Travel: From Russia With Love

While most cities that endured the yoke of communist rule have a grey, concrete assembly line feel to them, St Petersburg is astonishingly opulent, writes Emer Sugrue

As the capital city and home to the Tsars for over 200 years, there are thousands of churches, palaces, museums and theatres that you could spend the rest of your life happily wandering around in St Petersburg.

My first stop was the Hermitage. It’s not only the oldest museum and largest art collection in the world but houses several government offices. Apparently, it would take ten years (visiting every day for eight hours) to see the whole area and although I spend a paltry one day there, the beautifully decorated rococo rooms dripping with famous art exotic artefacts was overwhelming. You couldn’t even sit down for fear of forever destroying a precious 500-year-old throne with your commoner arse print.

Just outside the centre is another batch of palaces, the most impressive of which is the Catherine Palace. It is luxurious to the point of ridiculousness. One particularly pointless room is the Amber Room, which is entirely covered with amber. The walls are made with a mosaic of different shades creating patterns and pictures. It’s hard to imagine living in such a house as Catherine the Great did. Would it stop being impressive? Did she even know that coating a room with precious stones wasn’t normal?

I found it a little depressing after a while, trudging through room after room of gold, silver, jade and every other stupidly expensive thing you could imagine – think of all the people who probably starved to death whilst the monarchy put this together. It was even more depressing getting back to my non-amber coated hotel room that evening, pining for shiny orange walls.

My final stop was the Imperial Russian Ballet, known today as the Kirov Ballet. It is one of the best ballet companies in the world and internationally famous. The theatre is modelled after the Milan Opera house and is every bit as stunning. I would consider myself a bit of a ballet fan in that I like the music and enjoy the dancing for about ten minutes, before spending the rest of the show examining the contents of the male dancers’ tights. Let’s just say, all in all, I was very impressed with St Petersburg.