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The pink-facia'd building on the odd-numbered side of the street is the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel. The sign over the building leaves no scope for error.
The building of the present hotel was previously occupied by the Hotel Moskva in soviet times. On the ground floor of the Moskva Hotel was a cafe which achieved legendary status with refusenik youth culture – officially called “The Cockerel”, but known to all as “Cafe Saigon”.
As with all the best rock-music legends, no-one can actually remember why it was called Cafe Saigon. One rather laboured explanation runs that a cop called into the cafe, and saw two girls smoking at the bar – despite the No Smoking rule there. “What are you doing smoking here? This is disgraceful! Saigon must be behind it!”. The Vietnam War was raging at the time, and Saigon didn't have a great reputation. But then the cafe didn't have a good reputation either.
But Cafe Saigon's reputation got extensively worse in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a place where you might find draft-dodging alternative poets and authors, fans of illicit rock music, hippies, and any number of non-conformist artists. Many of them went on to become famous personalities in collapsing years of the USSR, in the late 1980s.
You couldn't write a history of modern St.Petersburg or the celebrities it has produced without mentioning Cafe Saigon. It was a symbol of non-conformist protest – but it was latent protest, and there was no active politics there. Mostly it provided a place for things that weren't approved – drinking coffee and cheap wine, reading unpublished poetry, swapping unofficial or 'samizdat' literature, or maybe a whisper about politics. There were art-shows and unlicensed concerts. Mainly it was a place to see, and be seen. Initially there were tables, but they got taken away, and you could sit down – often on the windowsill.
As you can easily imagine, there were probably KGB infiltrators among the Cafe Saigon crowd. People even said the KGB had a special department dedicated only to the problem of the Cafe – or that there were microphones installed behind the mirrored walls. In fact, people said the whole reason Cafe Saigon wasn't closed-down, but merely cleaned-up – it was easier to control refuseniks if they obediently gathered in just one place without having to force them to do it.
These days the Cafe Saigon is long gone. The former regulars have gone in different directions – some grew up, some grew old, one won a Nobel Prize, quite a few hit the bottle and shuffled off early to the next world. Not even the atmosphere remains. However, the Bar of the Radisson SAS Hotel has a plaque on the wall to remind people of Saigon's previous existence here.
A cafe named “Saigon” has opened on another location on Nevsky, but they're only cashing-in on the name – it's not the same place, has no connections, and is a dull commercial eatery only.
St. Petersburg is known as Russian cultural capital. It is also called “Northern Palmira” or “Northern Venice” as it was founded on islands in the delta of the Neva River and has a lot of architectural masterpieces.
Nevsky Prospect is the main avenue and one of the best-known streets in Russia. It is a real treasury of Russian culture. The street was planned by Peter the Great as beginning of the road to Novgorod and Moscow. It goes through the historical center of the city, firstly - from the Admiralty to the Moscow Railway Station and then, after making a turn at Vosstaniya Square, to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
Life on Nevsky Prospect has always been the object of attention of writers. For example, it was described by Nikolai Gogol in his story "Nevsky Prospect". Fyodor Dostoevsky often employed the Prospect as a setting within his works, such as Crime and Punishment and The Double: A Petersburg Poem.
It is best to start your walk from famous Palace Square where you can visit one of the most prominent world museums – the Hermitage. In the center of the square you will see the Alexander Column, a very popular among tourists place. With Your Audio Guide you will listen to the history of the square and all its attractions (The New Hermitage, The Winter Palace, the Alexander Column and The General Staff Building).
During the tour you will walk through the Alexander Gardens, past the Admiralty, see a lot of historical houses – real architectural “pearls” - Wawelberg's Mansion Apartments, The Sivers-Treiberg House, The Chaplin Brothers House, Chicherin's House, etc. The chief sights of the Prospect include palaces, churches and cathedrals, shopping centers and department stores. Among palaces are the Rastrelliesque Stroganov Palace, the Anichkov Palace, The Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, Grand-Princess Yusopova's Residence and the Mikhailovsky, or Michael Palace.
Nevsky Prospect deserves the name "the street of religious tolerance". Religious buildings are presented by the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the picturesque Russian-style Cathedral of Our Savior on Spilt Blood – a place where terrorists exploded the Emperor Alexander II, the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St.Catherine's Cathedral - the oldest Catholic Church in Russia, and The Armenian Church.
Nevsky Prospect is also the city’s central shopping street and the hub of the city’s entertainment and nightlife. For that You can visit the Art Nouveau Bookhouse,Elisseeff Emporium, half a dozen 18th-century churches, , an enormous 18th-century shopping mall “Gostinny Dvor”, a mid-19th-century department store “The Passage” and The Alexandrinsky Theatre, in the yard of which a monument to Catherine the Great is standing.
Your audio guide is glad to present you a wide audio tour of the Nevsky Prospeсt with map and descriptions. With this map, you will never get lost and you will always know what surprise awaits you ahead.