Hotels, hostels and B&Bs have been the norm for me in terms of accommodation.
However, I recently experienced an alternative. One that takes you into the community and closer to the local people.
It lets you into the back door of a city so to speak – literally and figuratively. It is with this experience that my story about St. Petersburg continues.
Through the courtyard and in the back door.
After my flight touched down (read Soft Landings in Russia) and I was collected by a man with a sign that I didn’t understand (what to do in that situation is tip #3 in Five New Tips for Solo Travel) I was taken to an oasis – yes an oasis – on Nevsky Prospekt, the very famous street in the magnificent city of St. Petersburg. Thanks to HouseTrip.com, I was given a holiday home rental near the heart of the city and a chance to experience it like a local. (These photos are mine. Click here to see the listing and more photos of the apartment I stayed in.)
I was met at the gated entrance to the courtyard by Maria who takes care of the apartment for the owner. Even though she does not speak English, she was quite accomplished at showing me how to use the key system, the appliances in the kitchen and tour me through every detail of the apartment. I left a down payment with her of 100 Euros which I received back when I checked out at noon three days later.
After settling in, I went out to explore the neighborhood with the objectives of getting Russian rubles and some food. Right across the street (on a side street off Nevsky Prospekt) was the Metro stop and a cash machine. Two blocks further was a 24-hour grocery store. And there was a fruit and vegetable stand along the way and a coffee shop on the corner – everything that I needed was at hand.
That afternoon, having spent most of the day traveling, I returned with my groceries and simply sat in the courtyard and watched the children playing hide-and-seek in the playground. So much was different. So much the same.
I didn’t spend any time on Nevsky Prospekt that day. I took it easy. After putting the groceries away, I sat on the window sill looking out over the courtyard that lay outside my back door. But the next morning I was up early for my city tour. A trolley bus, number 7, travels up and down Nevsky Prospect. I took it into the heart of the city, reaching the Hermitage in about 10 minutes.
The apartment and its location were perfect. I could not have asked for anything better. However, I must mention that if you are renting in a former Soviet country, don’t judge your accommodation until you actually enter the unit. The hallways are not maintained as we keep them at home.
Renting a holiday home is a relaxing form of accommodation, you have space to move around, it gives you the chance to eat your way (which was important to me as vegetarian food is a little more limited in Russia than other countries) and, of course, it lets you into the community through the back door.