"T here is nothing finer than Nevsky Prospekt, for in St Petersburg it is everything," wrote Nikolai Gogol, the 19th-century writer and St Petersburg resident. Today, his words still ring true. Quite simply, Nevsky Prospect, or Neva Avenue, is the centre of Russia's second largest city. The thoroughfare showcases St Petersburg's finest, from shopping and nightlife to significant buildings and the bridges that cross the numerous canals that were part of Peter the Great's plan to create a Venice of the North. Walking along the Nevsky, from Admiralty Station near the Hermitage Museum to Moscow Railway Station offers a journey through history. Significant sights include the baroque Stroganov Palace, the neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the art nouveau Dom Knigi bookshop, numerous 18th-century churches, a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian National Library and the Anichkov Bridge with its charming horse statues. 1. STEP INTO ONE OF THE WORLD'S TOP ART MUSEUMS Regardless of your budget, this is where you should start. Though not technically on the Nevsky, the State Hermitage Museum is just off the street's eastern end. One of the largest and oldest art galleries in the world, the Hermitage displays its vast collections in six buildings, the main one being the Winter Palace, which used to be the official residence of the Russian Tsars. The collection of Western art includes work by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. Russian imperial regalia on display includes an assortment of Fabergé jewel48 BLUE WINGS JUNEAUGUST 2007 lery and the largest existing collection of ancient gold from Eastern Europe and Western Asia. You could spend days viewing the Hermitage's collection, which totals more than three million works; only five to ten per cent are on display at a time. Save precious time by booking tickets online at www.hermitagemuseum.org. This allows you to skip the lengthy queues that form, especially during the summer months. 2. PRICEY TO INEXPENSIVE SLEEPS If money is no obstacle, the best places to splash out in St Petersburg are its five-star luxury hotels. Massive crystal chandeliers welcome guests to the Grand Hotel Europe (Mikhailovskaya ul 1/7, www.grandhoteleurope.com), which is made up of three lavish buildings that were united in the 1830s. With suites running in the 500 to 3,000 per night range, the Grand lives up to its name both with its sumptuous luxury (numerous high-quality restaurants and boutiques) and its colourful history. Famous guests include Tchaikovsky, who reportedly spent his honeymoon at the hotel and George Bernard Shaw, who dined here with Gorky. Former American president Bill Clinton and musician Elton John are among other illustrious guests. Whether you are a hotel guest or not, anyone can pop into the Lobby Bar. Open 24 hours a day, this is a great place for a cocktail or shampanskaya, Russian sparkling wine that is best enjoyed brut. For a less expensive option you will have to pay for a central location in St Petersburg there are many affordable hotels such as Oktyabrskaya Hotel (www.oktober-hotel.spb.ru) at 102 Nevsky Prospekt, kiddie corner to the Moscow Station. With close to 500 rooms housed in two separate buildings, the hotel takes its name from the October Revolution of 1917. The TOP LEFT: The fancy Hermitage Restaurant offers an elegant milieu and an extensive menu. TOP RIGHT: Propaganda's salmon pelmenis (Russianstyle ravioli) make for a tasty appetiser.
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