Next up on the schedule was one of my home – Russia, or as select few of my American born acquaintances like to refer as Mother Russia.
After an afternoon in the charming Helsinki, we took a Russian run ferry through more of the Baltic Sea into St. Petersburg (also known as Leningrad and Petrograd at one or the other point of its short history as the city).
Naturally, my first contact with the Russian culture came on the ferry.
The Russian bartender in the family friendly casino with one blackjack table growled when we asked for some tap water. And then our below the water line suite had a dent in a ceiling for one reason or another. Speaking of the suite, we were one cry away from being called in to shovel coal in the engine room. We could literally feel the vibrations of the engine propelling us through the cold Baltic Sea.
We arrived in St. Petersburg the following morning. Due to certain degree of drinking the night prior and the unexpected by all three of us time shift as we moving further to the east, we woke up moments after the ship docked and the majority of the passengers has left the vessel for the customs. We were greeted by the cleaning crew as we exited our cabin. Luckily, customs presented no problem and our visas worked! We were in Russia and in one or the other I was home.
We took a 300 ruble cab from the pier to our hotel on Canal Griboedova. A classic St. Petersburg facade eloquently masqueraded a 10 story Marriott. Rooms were just like the ones in the Stamford, CT hotel I stay while traveling for work – a flat screen, a bed, and the holy script (apparently, Marriott is promoting Christianity in still more or less spiritualess Russia).
Right after finally settling down in our relatively luxurious dwelling for next few days, it was time to re-discover Russia, and enjoy one of the most spectacular cities I have never traveled to before.
Our agenda included going to Hermitage Museum, which ended up being stunning. Along with classical and some contemporary art located in all of the hundreds of rooms of this former Russian palace called “the winter
palace.” Definitely a fine collection worth the rivaling halls of the New York’s Met and the Parisian Louvre.
After this fine cultural experience, it was time to enjoy Russian football at its best – devoted, fans, drinking, and militaristic police presence. We were sitting opposite the fan section of Zenit’s fan base, which meant we sat right next to the human wall of police encircling the fans of the opposing squad – Sibir. The atmosphere of light-hearted and corny fun that is so often present at sports events in America was replaced by overwhelming presence of the various enforcement agencies. Luckily, the game ended with Zenit’s dominating win and without a shot fired (by Sibir naturally).
Next on the list was to enjoy the “white” and often sleepless St. Petersburg nights. The city is so up north that for a certain period of time, it does not get dark for weeks. The night often resembles a dimly hours before the sunset in pretty much any place south of St. Petersburg. Personally, I thought that was one of the coolest experiences. It certainly messes with your mind and in a way gives a new perspective on days. Getting out of a nightclub at 4am felt like a lunchtime in Midtown.
To conclude, St. Petersburg was an extremely enjoyable city to visit. It’s relatively small size, incredible architecture (after all the city was built to mimic all of the Europe’s great with the help of a number of Frank Geahrys of the time), relatively contempt culture, and naturally the unforgettable “white nights” has made the city quite memorable in mind.
Moscow was next..