03.08.2018 30 °C
The final leg of the trans-siberian, a bullet train from Moscow to St Petersburg. The famous city built by Peter the Great at the beginning of the 1700's from a reclaimed swamp. He sort to engage Russia in what he saw as the fashionable European manner so St Peters-burg was modelled on cities like Amsterdam with its wide canals and on the cities like Paris with its very distinct style and decoration. In establishing St Petersburg he moved the capital from Moscow and tried to distance himself from the more parochial elements of Russian culture. Every where you look St Petersburg is a confident, expansive city with generous parks and gardens and wide streets and malls, all overflowing with amazing 18th century architecture and design, much of it very flamboyant.
We hit St Petersburg in the midst of this heatwave that Northern Europe is experiencing and struggled to cope with it especially in the unair-conditioned hotel unit we had booked, so much so that after two of our 5 nights there John went off in pursuit of a hotel with air-con. I don't know of too many travellers who can claim to have two different address simultaneously while in St Petersburg!!! BUT he was happy!
1. The Hermitage
Not that spectacular from the outside but this is the winter palace where, first Peter the Great and particularly Catherine the Great (bit of a theme!) displayed their highly-refined sensibilities. The palace itself is beyond belief, you stand in awe, torn between the amazing excesses of the opulent extravagances, and craftsmanship of the designers and artisans leaving literally no expense spared and the tragedy of the brutally harsh lives of the peasants . The Hermitage is also famously home to one of the most amazing collections of art held collectively anywhere in the world. At any one time only a small percentage can be on display and there is more than enough to easily take three days of hard slog to absorb. Much of the art work we managed to see was truly breathtaking. There were so many other treasures mixed in amongst a confusing arrangement of rooms that everywhere you went there were tourists wandering through this iconic gallery with their attention held closely to their map, as it was so easy to become disorientated.
2 Defence of Leningrad
The last Sunday of July is a special celebration in St Petersburg, it is called Navy Day and it celebrates the liberation of the then Leningrad from the almost 900 days of block-aid by the German Army. The Peter and Paul fort, one of Peter the Great's first building projects in 1700 was closed to the public for all the dignitaries to attend, there was heavy air presence and an impressive fly past of Russian aircraft. It was an amazing sunny day and crowds of people were out celebrating, many wearing symbolic recognition of the day; sailor hats, collars, horizontally stripped shirts and carrying the Russian flag or, strangely the St Andrew's flag ( there was historically a Robert the Bruce, grandson maybe, who fought with great distinction alongside the Russian navy in the 1700's) there was a real festive air out on the streets.
We hunted out a little museum which housed memorabilia from the period of the block aid and information about the naval struggle. Everything was in Russian but a young guy was very happy to translate the reminiscences of an older gentleman who wanted to explain every detail that was on display, he also shared a little of the experience of his parents and grandparents during the siege. He was a beautiful old gentleman and his young friend was equally passionate to share the history.
That evening we ate out at an Irish Pub, food not so good but we met a young couple, Natalia and Mischa, who were so keen to talk with us and tell us all about St Petersburg and to find out about what we thought about their hometown and what things were like in Australia. People in Russia are very interested to meet Australians, I don't think they come across too many in their daily lives. We talked on for ages and had a lovely time.
That evening we watched the fireworks from our hotel window.