Inexplicably, I have always been fascinated by Russia. Well, maybe not so inexplicably, I was a kid in the 80’s after all and remember hazy news reports of Soviet Union this and Gorbachev that. But 80’s Marlana had her hands pretty full with MTV, roller rink Saturdays and Nintendo, so I didn’t devote much time to it back then.
But the fascination remained. Why? Who knows. I thought the language was beautiful, the history was dramatic, and it was very different from the place I grew up. I should also mention the onion domes – they are stunning. Anyway, when a few friends and I planned a cruise through the Baltic, I made sure that St. Petersburg was on the list.
Peter the Great designed the city to be Russia’s ‘window to the west’, and it does feel a lot more western than I imagined Russia to be. St. Petersburg would become the center of the Romanov dynasty, a showcase for the world, and go through a couple of name changes in the process. It’s history is full of names you know: the House of Romanov, Rasputin, Lenin, Stalin. A beautiful city with a bloody and dramatic past.
The St. Petersburg we saw is filled with palaces and museums, which, in turn, are filled with history and treasures. The Hermitage, for example, would take you a year to get through if you stopped and looked at every piece for a few seconds (not to mention the 24 miles you’d walk in the process).
The Hermitage is magnificent, as is the city itself, but the fact that so much of it was built on the backs of citizens literally dying in the streets was never far from our minds. Our tour guides made sure to take us to the most beautiful and historic places, keeping us pretty well hidden from any poverty or seedy areas that might be lurking close by. We didn’t have visas so we were at the mercy of our tour guides – but we knew there was a whole other side of the city that we wouldn’t get to see.
While we were blown away by what we saw, we were disappointed that we didn’t get a feel for the place on the whole. Regardless, I did think that St. Petersburg was a nice introduction to Russia, but I’m itching to go back (with visa in hand) to see more.
For more shots of Russia’s ‘Window to the West’, head over to Flickr.