Saint Petersburg

August, 2000

We flew from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg on Malev, the Hungarian airline. (The rest of our flights were on Malev through the trip and back to New York.) It was much less of a hassle to get into or out of Russia than I had anticipated. They didn't even want to stamp our passports, but we thought it best for getting back out. Entering or leaving they were not interested in the amount of money we had on us. The ruble had finally stabilized enough that the currency crisis was apparently over.

Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербу́рг) was founded by Czar Peter the Great in 1703 and was the imperial capital until 1918. During World War I the name was changed to Petrograd to get rid of the German words in the name. After Lenin's death the name was changed to Leningrad. In 1991 a referendum vote changed it back to Санкт-Петербу́рг. Petrograd was not offered as an option. The sentiment to retain the name Leningrad was not nostalgia for Lenin, but rather seen as a way to honor the million civilian casualties of the siege of Leningrad in World War II.

The arch seen below is part of the General Staff Building that sits across the Palace Square from the Hermitage, seen in part in the following picture. Normally you can see statuary above the arch, but here it must have been undergoing repair, and a picture of it is on the canvass display. The square was the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre and many events of the October Revolution.

The Hermitage is the second largest art museum in the world. We spent most of a day there. It includes the Winter Palace; the Old, New, and Small Hermitage; and the Hermitage Theater. We came back to the theater on August 15 for the ballet. So coincidentally, I visited with Pete both this Hermitage and the Hermitage near Nashville. They are pronounced differently, however.

The city includes some 42 islands in the delta of the Neva River and 342 bridges. Saint Petersburg has been called “the Venice of the North.”

The Alexander Pushkin monument is in front of the Russian State Museum. Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Currently Russian libraries are having to hide some of his books and those of Dostoevsky. You know how political correctness comes and goes. I won't go further into a complex topic that relates to the rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary among many other things, with too many ironies and absurdities to count. Anyhow, his works form the basis for a couple of Tchaikovsky's operas and the movie Amadeus, to name just a few.

Our tour included the folk dance show at Nikolayevsky Palace.

Our rooms were in the Pribaltiyskaya Hotel, so named because it is near the Baltic Sea (actually the Gulf of Finland of that sea).

Catherine’s Palace

The tour included a trip out to Catherine’s Palace in a little town about 20 miles away. It was begun by Catherine I, second wife of Peter the Great. It was still being decorated when Catherine the Great ascended the throne. The latter Catherine considered it old-timey and extravagant and halted the gilding on statues and such. It was the summer residence of the czars. The retreating Germans after the siege of Saint Petersburg destroyed the interior, leaving a shell. Restoration was continuing while we were there, so you will see much more than we did if you visit it now.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The church was built in memory of Alexander II on the site where he was killed by an anarchist bomb. Rather than the Baroque and Neoclassical architecture characteristic of the city, it hearkens back to mediæval Russian style. The interior is covered with colorful mosaics.

Saint Isaac’s Square

The equestrian monument in the square honors Nicholas I. The domed Saint Isaac’s Cathedral became a museum in Soviet times and remains one today.

To the east is the Hotel Astoria, shown on the right, a luxury hotel built in 1912. After the Revolution, it housed Communist officials, and Lenin spoke from its balcony. During the siege it served as a field hospital. Hitler was so convinced that the city would fall quickly that he had invitations printed for his victory celebration at the hotel. Many famous guests have stayed there over the last hundred years.

The two couples from Long Island posed for me in the square.

Smolny Convent


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