St. Petersburg is a city whose character is beset with dichotomies. It is an astoundingly beautiful city but it is also, in places, ugly and dirty. It represents the cultural hub of Russia but it is also a city of sleaze and strip-bars. The city can also boast to be the spearhead of Russia's avant garde and liberalism. However, it is also a place where anyone dark-skinned can expect to be stopped by the police and extreme politics find popular support.
These traits of St. Petersburg's character, amongst many other things, serve to make it a continually fascinating and, for the most part, an enjoyable place to live.
The city is located in the North-West of Russia on the Gulf of Finland. It is, therefore, a relatively short distance from Finland, the Baltic States and Moscow.
St. Petersburg has a population of approximately 5 million people who are crammed into an area of 1400 square kilometres. The city is located on the delta of the Neva River whose tributaries split the city into a series of islands. Its many canals and bridges have earned St. Petersburg the rather pretentious title of 'The Venice of the North.' The city was also nicknamed 'The Northern Capital of Russia' in order to placate the proud St. Petersburgers following the switch of Russia's capital to Moscow in the 1920s.
In accordance with most peoples' pre-conceptions about Russia, St. Petersburg can get very cold. Indeed, the city is on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska; the Shetland Islands and the southern parts of Greenland. However, because of the city's proximity to the sea, its climate is milder than Moscow or Siberia, for example.
Winters are long, lasting from November to the end of March. Temperatures as low as -10C are usual whilst temperatures of -25C are certainly not unheard of. The winters are more than compensated for by the glorious summers, however. Temperatures are somewhere near 20-25C are common, and 30C temperatures are not unheard of. The peak of summer is marked by the truly magnificent 'White Nights,' a natural phenomenon that ensures that from mid-June to mid-July night never really falls on the city. During this time in the city, the difference in the city's character is palpable, with crowds of people gathering on the streets until the early hours.
Getting to St. Petersburg
You will most likely arrive in St. Petersburg at the city's international Airport, Pulkovo II, 17 km south of the centre. From here you will be met by a representative of Language Link and taken to your accommodation.
If you are arriving by train then your destination will depend on where you have come from. Trains from Moscow arrive at the aptly named Moscow Station. If you are coming from Western Europe you'll most likely arrive at Vitebsky Station.
Arrival in St. Petersburg
As mentioned before, you will be picked up from the airport/station. However, a few words of advice - unless you have a lot of luggage - it is best not to accept help from airport porters. The Language Link representative will be holding a sign with your name on and, if you have given us your wagon number, will meet you as you get off your train. Do not pay any attention to the overly keen local taxi drivers! You will be ripped off.
You will stay in a flat with up to four rooms, with kitchen, bathroom and toilet. It is very likely that you will share a flat with other teacher(s). Language Link pays all the bills with the exception of the telephone (calls are free to landlines within the city). You are advised to buy phone cards to call mobiles, abroad or use the internet from your flat.
The flats are not luxurious! However, they are livable and furnished with the basics. Bedding, cutlery and crockery are all supplied. They should be situated close to public transport and within a very reasonable distance of the school.
Try to get to know your neighbours, they are mostly very friendly and keen to help you with any problems you have. It goes without saying, treat them with respect - no loud music at night, slamming doors etc.
All calls made outside the city/country are charged including mobile phones! Inter-city calls are not very expensive but international calls are about 10p per minute to the UK using a phone card.
Access to the Internet is readily available throughout the city. There are countless Internet cafes in the city. If you have your own Laptop, bring it! Connection is not so expensive here as in the UK and free wi-fi is becoming popular in some cafes now. It is also quite easy to set up an internet connection in your flat. Please bear in mind that you are responsible for arranging and paying for this.
|Language Link Central School||315 60 60|
|Language Link Pushkin||451 71 13|
|Language Link Petergof||420 69 61|
Electricity is 220 volt/50hz. Plugs are of the two-pin variety (continental type) Bear this in mind if you are bringing laptops, hairdryers, etc. Service is good with only very rare power cuts. Light bulbs do not last very long, probably due to surges in power, so only buy a few at a time.
It is not a good idea for foreigners to drink water from the tap. It is taken from the Neva River drinking it can lead to stomach cramps. Washing in it or cleaning your teeth is perfectly safe.
Russians usually wash their clothes by hand. There is a good laundrette on Vasilevsky Island, Linia 11. You may be lucky enough to have a washing-machine in your flat, but do not expect this luxury.
Whilst St. Petersburg is not as vast as Moscow, its size still necessitates a mastery of the public transport system. This is not a problem as it is, in general, reliable and very cheap. The metro is the most commonly used means of public transport and is the most efficient. Some of its stations are also a treat for any lovers of Soviet kitsch. Trolleybuses, trams and minibus taxis are in plentiful supply. Registered taxis are rather expensive, far better to hail any passing car and request your stop. Prices vary but, as a guide, 10 minutes for 100 roubles is ok. It will be more expensive at night.
Food and Drink
St. Petersburg's plethora of places to eat and drink continues to grow, with new spots appearing at regular intervals. The range of cafes and restaurants encompasses cuisine from all over the globe. In addition to Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian and Georgian restaurants there are Mexican, Brazilian, Chinese, Japanese, French, Indian, Uzbek, Korean and many other restaurants.
Eating out is generally quite cheap but is becoming increasingly more expensive. A good meal and drinks can currently be had for $20. Some noteworthy restaurants and cafes are:
- Krokodil, Ul. Galernaya 18, metro Sennaya Ploschad. European food, quiet, laid-back atmosphere, 25 types of whisky!
- Subway, Nevsky Prospect, metro Nevsky Prospect. The good-old American sandwich a 5 minute walk from Central School.
- Shinok, Zagorodny Prospekt 13, metro Vladimirskaya. Ukrainian theme restaurant with folk dancing and singing. The salo (salted pig fat) washed down with a glass of peppered vodka is a must!
- Zoom, Gorokhovaya Ul, metro Nevsky Prospect or Sennaya Ploschad. Good variety of food at reasonable prices located very close to Central School.
- Idiot, Nab. Reki Moiki, 82, metro Nevskiy Prospekt. A vegetarian place, something of a rarity in St. Petersburg. Interesting decor which strives to create an atmosphere of 1920s kitsch.
- Antalya, Bolshaya Morskaya Ul. 24, metro Nevsky Prospect. Delicious Turkish food at reasonable prices.
- Olivia, Bolshaya Morskaya Ul. metro Nevsky Prospect. Large portions of Greek food, not badly priced, in a cosy environment often with live music.
St. Petersburg shops are well stocked. Food is quite cheap. There are 'produkti' shops on every corner that sell meat, fish, cheese and other groceries. There is an increasing number of Western-style supermarkets in St. Petersburg. There is a 24-hour supermarket ‘perekrestok’ at metro Sennaya Ploschad which is about a 10-minute walk from Central School. There is an increasing number of western-style shopping malls and hypermarkets around the city.
For clothes and electrical goods expect to pay the same as the west, sometimes more if they are imported goods. Any cut-price Versace items that you happen to buy are likely to be fake. Speaking of fake, Russia is the world's second largest market for counterfeit CDs, DVDs and computer software. Of course, we do not recommend that you buy anything that is in breach of copyright laws, even if CDs do cost around $4 each!
Souvenirs can be obtained from one of St. Petersburg's flea markets. There is one on Konyushennaya Square opposite the Church of the Spilled Blood. This is very popular amongst tourists. You can also get some souvenirs cheaper in Gostiny Dvor.
At school you are required to wear smart clothes, which means no ripped or old jeans, scuffed trainers etc. If you work in-company, teaching business English, then a shirt and tie for men is absolutely necessary.
In winter you will need a warm coat, scarf, hat and gloves. Bring a few warm sweaters, thick socks and sturdy boots. From May onwards, it’s warm so T-shirts and summer clothes are necessary.
Russians tend to 'dress up' for a night out, so some formal clothes could be a good idea.
For the most part, St. Petersburg is a healthy place to visit. Use your common sense when eating fresh fruit - wash it! Do not drink the tap water. There are chemists (pharmacies) everywhere, and they stock everything (and more) that you see in the West. If you require specialist medicines, it's best to stock up and bring them with you. You have medical services provided by Language Link.
Russian people are extremely hospitable, and you will almost certainly be invited to someone's house during your stay. It is customary to bring your hosts some flowers or chocolates. Be careful with the flowers - only an odd number of flowers will do. Even numbers are for funerals. The hospitality can be a little overwhelming - five or six course meals are quite useful (including many toasts to friendship with vodka!). Do not be put off by this though, it is an opportunity to glimpse real Russian life and sample first-hand their unique blend of food and drink!
Language Link in St. Petersburg
The aim of Language Link in St. Petersburg is to promote and expand English Language learning and commit ourselves to the furthering of English as a common language in Europe. We make our teaching programme responsive to individual educational needs and strive to give a professional, dedicated service.
We are situated in the centre of the city. Five minutes walk from Kazanskiy cathedral on Nevskiy Prospekt. The nearest metro station is Nevskiy Prospekt. The office and classrooms are spacious and comfortable with all amenities available.
The address is: Language Link, Ulitsa Kazanskaya 5, St. Petersburg
Tel: 315 60 60
The office is staffed from 09.00 am until 10.00 pm Monday-Friday, 10.00 am until 6.30 pm on Saturdays, and 10.00 am until 4.00 pm on Sundays. Changes are possible in the summer months where, typically, the centre is not open at the weekends.
The addresses of our schools in Petergof and Pushkin are as follows:
Petergof: Language Link, Staro-Peterburgskiy Prospekt, 60
Telephone: 420 69 61
Pushkin: Language Link, Magazeinaya Ulitsa, 1
Telephone: 451 71 13
About the school: Central School
Central School is the centre of administration for the schools in St Petersburg and the regions. It is here where monthly teacher training workshops take place in the Director of Studies (DOS)’s office. Central School hosts a wide selection of books and resources for use in the EFL classroom and the DOS is always at hand for additional help and support. Teachers based in Pushkin or Petergof are always welcome at Central School to use any of the resources or seek help from the DOS. There is a small teachers’ room here with a computer/printer, photocopier and cupboards with individual shelves for each teacher, including those working in the suburbs. There is also a guillotine, laminator and microwave available to use as well as a projector. The centre is also air-conditioned. The Russian administrative staff are on the whole quite friendly and willing to help with any problems if they can. Teachers can have individual Russian lessons at a good discounted rate.
About the school: Pushkin
The school in Pushkin has recently been redecorated and is located close to public transport to the city and also to the centre of Pushkin. It is also very near the palaces, which are the heart of this beautiful town. The commute to/from the city centre takes a little over an hour and is very pleasant. Every single teacher who has worked in Pushkin has only positive things to say about it. The students are really friendly, the Russian staff are amazing and will very quickly become your loved ones, the atmosphere here is much more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of the city, and it’s generally a fun place to work. There is a photocopier, and the CD players are fairly new. All the classrooms have a white board and teachers can feel free to display students’ work and/or posters on the walls in their classroom. There are some resources here but you may wish to occasionally visit Central School to make some copies from different books. Fortnightly pay days and monthly training sessions at Central School offer a good opportunity to take advantage of resources there. The DOS often visits Pushkin and is in regular contact with the teachers there too.
About the school: Petergof
The school in Petergof is located just off the main road in the town and very close to public transport. It’s also near the palace, which is the heart of this town, like Pushkin. The commute to/from the city centre takes from a little over an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the method of transport taken. Like in Pushkin, the Russian staff are amazing and will very quickly become your loved ones, the atmosphere here is also much more relaxed than in the city and the students are great too. The accommodation in Petergof is within walking distance of the school and the suburban train station, where you can take an electric train to the city. As with Pushkin, all classrooms have a white board and teachers can display what they wish on the walls. Petergof has the same situation as Pushkin as far as resources and DOS contact are concerned. There is a computer and printer in the administrator’s office, and internet too.
Language Link has a staff of 21 in the school at St. Petersburg and a further 4 in Pushkin and 5 in Petergof. These include both local and UK, US, Canadian and Australian nationals.
Language Link has office, teaching and library services. Each classroom is equipped with a cassette or CD player, whiteboard and, in the main building a television and video. All the schools have a water cooler with hot and cold water as well as tea and coffee facilities.
We have a library of teaching books, supplementary materials in the office.
English language courses and examinations
We offer courses to the general public. These run for 20 weeks, 6 academic hours a week. We also provide customised training for corporate clients, teacher training for Russian English teachers, courses in business English and courses in examination preparation (such as Cambridge First Certificate, Advanced and Proficiency levels, IELTS and TOEFL).
The school is open all year round with short holidays at Christmas and in May.
Things to do in St. Petersburg
Because the city has such huge cultural and historical significance it has a wide range of extremely interesting things to do. The roll-call of names that have helped shape the city's cultural and historical past is awesome. Lenin and Trotsky were revolutionaries here. Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Shostakovich wrote their compositions here, whilst St. Petersburg was also home to literary figures such as Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Pushkin.
I have compiled what are, in my view, the 10 most memorable/interesting of St. Petersburg's sights.
The Top 10 (in no particular order)
- St Isaac's cathedral. The view of the city from the vantage point half way up the main tower is incredible.
- The Winter Palace. The view from Palace Square as you come through the archway of the General Staff Building is one of the best in St. Petersburg. The Hermitage museum, contained within, is also a must.
- The Engineers Castle and Summer Garden. The building in which Tsar Paul was murdered only three weeks after it was supposed to guarantee his security. It is a marvellous sight. The nearby summer garden, is a fine place to take a stroll.
- Piskarov Cemetery. Opened in 1960, the cemetery is a solemn reminder of the suffering Leningraders experienced during the blockade of 1941-43.
- The Bronze Horseman statue. The statue of Peter the Great commissioned by Catherine II. A popular place for newly weds to have their photo taken. Also a great place to enjoy a beer and watch the bridges over the Neva come up during the White Nights season.
- The Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral. As old as the city itself, the fortress is the final resting place of the Romanov remains. A visit to the newly-restored cathedral is recommended. You should also check out the statue of Peter the Great by Shemiakin. It cuts quite a contrast to the more celebrated Bronze Horseman statue.
- Smolny Cathedral. Another fantastic example of St. Petersburg's baroque architecture.
- The Church of the Spilled Blood. A rather grotesque building built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. Nonetheless, one of the defining sights of the city.
- Kirov Square. St. Petersburg has a multitude of different architectural styles, from Baroque to Style Moderne. Just as interesting, if not as aesthetically pleasing, is the collection of buildings that make up the Narva district of the city. The first areas of St. Petersburg to be redeveloped after the revolution, there are some excellent examples of Soviet Constructivist style, including a school whose plan is in the shape of a hammer and sickle.
- The metro. Whilst not as extensive and elaborate as the Moscow metro, St. Petersburg's stations offer fine examples of the extravagant metro stations built in the 1950s. The red line (no.1) completed in 1955 offer the best examples.
Of course, culture-lovers are spoilt for choice in St. Petersburg. It is possible to take in a ballet or an opera at the Mariinsky Theatre, which can rightfully claim to be the best in Russia. Tickets are not expensive as you can avoid paying the 'foreigner price' by using a certificate issued by the school, which entitles you to pay the same as Russian people. St. Petersburg has a wide range of cinemas, theatres and museums.
Food and Drink
The bars and nightclubs in St. Petersburg are excellent. Among the teachers' favourites are:
- Havana, Moscovsky Prospekt 21, metro Technologichesky Institut. The club has three dancefloors playing Latino, house and Russian pop. It also has free popcorn.
- Griboedov, Voronezhskaya Ulitsa 2A, metro Ligovskiy Prospekt. Located in a bomb shelter, it mixes alternative live bands with techno.
- Che, Poltavskaya Ulitsa, metro Ploschad Vosstaniya. A place for St. Petersburg's fashion-conscious types. It boasts absinthe and quality cheesecake.
- Popugai, Fonarny Pereulok 1, metro Sennaya Ploschad. The city's one and only reggae bar. As you'd expect, its very laid-back and has a good choice of beer. The live act has to be heard to be believed.
- Cynic, Pereulok Antonenko, metro Sennaya Ploschad. Popular with students, live gigs with St. Petersburg's finest underground bands.
- Fish Fabrique, Pushkinskaya Ulitsa 10, Metro Ploschad Vosstaniya, A rough and ready place with live bands and table football.
Sport and Outdoor activities
Football and ice hockey are the most popular spectator sports in St. Petersburg. The city's team, Zenit, plays at the Petrovsky Stadium at Sportivnaya metro. SKA St. Petersburg, the city's ice hockey team play at the Yubileyniy Sports Palace, again at metro Sportivnaya.
There are a number of swimming pools in the city but you need to get a certificate from the doctor to prove that you are clean enough to use them. One place that is a little more relaxed is LDM on Ulitsa Professora Popova 47. Get there by bus #25 from Petrogradskaya metro.
St. Petersburg also offers the opportunity to go bowling, play billiards, horse riding or rock-climbing. Ice-skating is very popular with one of many rinks at Victory Park (Park Pobedy metro)
The Russian banya (Sauna) is something you will either love or hate. For many, the chance to relax in sweltering temperatures and be flagellated with birch twigs is an opportunity to good to be passed up. Russians swear by it for cleaning the pores.
Things to do outside of the city
Day trips to the Imperial Palaces of Petergof, Pushkin and Orienbaum (Lomonosov) are highly recommended. All of them demonstrate the matchless opulence of the Russian Imperial Court in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pushkin and nearby Pavlovsk host expansive parks which are very pleasant to wander around.
Novgorod, which claims to be Russia's oldest city, is a three-hour bus journey away and offers a fine example of Russian Byzantine-style churches.
The area around the Gulf of Finland has many potential spots to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax in the countryside.
N.B. Please be sure to place 'St. Petersburg' in the space allotted for 'Preferred Posting (first choice)'.