Kanonersky is an industrial hermit of an island — until 2009 its streets weren’t even named. Now, a new bridge will soar over the identikit five-storey apartment buildings in a wrought iron arc, linking the mainland to the city’s FIFA World Cup stadium on Vasilyevsky Island. Kanonersky is different from other islands; on one side it gives way to the aggressively industrial, crane-filled landscape of the Admiralty Shipyard and the heaps of concrete where the section of the arterial road still under construction lies. To the left, you can see a watery expanse up to the very horizon. When enormous liners set off from the Cruise Port, the sea disappears behind them for a few seconds, giving a surreal sense of having swallowed the world whole.
Climbing a St Petersburg rooftop is a must when visiting the city. It’s forbidden by law to build anything taller than the Peter and Paul Fortress in the centre of the city, so any rooftop guarantees a stunning panorama. Finding one, however, can often turn into a fully-fledged quest, complete with forays into stairwells and sweet-talking concierges and the residents of upper floors. The adventure is worth the effort, though. Solaris Lab, a sort of psychedelic-meets-cozy rooftop bar is definitely the place to view cupolas and canals and feed the seagulls.
In just one hour from almost anywhere in the city, you can find yourself in a futuristic world in the form of a semi-abandoned scientific observatory at Pulkovo Hills. The facades of the houses are decorated with ornaments of Zodiac signs. From time to time steel refractors and radio telescopes burst, disrupting the serene landscape and inspiring almost a sense of awe. On the grounds there are several Stalin-era residential houses, while Zhiguli cars are carelessly left nearby — the area seemingly caught in a web of nostalgia. A shimmering light pink underpass will lead you to the Observatory when you get off the bus at Pulkovo Highway. It’s the perfect place for watching the planes taking off at Pulkovo airport while enjoying the strange allure of the abandoned Soviet Observatory.
The Street Art Museum
A factory tower adorned with a black and white GO HOME banner rising above the industrial district in an eastern suburb of St Petersburg — this was the most photographed work of the latest Crossing borders/Crossing boundaries exhibition at the Street Art Museum. There you'll find giant faces of migrants from Mexico and the Middle East watching the cars leaving the city by Revolution Highway. Russia’s only museum of street art is open on the site of a laminated plastics factory that’s still in operation. The various buildings that make up these walls have been daubed by the hands of famous street artists Pasha 183 and Kirill Kto, among others. The territory of the museum is split into streets, each given unambiguous name such as Сivilization Dead End, with art objects of the same blunt style, like Swings of Russian Melancholy. Apart from the Present Perfect music festival that takes place every summer on its grounds, the Street Art Museum is the only thing that draws people to this neck of the woods in the outskirts of the city.
St Petersburg’s buildings are home to some of the finest entrance halls and staircases in Europe, serving as unofficial museums of the quotidian life of this bohemian city. With their haphazardly peeled away plastered walls, chipped stucco adornments, and forgotten graffiti tags and inscriptions, these spaces preserve the spirit of St Petersburg’s golden age. Locals, fed up with roof-hunters, often close the stairwells with entry codes, but some are still accessible to the public.
I'm Thankful For Today
This breezy cafe on the corner of Gorokhovaya Street and Griboedov Canal is a totally Instagrammable place from the interior to the people it welcomes. It’s not uncommon to find a local designer starting his day with a coffee, or a Nike club runner having her salad at the shared table in the centre of cafe’s small room. The best thing about this place is definitely its panoramic windows wide open to let some summer haze in for the crowd sitting inside.
Doves, schoolgirls, Chinese tourists and military men — these are the usual suspects wondering around the Lions Bridge. Tourists leaving the cheap Chinese buffet on the corner to perform a feeding ritual to the birds, girls going to school, men in khaki suits heading to the Special Forces Headquarters nearby — this is the routine seen by the alabaster eyes of the White Lions guarding the Griboedov Canal Street.
St Petersburg’s high-rise apartment buildings, so typical of the outer suburbs of Russian cities, are the legacy of the experimental housing projects of Soviet architects. Every era is on show here, but there is a feeling that the time has somehow come unstuck: a sports centre with late Soviet-era illustrations on its windows, neon-lit 1990s disco bars, and cafes with the exhausting décor of the early 2000s. Non-conformist artists used to gather in kitchens here during perestroika. Today, the “sleeping districts” have once again secured their position as a cornerstone for the cultural expression of a new generation of Russians, both in music and design. For a truly Russian experience, watch a popular Russian TV show over lunch, have a heart-to-heart with the waitress over vodka at a ryumochnaya (bar specialising in spirits and infusions), and visit a local, second-hand clothes store, before heading back to the centre on a marshrutka (a popular form of public transport resembling something between a bus and a taxi).
St Petersburg is sometimes compared to Barcelona because of its bohemian spirit and unique architecture. But there is another thing both cities have in common — the so-called “well” yards. If Barcelona’s geometric ensembles are to be contemplated mostly from the air, then St Petersburg is one of the best cities to explore by walking from one well to another through a chain of passages imagining the sky above, perfectly framed by the rooftops like paintings.
Mona Lisa Janitor Graffiti
St Petersburg’s intellectual spirit is in the DNA of everything, from high-brow museums to everyday routines. The biggest shopping centre in the city is even named The Gallery as if to cover up the materialistic sins of the locals. And so it comes as no surprise that the city’s most famous janitor graffitied onto the wall of a building is actually Mona Lisa, sweeping Zhukovskogo Street.
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