Friday, March 27, 2009

Inauspicious arrival

I arrive in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and yet, could this really be my hotel? If it had been 8pm instead of 8am I think I would have fled. I gingerly entered the "lobby" which wasn't much of an improvement: crumbling plaster, rutted and broken stone floor, electric wires looped loosely on the walls . But the B&B on the third floor itself was quite charming.

St Petersburg is BEAUTIFUL and well deserved of it's reputation as the "Venice of the North".

I started the day by walking up to the Peter and Paul Fortress, and visited the church with its (real) gold spire where the Tsars and their families were buried, including Nicholas II and Alexandra who were moved there about a dozen years ago from Yekaterinberg. It's a formidable place, similar to Cape Town Castle in its pentangle layout but bigger. It was a glorious sunny day but still the temperature was -6 yet a few brave people were breaking the ice to swim in the Neva River.

I went to see the Aurora, the battleship that launched the October revolution in 1917 by firing a blank round that signaled the attack on the Winter Palace by the Bolsheviks.

The little wood cabin that Peter the Great help build with his own hands in three days was close by. He lived in this simple two room cottage for six months while he supervised the construction of St Petersburg. Over 100,000 people lost their lives from exposure and disease during the construction.

In the evening as snow gently fell around me, I walked home past the Summer Palace and along small streets crammed with antique shops and second hand books stores and found a really cool vegetarian internet cafe with delicious food and funky music and people, called Botanica. In another shop I bought several different kinds of exotic Russian teas, including the sewn bouquets of flowers that open up in glass teapots. There are mases of young people about, some with purple mohawks. I felt totally at home, and finally overcame my fear of trying to communicate. All the young people here speak a little English.

There is a lot on including the La Traviata, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. Of course I have to see Giselle at the Mariinsky. The hotel receptionist has offered to buy a ticket for me so I won't have to pay the exorbitant foreigner's price.

Tomorrow I still have a lot to see- starting with the Hermitage.

Here are some photographs which give a more typical and much better impression of this magnificent city.