Do you know which is the northernmost metropolis in the world? Or the city which is called Window to Europe or Window to the West? Which one is called The City of White Nights on account of it never getting completely dark at night for a whole month in summer? What about the city which is called Venice of the North or Russian Venice due to its many water corridors?
The answer to all of the above is Saint Petersburg, the city in Russia by the way, not the one in Florida, in case you were wondering.
From being called Peter’s city (Petrograd) to Lenin’s city (Leningrad), being originally Sankt Pieter Burch and later changed to Sankt Peterburg, Saint Petersburg, nicknamed Pieter by its residents, has gone through a few name changes over time. The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great and served as the capital of the Tsardom and Russian Empire for a long time, till the October revolution, when Moscow edged it out as the choice of the Bolsheviks. With the new capital hosting most of the razing to the ground and redesigning of buildings, Saint Petersburg and its buildings were left mostly untouched. Tourists luck, what?
The sun was shining ever so brightly as our motley group of fifty-three set off on our tour of Saint Petersburg.
The first stop was Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It was here that a bomb was thrown at, and wounded, Tsar Alexander II. Trivia: The church was used as a temporary morgue during the siege of the city by Nazi military forces. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables. It later became a museum. Talk about versatility! We weren’t allowed too close to the building as some restoration work was happening. But even from across the road it was a unique sight.
Next in our itinerary was a boat cruise on the Neva. We had quite a way to walk to the starting point. Walking through the streets of Saint Petersburg felt surreal. All those buildings from a different period made you feel as if you had time traveled. It was during this walk that something strange happened.
I was standing on the sidewalk with others from my group, waiting for the lights to change. Someone said something and I turned to look. A middle-aged woman stood in front, smiling broadly at me. Without any warning she then swooped down on me and holding my face in both her hands, kissed me roundly on …my cheek. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. Meanwhile, the lights had changed and I hurried along with my group. None of us could quite grasp what had transpired though we caught the word ‘Beautiful!’ I am pleased she thought I was beautiful (quite a refreshing change from the ‘Oh, what’s happened to you?’ I get to hear these days!), but what a way of expressing it to a total stranger!
The river cruise was quite an enjoyable experience. A word about the canals in Saint Petersburg. The story goes that the Tsar Peter the Great, fell in love with Amsterdam, and wanted to recreate it in Saint Petersburg. He had canals dug up all over the place, and insisted people use boats for transportation. But when he died, the people who had had enough of the Tsar’s whims, closed up many of the canals and went back to using roads and bridges. So much for the Tsar’s dreams!
Now for some pictures:
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. And after lunch would come the most awaited tour of the museum…. But you’ll have to wait for that one.
© Shail Mohan 2020
To read all posts about the Russia trip start from ‘In the beginning was a flag-bearer‘