History and music lover, amateur piano player, hotel founder. Tigran explains how his dream of time-travel is reflected in the hotels that he manages.
Tigran, tell us your story.
I was born in Armenia, but my parents moved here when I was five years old, after they fled the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the beginning, we lived in a “sleepy district” on the north side of St. Petersburg, but for last 10 years I have lived in the city center. For the last 8 years I have lived in the same flat. It is at the intersection of Sadovaya Street and Rimsky-Korsakov Prospect, directly opposite from Yusupov Gardens. Kolomna District is nearby, and for me this is the most authentic St. Petersburg. Some years ago, when I was less busy, I did tours there and showed “the city of Dostoyevsky.” We walked down streets described in Crime and Punishment and counted Raskolnikov’s steps from his attic-apartment to the house of the old lady he killed. We were immersed in the book, but there was always a stranger who would say to us: “What are you doing here? There is no old lady here!”
Where did you study and how did you get into the hotel business?
I studied in ITMO University [ITMO: Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics], but was expelled in my last year. I studied automation, but was more involved in student activities. We held an international movie festival for young filmmakers, and it was good PR for the school. So I had an agreement with our rector, that I would not continue my technical studies, but I would organize this important event. And it worked! But then, two months before graduation, I found I was unable to enter the university, the guard told me that my pass didn’t work. So this is how I discovered that I had been expelled. My friends and I, we finished of the festival and then pursued a variety of different businesses: tourism, online poker rooms, a taxi company, etc. Then I considered moving to France, as my relatives live there, and it would allow me a chance rest for a bit.
But then, seven years ago, I got an offer to work in the hospitality business. Our investors are family friends, and I get along well with them. They bought a property in St. Petersburg with the purpose of transforming it into a hotel... They give me total freedom and today we have two hotels and a hostel, and plan to open a hotel in Budapest this summer.
Our company (Epoque Projects) has this idea – to provide an opportunity to travel into the past. I love history and adore all historical parallels and rhymes. I see that our guests often don’t have enough knowledge about St. Petersburg, and have no idea that Russian civilization was once concentrated here. What is Russian culture? First of all, everything that happened in the nineteenth century. And what is the nineteenth century? It is St. Petersburg, because our country is so monocentric, all major events took place here. This is how Dostoyevsky’s tragedy was born. Being a prominent editor and writer, he could not move away from this city, which oppressed him greatly!
If I ask our guests from the U.S.: “What was your friend’s reaction, when you told them that you going to go to Russia?” Usually they say: “What? Oh no! Aren’t you afraid?” But when they come here, they see absolutely different images and realize that they are victims of propaganda. It is one of the reasons why the hostel was our first project, because it is very communicative space. I love Pink Floyd and I have visited three continents, following Roger Waters' last tour. That’s why here everything is dedicated to them, to the Beatles, and to music of 1960-70s.
Which places do you recommend to your guests?
Palace square is the coolest place. Although, I know, it is super touristy. If you stand in the middle of it, you can see all the main city attractions: St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Alexander Column.
You see the heart of the Russian Empire and can read the message which they [Russian emperors and their architects] send us. It’s fantastic and this is the most beautiful square I’ve seen in my whole life.
Also, nothing can compare with Nevsky Prospect, its atmosphere and scale. I often hear that tourists and locals try to avoid it, as it is crowded and noisy. But probably, since I deal with hotels, I try to see it as a newcomer. I try to imagine how a person sees it for the first time. Undoubtedly, the most beautiful part of Nevsky is between the Admiralty and the Fontanka River.
One of my favorite sights is the Museum of Political History of Russia – in the former mansion of ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya. We had our school graduation party there, although I didn’t realize what this building was at the time. It’s very cool – Matilda’s personality, her house, what Soviets did there in 1917, 70 years of the State Museum of October Revolution and its current status – it is a very emotional place. But of course every tourist must visit the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. We take them for granted, but they both are amazing collections. And if you would like to study St. Petersburg history, you should start from main landmarks.
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