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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 59.939, 30.3158
We last left off while we were waiting for our overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It was a grueling afternoon, with no rooms to cool off in or to get cleaned up in after our long, hot day. Upon our arrival at the train station, the entire platform on the very long train was completely dark. We were grateful to have a guide with us. We made our way to car #5, scheduled to depart at 23:55. After some angst, the lights came on and we were able to board. It was so late and we were so tired it was straight to bed. It took very little adjusting before we let the rocking of the train put us to sleep.
Morning came, and brought us an in-compartment breakfast of salad (shredded cabbage, mushrooms, strips of roast beef, and mayonnaise), pancakes with butter and honey, and pineapple jello. We ate as the train progressed into St. Petersburg and were greeted by a combination of country scenes, abandoned industrial parks, and power plants.
Arriving in St. Petersburg, we were not able to find our new guide, who was supposed to meet us "at the head of the train." Apparently, she
was waiting in the first car where we were waiting in front of the first car. Calls to the emergency number were not answered. Much like last time, were within 50 feet of each other the whole time.
From the train station it was off to Hotel Herzen to drop off our luggage. Still no rooms, coldness, or showers now for more than 24 hours. The differences between St. Petersburg and Moscow were enough to keep the weary pilgrims awake. There is a definite contrast between the country's political capital and its cultural one. St. Petersburg, a planned city constructed under the guidance of Peter the Great, is modeled after European architecture and was designed to be Russia's gateway to the West. It is a very nice gate. St. Petersburg, though looking like a medieval city, is only about 300 years old. It was renamed Petrograd in 1917 after the revolution, and then Leningrad after Lenin's death in 1924. In 1991, under Yeltsin, it reassumed its original name.
In 1696 Peter the Great visited other cultures and returned with a mission to modernize Russia. This entailed a degree of religious tolerance, the importation of European architects and shipbuilders, and an affinity for
all things Dutch, including canals. He also dared to shave beards and favored short haircuts. Orthodox Russians feared he was the anti-Christ.
Then, we visited the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress, which protected the city against Swedish invaders. Our tour guide described the fortress as the "necropolis of the Romanov Imperial House." The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral allowed Western design to meet Orthodoxy, which was different from what we had seen thus far.
After the 1917 Revolution, many places, such as this, in St. Petersburg fell into neglect and disrepair as the Bolsheviks moved important institutions back to Moscow and completely ignored Russia's imperial past.
Our guide, Natalia, digressed for a moment to share that she had been in the U.S. during the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment. "In Russia, that would be unheard of. The President's private life is private. I felt sorry for the way they tortured Bill Clinton." Then, she showed the Death Gate, where political prisoners were killed and then thrown into the river.
Next, we saw the tombs of a number of former czars, including the famous Nicholas II, who abdicated during the 1917 Revolution but was still executed by firing squad. He and his family are
interred in a separate area from other czars as the Orthodox Church had some questions about his worthiness for a cathedral burial as his death occurred after abdication. The story of the last czars had been "forgotten" but was "remembered again" during the glasnost years of the 1990s. The interment we saw was completed only in 1998.
From there it was back into town to see St. Isaac's Cathedral, a 40 year project that began in 1818 and was completed in 1858. It was a very impressive place, one of the more impressive we have seen (and we've seen many). It has been called the "Cathedral of stones" rightfully so as it features precious rocks from all over Russia and beyond. Shut down and turned into a museum of atheism in 1917, the building was camouflaged (aka painted over) during WWII, and served as a museum in the 1970s. Its restoration to an actual religious site continues to this day.
Lunch was eaten at NEP, (New Economic Policy), named for Lenin's plan to allow controlled capitalism. Lenin died. Stalin said no. NEP didn't happen again until perestroika. As it turns out, Lenin thought Stalin was a dummy and even said so in
We finally came back to our new hotel for our well-deserved rest. THE AIR CONDITIONING is a great thing here. Our next complaint is only about lack of refrigerated beverages. Why plug in a cooler/refrigerator that runs and doesn't work? Oh, Russia!
We capped off the night with a great dinner of beef stroganoff and pelmini in a great restaurant that we happened to stumble upon. On our way out, Rich laughed because it was nearly 10pm and still daylight.
Now, we are back at the hotel, enjoying the air conditioning, and celebrating Barb's birthday (post-dinner) with toasts of Baltzika 7 and HA bEPE3OBbIX bPYHbKAX (vodka). It is 10:56pm and still light out.
Sigh. One pair of shorts should do it in Russia. Not this summer. It hit 100 degrees yesterday here, which is unheard of. So, we wash, rinse, and repeat. The people's shorts will endure.
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