Sunday, 12 May 2013

Last Stop - St. Petersburg

Ladies and gentleman, it's been nearly 10 months since the last time I set foot in Canada. Since then I've visited many cities and been to many attractions. You have followed me along my course, become jaded with me, maybe even became bored of the same old pictures of architecture and cityscapes that I became bored of in person.
Church of Our Savior stands down one of the canals
As glamorous as it is to travel, it all becomes too much at some point. And yet you just can't stop while you're ahead. This is the problem I faced upon visiting St. Petersburg, the final "tourist" destination of my travels: could I enjoy it without getting bored?

St. Petersburg is rather unique. Founded by Peter the Great just over 300 years ago, it is pretty young by European standards. Yet it flourished and developed, and today is one of the biggest cities in Europe at over 5 million, and a centre of culture and arts. The city is adorned with lovely canals and, as per usual, impressive palaces, cathedrals and monuments.
St. Petersburg - 670 km!
Surprisingly, transportation between Moscow and St. Petersburg is very expensive and with few alternatives. So I resorted to a method I hadn't used in months - hitchhiking. Fortunately, I started early, because after a disastrous first 5 hours, in which 3 cars and 1 bus took me barely 100 km, I was finally saved by a kind man named Dennis, who took me the rest of the 600 km in about 7 hours. Long day!

The day after I arrived, St. Petersburg was alive and the streets were buzzing at a feverish pitch. It was May 9, Victory Day of the Great Patriotic War. Now without descending into a full blown history lesson, you should at least know that this war is probably known to you as World War II. However, ex-Soviet countries call it the Great Patriotic War, and it only encompasses Russian involvement. Thus, the start of GPW was the day Germany invaded Russia in 1941, and the final date was when Russia captured Berlin on May 9, 1945, NOT the day Japan surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bomb.
May 9 - Victory Day Parade

Anyway, May 9 was a good day to be out on the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or any major city in Russia. There was a Victory Parade in the afternoon, then in the evening there were also fireworks, and many of the main streets were closed down so that pedestrians filled the streets, chanting and singing with pride.
Fireworks seen from a packed bridge
Besides the festivities, I managed to see two pretty memorable museums. One local treasure was the miniature museum, which illustrated Russia in one massive papier-mache incredibly detailed landscape brought to life with miniature buildings and people. It even had moving trains and cars, and a real time traffic control system for these mini vehicles, operated by staff behind a window. As an engineer, wow!

The other museum I saw was the Hermitage, the second largest museum in the world. Quite resembling the Louvre, the interior is decorated like the best palaces in Europe, with grand hallways covered with frescoes, statues, gold trim and finely ornamented. The museum's collection houses millions of items, mostly paintings and artifacts of European origin. I braved over 2 hours in the rain lining up for this beast. And, well, it was worth it.
Standing in line for the Hermitage - lady in umbrella says it all
As a jaded tourist, I couldn't be bothered to pay the extra 200 rubles, or about 5 euros, for the right to take photos. Nor could I bother to search out any featured paintings or statues in the massive complex. Thus, I discarded the map and wandered aimlessly, like a kid in a neverending candy shop.

In similar fashion, the rest of my time in St. Petersburg was spent walking. I've learned that walking is the best way to get to know a city. That and avoid spending money on attractions that are ultimately forgettable. Curiously, clamoring around St. Petersburg's streets, I felt like Raskolnikoff, the main character in Dostoevsky's thrilling Crime and Punishment, which I am not so coincidentally currently reading.
Neva River, which adds to the beauty of St. Petersburg
Despite all the goodies mentioned above, my time in St. Petersburg was ambivalent. In my jaded state, I probably enjoyed this city more like a bored fool than a wide eyed camera toting tourist. Besides, other external matters played a part in my moodiness, such as bad weather and painful feet.

But what right do I have to complain? None, really. I owe nothing except gratitude for being a tourist for so long. With this in mind, I can rightfully conclude that St. Petersburg is a pretty great city and one highly recommended by myself.

As I write this, I am back in Moscow living out my days as a free man, back in less than 2 weeks. And though I will be glad to come home, a part of me will wish I was still living out of a suitcase, checking famous cities and big museums off my bucket list.

Contemplative walk along the Neva River, last night of St. Petersburg

1 comment:

  1. Gread read Andrew, reading your blog is like attending geography class but never gets bored. You are truly a globetrotter and a great writer..........Welcome home!