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Published: October 5th 2007
St Petersburg is busy. Very busy. Nevsky Prospect, the main road, is like London's Oxford Circus, just bigger and faster. There are building works everywhere, cars, people, all busily running from A to B. Then there's the magnificence of the city: awesome buildings, churches, galleries, monuments, theatres, parks. It's breath-takingly beautiful, but it's easy to get overwhelmed, overawed, overrun.
But it's easy to escape the hustle & bustle of Nevinsky Prospect and drift into the side streets. I am more interested in everyday Russian life - the old Babushkas selling produce from their gardens on the street; the fishermen throwing lines into the Ekaterininsky Canal; the woman with the large mop-like hat who walks around St Isaac's Square talking to herself; the sullen men drinking beer from bottles at the side of the canal; the newlyweds opening champagne by the river. I watch the many policemen in their striking green and black uniforms and wonder about the legless soldiers who beg on the metro and on the street. I am intrigued by the many different faces I see in the street, the snippets of conversation I hear. Why is the blonde woman in Kamenny Ostrov park crying? Are the autumn
leaves the same here as in England, in Poland, in Germany? Does the wind feel the same, do the clouds move in the same way? Did Dostoevsky contemplate similar questions as he imagined Raskonlnikov's steps over a hundred years ago?
I had a long conversation with Svetlana this morning about the reality of living in Russia. Even though St Petersburg looks like most big European cities, with similar shops and so on - the average salary can be as low as 200 Euro a month, and prices are high here for most things. The single metro fare of 14 rubel (about 35 p) may seem cheap to me, but for many Russians it isn't. The situation in Belarus is even worse. Despite my ignorance about Belarus, my relatively short encounter with the country and its people has left me deeply intrigued.
I spent yesterday morning at the Dostoevsky museum - there is an exhibition, and they have preserved his old flat beautifully, with most of the original objects and artefacts still in the rooms. I later walked a trail through the city, along the canal, over bridges, and past the big old houses in which he imagined the
characters from 'Crime and Punishment' to live. In front of 'Raskolnikov's house' is a big monument. It was a beautiful golden autumn day, and the walk was very evocative, in particular as the sun started to set.
This afternoon, after I couldn't take much more magnificence, I visited the central park in Krestovsky Ostrov, in the city's North-West. It's a beautiful wooded park with lots of little lakes, and it was wonderful to be able to breathe again after all of St Petersburg's fastness. I discovered a big Greek Temple-type building, with columns, which had statues of a lot of Greek Gods and Goddesses in alcoves all around it. Some of those statues I had previously been admiring in the Hermitage, but I preferred the natural setting so much more.
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