Friday, May 9, 2014

St Petersburg in the rain

St Petersburg gets off to a slow start. They started serving breakfast at 8:30 and the girl who mans the check in desk arrived at that time as well. If you ever come here, remember not to schedule an early morning departure. I suppose it has something to do with being quite some distance west of Moscow but being on Moscow time.

Buildings across the canal from my hotel window in the late afternoon sun.

Next morning it was raining in Sennaya Square which is close to my hotel.

Because I knew very little about St Petersburg other than what I had read in guide books, I decided to try a walking tour. The one I chose was Peter's Walking Tour which cost about $20 but went for over four hours. The meeting point was in a hostel about a mile away on St Petersburg main drag, Nevsky Prospect.

St P must have been an extremely wealthy city at one time. Most of the older buildings are quite grand.

However, much of it is in poor state through years of neglect during the communist era.

Those steps led to this magnificent arcade.

Market in a lane off Sadovaya Street.

Another arcade. Look at the length of it.

This particular arcade was lined with semi expensive shops.

Presumably somebody's humble abode before the revolution.

Most shops don't open until 10 am. Supermarkets open earlier.

Eventually I reached Nevsky Prospect.

This was some rich person's house!

Imagine the wealth you would need to have built this. You can read about it here.

I reached the meeting point about 10 minutes early and at the appointed time of 10:30, Peter the guide turned up. He actually has 10 other guides working for him but I happened to get the original. He has been doing this for 18 years and has traveled widely all over the world.

Instead of taking people to see the regular big-name sites, he prefers to take visitors to see the parts of St P that most tourists never go to. Today he would take us to the largest island in St P, Vasilyevsky Island.

A couple from Adelaide turned up a couple of minutes late and the four of us set off down Nevsky Prospect towards the Island. We stopped to admire this statue, one of four flanking the bridge over the Fontanka. Each is different. During the siege of WWII, they were buried in a nearby garden so that they would not be damaged.

The Fontanka.

The couple from Adelaide who I might meet again on Saturday since they are taking the same train to Moscow. They are also going to Beijing by train, but they are stopping along the way.

Damage from the siege. The Germans were meticulous in counting the number of shells they fired into St P. 148478 of them over a period of 872 days.

To get to the island, Peter got us onto a public bus #11 (about $1 fare) and we proceeded past Palace Square, the site of Bloody Sunday of 1905 that was one of the major events leading to the Revolution..

Side of the Winter Palace that overlooks the Square.

We got off the bus in the middle of the island and Peter led us past these old trams. As you have noticed from the photos, it is difficult to take a photo without including overhead wires. Virtually all public transport in St P runs on electricity, including the buses which are trolley buses.

Unusual grate on a building wall.

We headed down to the Neva River. This is an icebreaker that was used during WWII in the convoys from Canada and the USA to Murmansk in northern Russia.

Did I mention it was raining? Did I mention it was cold and windy? The forced march took us upstream beside the river. Peter had brought us here to emphasize why St P was located here by Peter the Great, primarily to be Russia's port on the Baltic. And yes, I was using my orange umbrella and I had the hood of my tan jacket up covering my head.

The main industry of St P is still ship building. These are submarines in for repair.

I seem to remember Peter said that this was the school for mining engineers.

The school had been awarded the Lenin, Stalin and Perry Order of Merits.

An older submarine.

Peter took us into this ornate Church of the Assumption of the Virgin. It is now an active church and has been restored to its former glory. During Communist times, the paintings on the walls were covered with stucco and the floor was turning into a skating rink. Many of Russia's Olympic Ice-skating team trained in this building.

Men are required to remove their hats on entering and women are required to cover their heads. Woman might also be required to wear a skirt. Photography inside is not allowed.

There were several people praying inside and the smell on incense was in the air. There are few seats since the congregation is expected to stand during the service. The Russians have a tough God. After the fall of Communism, craftsmen carefully removed the stucco that covered the painted walls and today it looks beautiful.

Barges waiting to head up the river. This one was loaded with birch, probably to be made into furniture. There are only a few bridges to the island and all of them are raised in the wee hours of the morning to allow commercial river traffic to pass through. Nobody can get on or off the island while the bridges are up.

Peter took us into a courtyard of one of the apartment buildings. It acts as a communal area for the local residents.

A meow bag watched us suspiciously.

Another restored church. Over 70% of St P's churches were destroyed by the Communists. Virtually all of the remaining were converted for some other purpose.

When this island was first settled, it was still quite marshy. Canals were dug to drain the marsh and streets lined both sides of the canal. On one side of the canal, the street might be number 7. On the other side of the canal it would be number 6. Eventually, the canals were filled in and covered over by pavement, however the houses on one side still have addresses on 7th Street while those on the other side have addresses on 6th Street.

This pathway which would have been a canal is lined with larch trees. The timber is waterproof and very hard and was used to build the foundations of Venice. 

We had a cup of coffee at this modern restaurant that caters to the younger set. We all felt a bit old here.

The bloke from Adelaide and I were feeling cold about the head so Peter took us to an Army Surplus shop up a flight of stairs behind this door. We each purchased a heavy stretch cap which felt so good when we emerged back into the cold. The only colour available was black and it cost about $5.

Another church being restored.

A statue and globes that will eventually go back on top of the church. We did not go inside the church but it had been used for offices with several floors installed inside.

As in Dresden, many people are employed restoring the glory of years ago.

There are still many buildings in poor condition on the outside. Peter remarked that inside the buildings could be a quite different story. This is a desirable residential area since it is close to down town.

Entrance to a very spiffy hotel. A bit different to the nondescript red painted door to my hotel.

The Twelve College building of the St Petersburg State University. It is one of the top three Universities in Russia. This building is mostly used for administration. Putin attended this University and studied law. For the Aussies, have you ever noticed how much he and Abbott look alike. Abbott studied law as well. 

A statue to Sakharov who developed Russia's thermonuclear weapon. He became a dissident, was exiled to Gorky and was eventually awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The statue has his hands tied behind his back.

Pavlov without his dog.

Mendeleev, who produced the first Periodic Table of Elements.

Peter said he actually lived in the rooms behind this windows next to the plaque..

The old Stock Exchange. It's close to the upriver end of the island where the Neva splits into two.

Across the water we could see the Peter and Paul Fortress. The Adelaide couple decided that they would walk over to see it. I just saw a long walk in the cold wind and rain so I returned to my hotel. 

I had really enjoyed the tour. Obviously there are still the big name sights to go to but I still have a day and a half before the train leaves for Moscow.

Finally, I went to a Georgian restaurant for dinner which I really enjoyed. It is at my end of Sennaya Square and close to my hotel. Take a look at the menu and there are about 33 roubles to $1. I had a lavash along with a spicy Georgian style solyanka (pork neck). There is a picture of it on the top right of page 9. A glass of beer was excellent with the spicy dish. I think I will go back there tomorrow night if it is open.

I have never seen a city with so many interesting buildings. I don't think even Paris or London compare. No wonder St Petersburg is on the World Heritage list.

1 comment:

  1. what an interesting tour! and I loved lots of things on that menu! yummmmmm