discount.
(7th line, 34) is a canteen offering Russian food for low prices in pleasant, light-filled surroundings where you might be tempted to linger. The clientele is mainly young people who work or study in the surrounding area. Try some of the traditional Russian soups (solyanka or borshch) or something from the grill bar.
("Almond"; English Embankment, 26; 12-02.00). Excellent Georgian dishes cooked by the extremely hospitable Marina - and a good place to take refuge if you get caught on wrong side of the river when the bridges go up at 01.25 at night.
Mindal, cafe, st petersburg
For a fuller list of places to eat in St Petersburg, click here
The 'lines' of Vasilievsky Island are especially magical during the perpetual twilight of midsummer nights or with their architecture crisply outlined by the snow and sun of a winter day. These are quiet, green residential streets whose facades are mostly made up of apartment blocks dating to the last third of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th.
4th and 5th lines are interesting for their mix of private mansions (such as architect Harald Bosse's house at 4th line 15, the house of the merchant Forostovsky at 4th line 9, or the house of the entrepreneur and button-manufacturer Gutkheil at 5th line 20) and taller residential architecture.
Some of the city's oldest houses are to be found at 7th Line 10 and 12 and 6th Line 13
(the so-called house of Troekurov, which now houses the restaurant Pryanosti i radosti). They are predated, however, by the Menshikov Palace, a building which is well worth a visit. This was the most luxurious palace in all St Petersburg in the time of Peter the Great, and was borrowed by Peter for special occasions - for celebrations of military victories, weddings (including his own wedding to Ekaterina Alekseevna), official receptions for ambassadors, and for 'assemblies', social events at which he would teach his subjects to socialize in the approved European manner. Menshikov, who exploited his position as Peter's right-hand man and Governor of St Petersburg to accumulate wealth beyond his entitlement, filled his house with the very best he could get his hands on.
There were Italian sculptures in the garden and the columned entrance hall (and more sculptures on the roof), a wide terrace above the front entrance to accommodate an orchestra which would play to greet guests, Italian and French furniture, an English grandfather clock in the pre-audience room, Chinese silks on the walls of the ladies' quarters, and in the Walnut Study, a ceiling painted by the French artist Philippe Pilman. And there were tiles from Delft - not just the sparing application of a single or several rows of tiles as was the practice back in Holland, but a sea of glazed white and blue covering every wall, and ceilings as well, in no fewer than 11 rooms. The palace is also remarkable for what it tells us about the way early St Petersburg was organized: the city's main buildings were situated on both banks of the main river, and were accessed by boat (Peter's preferred means of transport); the river was the city's main channel of communication, its main street, and the centre of the city.
The embankment stretching in the other direction from us (naberezhnaya Leytenanta Shmidta) also makes a good walk. The Church of the Assumption (built 1894-1900), a seven-domed church fashioned in a traditional 'Russian' style and decorated with 14 types of brick, coloured tiles, and mosaics, is a strong vertical marker on the otherwise mostly low and flat right bank of the Neva, its main dome floating high and free over its six satellites as well as surrounding buildings, trees, and vessels.
The church has recently been painstakingly restored, both inside and out, with the help of a team of 80 students from the Academy of Arts. The interior is richly decorated from its floor to the apex of its main dome with intricate frescoes. There is a famous choir and a strong community of worshippers. Drop in here at any time of day and you're bound to find something going on., even it's only people eating in the canteen (a vaulted undercroft aith a separate entrance to the left of the main door) or buying tasty bread, excellent mors (a refreshing drink made from berries), or kvas (in season), all made on site, from the shop at the back of the church.
For other suggestions as to what to do in St Petersburg, click here.
Rooms with Dutch stove
Our location and neighbourhood