Saint Petersburg, Russia (population 5 million)

Trip Start Jun 04, 2014
1
5
Trip End Jul 24, 2014


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Flag of Russian Federation  , North-West Russia,
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Well the first major change in plans is heading to St. Petersburg from Tver and bypassing Veliky Novgorod. What looks like a strait shot between the two is not, and I would have had to wait two days in Tver for a train.  Novgorod is only 4 hours from St. Petersburg, so I'll check it out on a long weekend from St. Petersburg.

Roughly 8 hours on a night train, my first in Russia, and I arrive in what I think is St. Petersburg, but all of the signs are telling the name of the train station with no indication of the city, so for a few minutes I think I’ve stopped short, and I’m going to have to experience the dreaded purchasing of tickets from the train ticket lady sooner than I had planned and without preparation.  This is an event that requires some research research so that you know beforehand your preferred times, class of seat, and preferably a train number.  The word "zafta" (tomorrow) comes in handy as does utro (morning) and noch (night).  If all of this fails, then you either tuck tail and run, or play the odds and just see what she gives you.  Could be the night train, could be the morning, could be the non-reserved seat which has you packed on a bench with as many people as choose to show up.  I’ve heard some horror stories about this class.  One involved a friend I made from Uruguay trying to sleep in the floor of the area in front of the toilet door because his compartment was too miserable.  Anyway, not a position you want to put yourself in.  

*Traveling by train in Russia
http://traveltips.usatoday.com/train-travel-russia-12481.html

Luckily, this was not the case, as I finally see a Metro sign and I’m in the right place and headed into the famous former capital of Russia.  A city built by Tsar Peter, following his victory over the Swedes who had controlled the region, and named in honor of the Saint he was named after.  Many attribute the defeat of the Swedes the key event to propelling Russia into a respected world power, and no longer a series of regional kingdoms in the eastern hinterlands.  This was the aim of Tsar Peter, who had traveled to the kingdoms of Europe as a young ruler to see the mechanisms behind building and maintaining an empire.   Also, to create a Russian city that would rival Amsterdam, London, and Paris. 

*War between Russia and Sweden 
http://www.saint-petersburg.com/history/northern-war.asp

*Significance of Peter’s travels through Europe
http://www.rmg.co.uk/explore/sea-and-ships/facts/explorers-and-leaders/peter-the-great

As soon as I emerge from the subway, I am amazed.  It’s beautiful weather and the city’s architecture is resembles a Disney storybook and is colored like an Easter basket.  All set along huge riverfronts or canals, with bridges and monuments as ornate as the palaces and cathedrals they separate and connect.  Peter the Great and future tsars and tsaristas brought in famous engineers, architects and artists to design and create St. Petersburg on what was a swamp, where the Neva River empties into the Gulf of Finland.  My hostel was off the main street called Nevskiy Prospect and one of my first views of the city is a canal with the Kazan Cathedral on one end and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (nice ring to it, must sound a little more elegant in Russian) at the other.  With all of this beauty comes a price, which were high taxes on the peasantry and the deaths of many conscripted to build, due to horrible winters and disease in the summer months.  Despite the toll it took, as any great city has taken in some way, it is a masterpiece.  

St. Petersburg has a legacy even in name; changed to Petrograd during WWII as to not show any German legacy, then to Leningrad following the Communist Revolution, then back to St. Petersburg in 1991 following a vote by the citizenry. Whereas Moscow gives a sense of strength and grandeur, St. Petersburg is strength and elegance.  The Russian nobility had a sense of style and a compulsion to demonstrate its wealth.  The problem being, and St. Petersburg is no exception, is that while all of this magnificence is being demonstrated,  many others are being exploited and living in misery.  This is a perfect recipe for revolution, and in 1917 Lenin and the Bolsheviks began their conquest in then-called Petrograd, and would eventually take the rest of Russia over the course of the next 5 years. 

St. Petersburg today is the “tourist spot” in Russia.  Everyone goes to Moscow, but then complains about it, and then tells of how St. Petersburg is such a nicer visit.  I don’t like to agree with most of the mainstream, but I’m with them on this one.  Each night in the summer, the bridges around town are raised to let waterway traffic in and out of the city, which makes for a good public gathering.  The streets are loaded with street performers, galleries, cafes, and pedestrian traffic, much like you’d imagine in Paris or Rome.  Of course, all this is depending on the weather of the day, which can change immediately and drastically.  But, overall, St. Petersburg is a must visit.  The museums, architecture, canals, cathedrals, and people make this one of the most pleasant cities I’ve ever visited. 
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