Our lack of posts over the last few days is simply a sign that we have been very busy since arriving in St Petersburg. Whilst on the train we had much more time available to devote to writing than we have had over the last three days. It feels as though we haven’t stopped in a whirlwind of activity since our arrival.
Our train from Moscow left just before 1 am and it arrived here on time at 9 am. It was a very short night indeed. This train was a privately run one and the nicest train that we have had in Russia. In fact, each train has become more comfortable as we have travelled west. On this train, we even had breakfast brought to our cabin. It’s just as well that this was our last train, otherwise we might lose our humility and expect that level of service all the time.
It was with a mixture of sadness and relief that our 10,100 kilometre train journey had concluded. However it is exciting to be in this beautiful city of St. Petersburg. It has some beautiful museums and churches and every street is a delight to our eyes. Every streetscape presents another row of beautiful classically styled buildings in colours of pale blue, lemon, green, fawn and occassionally tangerine. Windows are typically trimmed in white. This whole city could easily be mistaken for a giant wedding cake.
The city is built on the delta of the Neva River, so therefore it is criss-crossed with canals. These give rise to its title of ‘Venice of the North’. In many ways, it is reminiscent of Paris. It is much more spectacular than Moscow for one very simple reason. When the Tsars lived in Moscow, the country was closed to foreigners and there was no need to impress anyone. The country opened up after the royal family relocated here in the 17th century and then there was a need to show off their wealth and keep up with the royals of other nations. There are 19 palaces in the area around the city and to say that they are opulent would be an understatement.
We visited Peter the Great’s palace at Peterhoff, 29 kms from the city. Decorated in the baroque style, it is gilded and ornate. It has a beautiful park-like garden with fountains and waterfalls. It was here that we declared our trip to be over as the palace fronts on to the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. This put us right on the other side of the country to our starting point on Golden Horn Bay at Vladivostok.
We also closed off another historical loop in our journey with a visit to St Peter & Paul Cathedral at the fortress of the same name where all the Tsars since Peter the Great are buried. In a chapel in a corner of this church that risks being overrun by tourists, are the tombs of the last of the Romanov family – Tsar Nicholas II, Catherine & family. We saw their place of execution in Ekaterinburg but it took many more years, compared to our few days of travel, for their remains to reach here. They are now revered as martyrs.
One of the highlights of any trip to St Petersburg is a visit to the Hermitage Museum in the old winter palace. We spent a few hours there on our first day in town. It may appear awfully decadent, but this is the second time that I have visited this place in the last year. (Jill & I were here 13 months ago whilst on a cruise around the Baltic Sea). The crowds were just as big and the paintings just as impressive. There were two major differences on this occasion. One was the cocophany of sound coming from Palace Square where the technicians were testing the sound sytem for the Rolling Stones concert that was to be held that night. The other was that our guide was much much more flexible than our previous one. On the tour that I did with Jill, our guide, whose name was Nina was very officious, although very knowedgable. She even told people in the bus to stop napping! This time our guide, Euzhena, was much more at home with our sense of humour and eccentricities. I did look out for ‘No Napping Nina’ whixt in the Hermitage, but could not see here anywhere.
Other sites we have visited have included the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood which is modelled on St Basils Cathedral in Moscow. We have climbed the dome of St Isaac’s which is now another church closed in Stalin’s times.
Even out of the way sights here are fascinating. We came across the army museum of artillery, for example, which has more obsolete guns, mortars and missile launchers on disply than the Australian military has ever owned! A boat cruise around the canals gave us a taste of historic buildings and bridges. We even found a monument to Pavlov who did his research on classical conditioning at the university here.
Otherwise, we have enjoyed good weather, a walk along Netsky Prospect (or Avenue), the main street in the city. The food has been been fine and we have enjoyed the cosmopolitan falvour of the city around us. This is certainly one of the world’s places that one must see before they die.
Our dinner tonight is the last meal together for our little tour group of five. Tony, from Brisbane, continues on to Cardiff by train after originally starting with a train from Saigon. Margaret and Pat, the two Kiwis in our group fly on to Copenhagen to pick up a cruise around the Baltic Sea, whilst David and I Fly on to Riga, then back home after a few days in Germany.