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March 08, 2015, Russian Federation

Catching dinner in St Petersburg

Apart from castles, cathedrals and museums, travel agency boss Moe Ibrahim also enjoys the food and people-watching at cafes.

Lydia Vasko

Who: Moe Ibrahim, 40, the American-born Egyptian chief executive of Journeyful, a hotel booking website and travel agency

Favourite destination: St Petersburg, Russia

Why: St Petersburg is the cultural heart of Russia, with architectural gems such as the Winter Palace and the Kazan Cathedral.

You know you are in Russia because of the amazing castles and the local food, but it is also filled with French-inspired architecture, canals reminiscent of Amsterdam and the most amazing art, so you are in the heart of a cosmopolitan city.

I have been to St Petersburg only once, but it is certainly the first of many trips to come. I travelled with my two good friends and Journeyful co-founders, who joined me from New York City and Grand Rapids, Michigan. We combined work with pleasure as a big chunk of our company’s development team is based there.

Favourite hotel

I stayed at theWSt Petersburg (Voznesenskiy pr., 6, Saint Petersburg, Russia; tel: +7812-610-6161; www.wstpetersburg.ru). The location could not be better. It is only steps away from the Winter Palace and the famous Hermitage Museum (2 Palace Square, St Petersburg, Russia; tel: +7812-710-9079; www.hermitagemuseum.org). I could stroll by the museum several times a day.

The gorgeous Neva River is also a short walk away and there are many bars, restaurants and shops and an amazing park nearby. The rooftop bar at the W is also pretty happening, with some super friendly staff.

I would explore different parts of the city during my daily runs. The best running routes are along the river embankments and over the many bridges in the city.

Favourite place to eat

Just like Singaporeans, Russians love to eat. Food is a huge part of their culture. Every meal is a bit of a history lesson when you are with the locals and meals can last for hours.

My favourite restaurant is Russkaya Rybalka (11, Yuzhnaya Doroga, Krestovsky Ostrov; tel: +7812-323-9813; www.russian-fishing.ru/krestovskiy). It translates as Russian Fishing.

At this restaurant, which is located on a lake, you can catch your own fish. You can hang out by the lake and enjoy some Russian vodka while they cook your fish in whatever manner you like. You must try the sterlet – a prehistoric, ugly fish native to the rivers in Siberia. It tastes way better than it looks. A 2.2kg sterlet costs about $200.

But if fishing is not your thing, you can order from the menu. I recommend the smoked trout and herring in a fur coat, which is vegetable salad with herring. A meal in a high-end restaurant in St Petersburg typically costs about $100 a person, including copious amounts of vodka.

Favourite museum

The Hermitage Museum (www.hermitagemuseum.org/), of course. The sheer size of the building, which stretches for 1.6km, leaves you in awe. Then you step inside and it changes your world forever. There are more than three million pieces of art on display and it would take you more than a year to see them all.

My favourite piece, which I believe is also the most famous one in the museum, is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna Litta, which depicts the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. You may have to fight a big crowd just to catch a glimpse of it. The museum also has the most incredible collection of Rembrandts.

Favourite bookshop

Dom knigi (Nevsky Prospekt 28, St Petersburg, Russia; +7812-448-23-55), formerly known as Singer’s House, is the most famous bookstore there. There is a cafe on the second floor, with large windows that overlook the city’s busiest boulevard, Nevsky Prospect. Get a seat by the window and enjoy the view.

Best place to watch the sunset

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is exquisite (Griboyedov Canal Embankment, 2, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 191186; tel: +7812-315-1636; eng.cathedral.ru), with beautiful mosaics.

It is part of the museum complex of St Isaac’s Cathedral, also known as the museum of four cathedrals. Although I did not get a chance to go inside, I enjoyed marvelling at this architectural masterpiece.

As night begins to fall, the beauty of this building will continue to awe you. It is definitely the best place to be when the sun sets on St Petersburg.

Favourite way to pass the time

I would spend an afternoon strolling along Nevsky Prospect. It is 4km long and stretches from the Alexander Nevsky Monastery to the Admiralty near the Neva River.

People-watching from the boulevard’s cafes is exciting. This city is electric and Nevsky Prospect gives you a front row seat to the action.

Ideal length of stay

It is such a magnificent city with so much to explore that I would stay at least seven days.

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