I have one more post of concert pictures, but first I thought it would be nice to change things up a bit with a post about the “Old Soviet Stuff” Volga car tour my husband and I took while we were in St. Petersburg this summer.
Jon’s stellar Volga car
I love looking for new and interesting things I can recommend to my readers and so one day I found myself skimming through a St. Petersburg travel guide, as I usually do, trying to find unique things I’ve not done. Right away, an ad for a Volga car tour grabbed my attention because frankly, who wouldn’t love to ride around the city in a super stellar old Soviet Volga! So I emailed Jon over at WowRussiaTours and asked him if my husband and I could have a tour before we left for Estonia.
First of all, I would like to preface the rest of this post by saying that St. Petersburg is quite a large city and covers a good area. It’s very difficult to see all there is to see when visiting. It took me almost an entire year and subsequent trips to St. Petersburg to discover the things Jon showed us on the tour (some of them entirely new to me) because when you live in city center, you don’t often venture outside unless absolutely necessary. I taught English at a couple of factories outside city center when I was living there in 2011 and I dreaded the long haul on the subway out to the end of the Red and Blue lines. Which is quite ridiculous because most of the things that fascinate me about Russia are exactly there – outside the city centers. That’s where you see real life places where the majority of people live. And most of the people who live outside city center only come into center if they have to.
So, that being said, if you really want to get to know St. Petersburg and it’s old Soviet side, this is a fantastic tour because Jon takes you quite a good distance and makes it a point to take you outside the center to where very interesting parts of the city can be seen. I highly recommend the tour, especially if you have limited time and want to see as much as you can. Also, Jon is quite the history buff and knows his Soviet history – he will give you really interesting pieces of information that you may not have known about, like the Khrushchyovkas – a vast part of the Russian landscape which you won’t see inside city center.
For myself personally, the best part of the tour was getting to ride around in the old car. It’s kind of a fun and romantic way to get around, considering the Volga was the car made for the Soviet nomenklatura. Being a lover of vintage Soviet cars (I really really want a Lada!), the Volga tour was perfect for me. We even got pulled over by the Russian police for document check (doesn’t get much more authentic than that!)
The tour begins with Jon picking you up and heading off to the Geological Institute to see the “The Industry of Socialism” map. There are lots of other interesting things to see at the Institute, especially for the geology buff. After the Geological Institute, we headed over to the Petrograd side of the city to see Krasnoye Znamya (The Red Banner Textile Factory). This building is super cool (see below) – it’s really a shame someone isn’t doing something with it. It could make a great hotel or artists’ loft space. I just cannot tell you how impressive it is the first time you see it – like this giant industrial beacon hiding over on Petrograd.
After that, we headed over near where I was staying my first two weeks in St. Petersburg (by Park Sosnovka), to the Robotics Institute – another impressive old Soviet building, surrounded by the typical block-style Soviet housing that I love so much (Khrushchyovkas). Jon mentioned how he loved the contrast there in architecture – the hip and, at the time, modern building for the Soviet elite contrasted by the crowded (and now often dilapidated) apartment buildings where the average Soviet citizen lived. You really really need to see this side of the Russian cities when you visit, or you can’t understand the contrast. I remember the first time I went to meet with my Russian tutor in 2011 – he lived around Komandantskiy Prospekt metro stop. It was so overwhelming for me, coming from city center with the old architecture (which isn’t very tall), only to be surrounded by rows and streets of these apartment buildings, which were cheaply made to accommodate as many people as possible. It’s like an entirely different world and it’s typical Russia – one of the things I love (not to mention it’s like eye candy to a photographer). No matter where you go in the former Soviet Union, you will see this integral part of life.
Our final stop was to Finlyandskiy Vokzal where, of course, you must see Lenin! What Soviet tour would not include a statue of Lenin? And there he stands, in front of an elaborate fountain garden by Finlyandskiy Railway station. We did not opt for this add-on with our tour, but there is an option to stop at a Stolovaya and get lunch, which I would recommend if you’ve never been to one. It’s like a Soviet style buffet – very authentic and cheap and offering up some good Russian eats. The perfect place to try your first meat cutlet and borsch with vitamin salad!
In case you can’t tell, I’m really fascinated by Soviet history – it’s one of the things that brought me to study in Russia in the first place. Jon’s tour was really interesting and he shared my enthusiasm for this part of Russian history as well. I highly recommend this, or any of his other tours, which can be found here. You really have to sit in that car and ride around to get the full Soviet experience…..
map of the Soviet Union, made of precious gems and stones – at the Geological Institute in St. Petersburg.
Sickle & hammer at the Geological Institute.
the old Red Banner factory
Red Banner Factory – on the Petrograd side
mural on the side of a building – a tribute to Soviet heroes
Khrushchyovka (old Khrushchev era Soviet apartment buildings).
The Robotics Institute
Kitty sitting in the window of one of the Khrushchyovka
Khrushchyovkas – I have a serious fascination with the apartment buildings. They just look so cool.
babushka’s having girl talk
graffiti by the Robotics Institute.
an old tram on the way to Finlyandskiy Vokzal.
a woman staring at Lenin’s statue in front of Finlyandskiy Vokzal.
Jon’s Volga car in front of the Khrushchyovka