Something Old, Something New: Weekend Ideas

Something Old, Something New: Weekend Ideas

Published: June 22, 2012 (Issue # 1714)


The recently reopened Summer Gardens were restored and redesigned to follow Peter the Great’s original plan for them.

Peter’s Walking Tours

In Russia’s self-proclaimed cultural capital there is no shortage of tour guides to sell visitors the city. For those after more of an experience than an excursion, the best bet is Peter’s Walking Tours, founded by globe-trotting traveler Peter Kozyrev, which offers exciting alternatives to the standard tourist fare. Think nighttime bike rides, or tours focusing on popular themes such as the Bolshevik Revolution, the Communist Legacy, the Siege of Leningrad and Dostoevsky and his novels — a tour that includes the hugely popular Dostoevsky “Murder Route Pub Crawl” starting at the doorstep of Raskolnikov’s apartment building and ending at the doorway of pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna’s home.

Tour guides blend history, gossip, rumor and myth to draw detailed portraits of some of the city’s most thrilling historic personages such as Grigory Rasputin, the mysterious and powerful monk who gained enough influence to manipulate Russia’s final tsar, Nicholas II.

For details visit:

Imperial Porcelain

Porcelain is one of the most popular gifts that people take from St. Petersburg. A visit to the city’s Lomonosov Porcelain Factory Museum makes it easy to understand why. There are 600 masterpieces on display from more than 265 years of Russian porcelain making — from luxurious ceremonial dinner sets ordered by Catherine the Great to Bolshevik propaganda chess sets pitting nobles against Soviet workers and peasants.

Russia’s oldest porcelain producer and one of the first in Europe, the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory was established in 1744, following a decree from Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth. Known in tsarist times as the Imperial Porcelain Manufactury, the factory was an exclusive supplier to the Romanov family and its noble relatives. The museum was founded a century later by Emperor Nicholas I, with the help of donations from the Winter Palace and other royal residences.

After the 1917 Revolution, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactury was nationalized and dedicated to Soviet propaganda. In the tireless struggle for the hearts and minds of ordinary people, no object was considered too insignificant. Factory workers made ink pots in the shape of a woman reading Stalin’s historical works or embroidering a Soviet flag. Tea sets were stamped with heroic revolutionary leaders. Dishes were emblazoned with scenes from epic Communist projects such as the Baikal-Amur Main Line railroad.

Today, modern designers take inspiration both from the city’s history and contemporary art. The display gives precious insight into Russian culture, history and traditions.

The Lomonosov Porcelain

Factory Museum

151 Prospekt Obukhovskoi Oborony

Tel. 326 1743

For details visit:

The Hygiene Museum

Tuberculosis-ridden lungs and cancerous tissue emphasize the benefits of a healthy way of life at the city’s Hygiene Museum, launched in 1919 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, who was overseeing the country’s public education system at the time. “While in the forest, don’t touch the squirrels, as they may have the encephalitis tick virus in their blood,” is the sort of advice that a museum’s guide is likely to give you.

Colored maps illustrate the differences between edible and poisonous mushrooms, as well as between a regular mosquito and one infected with malaria.

The museum’s extensive collection of internal parasites is more effective than any scary cartoon or repetitive parental nagging to get children to wash their hands before mealtime.

A genuine highlight of the display is a model of a mechanical stuffed dog — based on one of Ivan Pavlov’s dogs — and equipped with two funnels through which saliva and gastric juice can flow. The apparatus illustrates Pavlov’s theory on reflexes.

The museum is also home to two mummies, buried in the middle of the 18th century on the outskirts of the city and removed from their burial vault during the Soviet-era anti-religion campaign. This was apparently done in an effort to demonstrate the “real afterlife.” The man and woman were naturally mummified due to the extreme dryness of the soil.

The Hygiene Museum

25 Italyanskaya Ulitsa, second floor

Tel. 595 8908. Visitors must book ahead.

New Holland Island

This small triangular island with a diverse system of canals and bridges, and industrial brick buildings that echo Amsterdam, dates back to 1720. Originally used by Peter the Great as a shipyard and arsenal, the island today is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Monuments list and one of the city’s most distinctly European spots with a thriving art and leisure scene.

On weekends the island hosts an antique and vintage market as well as art master classes from some of the city’s entertaining bohemians. Every day, New Holland visitors can relax on the grass, catch some sun while relaxing in deck chairs and enjoy organic snacks from local producers that have stalls on the island. People are also invited to play table tennis and try out the area’s bike ramps.

The island’s first art gallery is currently showcasing an exhibition by Alexei Kiselyov entitled “Nothing Special,” while another artist, Nastya Bukina has used the fence surrounding New Holland as a canvas for her illustrated fairy tale. Popular local bands present their music with open-air gigs on weekend evenings.


The Lomonosov Porcelain Factory, established in 1744, is the oldest one in Russia.

All events, as well as entrance to the island, are free of charge. New Holland is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For details visit:

Museum of the Political History of Russia

This St. Petersburg museum is the only one in the country to address Russian political history after 1917, besides the nation’s only gulag museum — a remote former prison camp in the Perm region.

The museum documents Russia’s political history starting in the late 18th century and follows the evolution of political repression and arbitrary rule from 1917 to the present. A large section of the display is devoted to Stalin’s repressions. Many photographs document mass repression, including the forced exile of the intelligentsia in 1922.

A typical barrack room, as well as a typical kitchen in a communal apartment, have been reconstructed as part of the display. In a separate section that tells the story of forced collectivization is a hand-written pencil report of a collective farm member betraying 26 colleagues to the NKVD secret police. One member, he writes, is religious, while another took part in an anti-Soviet meeting in 1918. A few more, he is convinced, were against collective farming.

A separate area is devoted to the repression within Stalin’s closest circle. Sergei Kirov’s field glasses, Iona Yakir’s inkpot, Kliment Voroshilov’s cavalry sword, and Sergei Ordzhonikidze’s telephone are displayed alongside sentences, verdicts and horrifying NKVD reports.

A fascinating part of the collection is devoted to the evolution of propaganda techniques and the involvement of artists in creating propaganda art. Graphic, bright and compelling, Soviet posters are often viewed as the quintessence of an epoch, reflecting the way that the country’s rulers addressed the governed. Through the images of posters, audiences can see how the state encouraged people, and what it did to make them feel optimistic about their future.

Museum of the Political History

of Russia

2-4 Ulitsa Kuibysheva

Tel. 233 7052

The Summer Gardens

Founded by Peter the Great in 1704, the Summer Gardens reopened last month after having been restored to their historic splendor. The reconstruction work, which took almost two years to complete, has completely changed the face of the magnificent gardens. Peter meant for them to be regular gardens, and the restoration was intended to emphasize this concept.

Landscapers meticulously examined historical documents, prints and sketches to plant trees and bushes as conceived in the tsar’s original plan. Four fountains are now located on the gardens’ main alley, while three more are situated inside boskets, and one under a glass cupola. The ornate railings — one of the most popular postcard views of St. Petersburg — have also been fully renovated.

The Communist Legacy

Back in the Communist era, Soviet guides presented St. Petersburg to visitors as “the cradle of three revolutions.” Those uprisings are in the distant past, but their long-term consequences can still be felt. The city’s revolutionary legacy reveals itself in many different ways, from the city’s architecture to the Russian mentality. 

The city is home to the Museum of the Political History of Russia, where the social upheavals of the past 150 years are documented and displayed through engaging collections of propaganda art, spy paraphernalia and biographical material relating to prominent political figures.

One captivating museum allowing the visitor to plunge back into the era of the Red Terror is the apartment of Leningrad Communist Party head Sergei Kirov. It was his unsolved murder in 1936 that marked the beginning of Stalin’s purges.

These days a number of Soviet icons serve commercial purposes. One such icon is the Krasin icebreaker, which was built in the year of the revolution and led Arctic convoys during World War II.

Soviet culture is still very much alive. In an ironic twist, some of the businesses that spearheaded the return to capitalism — namely privately owned restaurants and bars such as Dachniki and USSR — exploit images from Communist times. Some adorn their walls with Soviet memorabilia to bring in the customers, and others even re-hash Soviet era dishes for their diners. Judging by the booming business some are enjoying, the service must be a lot faster than it was before 1991.

Palace Concerts

Russia’s former imperial capital is reviving classical concerts in its magnificent palaces and royal summer residences.  More and more often performers are leaving the conventional concert halls to move into more spectacular surroundings.

The luxurious mansions that once belonged to the nobility have gained a new lease of life through musicians and their audiences. A whole array of events, including the summer’s Palaces of St. Petersburg, Musical Olympus and Stars of the White Nights festivals, attract classical performers from around the world to make music in some of the most exquisite spaces in Europe. The new trend comes naturally to the city as it fuses its refined architectural landscape and classical music legacy.

Performers are not the only ones interested in such venues. Diplomatic missions, large corporations, flamboyant oligarchs and ministers in the Russian government rent out imperial summer residences and aristocratic mansions to impress and enthrall their guests.  

These concerts, festivities and balls help to revive Russia’s musical, cultural and historical traditions and bring people back to the reign of Peter the Great, when aristocrats employed their own chamber orchestras to perform in their family palaces. Today the palaces are open for modern entertainment — and not only during the celebrated white nights — when the sun hardly sets on St. Petersburg.

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