St Petersburg goes back to the future
As dinner at Palkin demonstrates, St Petersburg had been doing fusion centuries before it became hip in other parts of the world, thanks largely to the city's love affair with Western Europe. However, culinary mix-and-match came back to the city in the late 1990s, often to poor effect (think sub-par sushi mixed with bland Italian). But then there are the exceptions to the rule. Enter Terrassa. Its globe-trotting menu dips into Asia, Europe and Russia effortlessly, finding the culinary middle ground between Chinese dim sum and Russian dumplings, gooey Georgian cheese breads and caviar-and-smoked-salmon topped pizzas. And it is all served up in an understated dining room of blond wood and creams, putting the focus on the expansive views of the Kazan Cathedral.
Old art museums
There is no better way to get a perspective on czarist Russia than to enter the former Winter Palace, now one of several buildings comprising the State Hermitage Museum, one of the largest museums in the world. The interiors alone, with their hand laid marquetry floors, priceless crystal chandeliers and frescoed ceilings, would be enough to qualify the building as a museum. But add to that the three-million piece collection, including the world's largest of paintings, and you have an art-powerhouse that would take weeks to fully explore. Allow yourself a day to just get lost in the interiors, from the glowing malachite pillars to gold-trimmed marble-staircases, before looking at the items they contain - from da Vinci to Kandinsky paintings, Scythian gold animal sculptures to 18th-century Volga headdresses. It is the embodiment of cultural excess.
New art museum
With the mammoth Hermitage dominating the city's cultural landscape, it would be easy to overlook what St Petersburg has long lacked, a space to highlight contemporary Russian art. But last year the city got not one, but two new spaces, the Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art, and the Novy Muzei (New Museum). Erarta occupies a Soviet-era building on a still-gentrifying stretch of prime post-industrial real estate on the tony Vasilyevsky Island. The more than 2,000 works aim to move beyond Moscow's dominance of the art scene to exhibit pieces made throughout Russia.
A 20-minute walk away sits Novy Muzei, the New Museum. Set in a restored 19th-century building, this smaller museum focuses on late 20th-century, non-conformist (i.e. non-Soviet-sanctioned) pieces. Nearby students toil at the legendary St Petersburg Academy of Arts. Grab a lunchtime plate of pelmeni (boiled dumplings filled with minced pork) at one of the surrounding cafes and yo will mix with students whose work could soon hang in the galleries you have just explored.