Minggu, 11 September 2011

Petrozavodsk - a guide

Petrozavodsk is one of my favourite places in Russia. It was the first Russian city I lived in and I loved it so much I have returned twice! Many people (Russians included) see Petrozavodsk as a standard Russian city with not much going on but I disagree. As the capital of Karelia, Petrozavodsk has an interesting mix of Russian and Finnish history, something which the city reflects now. More people should go and explore Petrozavodsk so for those in Russia, those planning a Russian adventure or first years at Birmingham University who are terrified of their compulsory trip (- don't be, it'll be great!) here is my guide to all things Petro.

When to go.
The best time to go to Petrozavodsk to get the most out of all it has to offer is during the warm summer; July in particular is a great month to go as you can experience the white nights and День Города (den goroda) - city day, when the whole city celebrates its founding.
However, if you're an ice and snow lover and want to experience a real Russian winter then head to Petro during the winter months when the temperature drops to -30ºC.

What to do - for free.

Lake Onego

One of the biggest lakes in Europe, at first glance Lake Onego looks like the sea. Walking along the banks of the river you can see different sculptures which were given by twin cities of Petrozavodsk. One of the best times to walk along the lake is in the evening during the summer when the atmosphere becomes festival like with people drinking beer together, playing guitar and enjoying the long summer evenings. In the cold winters the lake looks pretty cool frozen over but after standing next to it for a few minutes your face will start to look like this...


Note - Anabelle is wearing clothes under that towel.
Piski is Lake Onego's beach in the summer; the place to be to get a tan, have a cooling swim and build sandcastles. Remember to take your buckets and spades or you'll have to resort to using your hands like me and your sandcastles will end up looking rather breast like.

Cathedral of Aleksandr Nevskii

If you've been to a Russian cathedral before you'll know how beautifully they are decorated. This cathedral is no exception and it's a lovely quick excursion. Remember to dress appropriately - shoulders and knees covered. Girls have to cover their heads but scarves are provided at the entrance.

Stroll around the city

There are many памятники (pamyatniki) - monuments around the town which make a good walking route.
See if you can find Lenin...

Marx and Engels...

and Peter the Great

What to do - on a budget.

Petrozavodsk History Museum
The local museum on the history of the city is a great way to see how and why the mix of Russian and Finnish influences has shaped Petrozavodsk. If I remember correctly the information is in both Russian and English so there should be no problems with understanding. Also, make sure you give the lover (or presumably, lower) floor a visit.

Sexy history
 The theatre

As well as the main theatre (pictured) on Kirov Square, Petrozavodsk has a Finnish theatre and a music hall. It won't be difficult to find something interesting to watch. There are regular performances of Kantele and traditional dance and Petro has many theatre and music groups who are usually performing.

What to do - when you have money.

Kivach waterfall

I've only involved this in the more expensive section because of the cost involved in travelling there. Kivach is quite far out of the city centre so unless you have someone to drive you there you will have to get there by bus or coach. To visit the waterfall is actually free and is well worth doing, its one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. Spectacular in the summer and mystical when frozen in the winter. It’s just gorgeous. Also, on the drive there you'll drive past one of the president's summer houses and notice that the road suddenly gets a lot smoother...


Definitely the most expensive thing to do in Petrozavodsk - it costs around £50 for the boat and a tour of the island. If you have the money though, it's well worth doing. The wooden buildings are amazing, especially the two churches. The guides give an interesting insight into the history of the island and in the churches the priests will sing prayers to visitors. Remember to charge your camera the night before you go. I've been twice now and still only have pictures of the first half of the island!

Where to eat - on a budget.


The cafe named after the aforementioned waterfall is my favourite cafe in Petrozavodsk - I drove Anabelle insane by insisting we go there almost everyday. The food is reasonably priced and ranges from Russian soups to pizzas and fajitas (have the fajitas - they're the best). Kivach also has free wifi meaning you can normally spot a foreigner in there on skype.

Chaynaya Lozhka

Translated as 'teaspoon' this cafe is blini (pancake) heaven with loads of toppings to choose from. Nice and cheap but be warned; the portions are quite small, so get 2!

Mak Dak

Petrozavodsk's answer to Macdonalds; where the menu is exactly the same but with subtle differences in meal names... and quality. Be sure to try the 'Funny Meal' - their version of a happy meal. Unfortunately when transliterated into Russian the 'u' in 'funny' becomes an 'a' leading to a LOT of laughter among immature foreigners. Can't think why...

Where to eat - when you have money.


Inspired by Parisian cafes, Parizhanka serves a variety of dishes including sandwiches, pasta, pizza and sushi. Although not a connoisseur of Parisian cafes, I don't really see the resemblance... apart from the overpriced food! However I do love the very Russian attempt at a French cafe and I do LOVE sushi. So if like me you are addicted to sushi then head here.

Where to stay.

Every time I have been to Petrozavodsk I have stayed with my Russian family Lyudmila and Olya who I was set up with by the university when I first studied there. For tourists there are a number of hotels including Hotel Severnaya in the centre of the city and Onego Palace near the lake.

Where to party!

Cafe FM

A fun bar in the centre of the town with food, cheap beer and a dance floor just about big enough. The best night to go is called Petro FM where there is a live singer who sings old school hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Maybe give the 'RnB' night a miss though - there's no DJ, just a playlist of songs that could loosely be described as 'RnB'.


If RnB and Hip Hop's your thing then head to Club Barcelona on a saturday night. 2 dance floors + cheap vodka and coke = dancing the night away.

If you're not a dancing queen and prefer to have a quieter drink then you are dull. Joking! (... kind of) But there are loads of nice bars around and most restaurants and cafes are open until late so head to them for a quiet drink.

Studying Russian in Petrozavodsk

If you'd like to get a real feel of Russian life then stay in Petrozavodsk for longer! The state university has a special department for foreigners to study Russian in Russia. There are courses suitable for absolute beginners who don't know the alphabet or a word of Russian and also advanced courses for those already studying Russian. The department will advise you on life in Petrozavodsk throughout your course and really are excellent at improving your Russian. If you're interested in Russia I'd really recommend starting any trip with a one month Russian course in Petrozavodsk in order to get the most out of Russia. To find out more about their courses visit their website.

Petrozavodsk is the underappreciated capital of Karelia and I hope this post has made you want to visit! It's a great city full of lovely, hospitable people. Go there and say hi from me!

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