White Nights in Saint Petersburg
The Window to the West, the Venice of the North – formally Petergrad, then Leningrad, whatever it is called, within minutes, I fall for Saint Petersburg.
Saint Pete’s not St. Pete’s
We shed our luggage, hit the streets with friends Olga and Igor after a night’s rest on a train from Moscow.
Weaving through the Admiraltesky District to Saint Isaac’s Square graced by the ornate (and giant) statue of Nicholas I, the Neoclassical Mariinsky Palace, and the gold domed Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.
We climb the spiral stairs up to the gold dome, but due to my great aversion to heights, I misfire on 10-15 pictures, huddled behind the comforts of a fence-less veranda.
Through Alexander’s Garden, through the gate of the city, along the river on the backside of the Hermitage museum (Winter’s Palace), over to the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood.
A little history: the CSSBlood was built to commemorate (not celebrate) the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1883. If you follow the right railing in the picture above, you’ll see a little gold roof to the left of two arches on the building. This is the exact spot where Tsar Alexander was literally hit/exploded by a bomb thrown from a Cy-Young award-winning revolutionary.
Across from the CSSB, where all the China-made trinkets are hocked; an artist sells me on an original piece after I haggle him down – the only aside – I have to “make him famous”. So, here he is:
After a delicious meal at Baku, an Azerbaijani restaurant, we take a libation-filled midnight canal cruise, celebrating the White Nights, watching the sun resist the horizon.
Peterhof and More
Too bright, too early – we head outside the city to Peterhof; Peter the Great’s massive Summer Palace overlooking the Gulf of Finland. If this were MTV Cribs, it would take a week to shoot just the freaking gardens…
Back into the city, spending the rest of the day walking around. Interesting fellow, that Peter the Great – we tour Kunstkamera, a museum of oddities procured by Mr. The Great himself, filled with Siamese twin skeletons, and various birth-defects/abnormalities entombed forever in formaldehyde.
It’s a fascinating, macabre collection, and certainly not too gruesome for my fearless readers, but, I have omitted pictures in case someone is eating whilst reading. You’re welcome.
Like Amsterdam, or any European town, Saint Petersburg is a walking town; a place to discover little pockets of history –
Olga points to an apartment complex, and tells us this was the location of Raskolnikov’s apartment in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.
Igor takes us around the corner through a rough-looking park and points at the back of Moika Palace where Rasputin was purportedly poisoned, shot, beaten after surviving the first two, then wrapped in a rug, and thrown into the Neva river. Cause of death: Drowning. Bad Ace.
A beer store, then a lively dinner at a Georgian Restaurant, where we drink a vivid green concoction called Tarhun, which is most likely spiked with Georgian moonshine, ’cause I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, or what was eaten. It may have been the supplemental wine, or the vodka…
After a slight space-out, I regain my wits, and we are promptly denied access to Barokobama bar by a Jersey-Shore looking bouncer. Bastard.
We spend our last night sitting by the river among cheering revelers, watching the raising of the bridges connecting the islands. If you get stuck on the wrong side – hope you’re a good swimmer; because it’s the only way to get across while the bridges are up unless you have a catapult handy. Fortunately, we’re on the right side.
Saint Petersburg is an architectural spectacle, built upon swampland through Peter the Great’s vision, and his deep affinity for Italian, French, Spanish architects. The city is gorgeous; the canals exude a romantic calm; the people are great; it’s Euro; it’s Russian; it’s Eurussian…Russeuro, I want to go back.
Final Thoughts on Russia
I return from Russia satiated, yet wanting more.
People ask why I would ever go to Russia, and I explain that I went for my best friend’s wedding. But it was more than that; this was a ‘holy shit’ kind of trip. The full package: adventure, food, history; my preconceived perceptions of Russia were taken on a cultural joyride, mugged, then left in an abandoned Cold War parking lot, and never called again by Experience. – Mike
A special thank you to Paul, and especially Nastya/her family/friends for such a memorable trip. Olga, Igor/ your family – thank you for your hospitality – we’ll see you soon, hopefully before 2018 World Cup…