St. Petersburg, Russia - July 12, 2012
Does that look right? Trying to spell from memory. Anyway, hello from St Petersburg again. Yes, this is a city to revisit and to heartily recommend to anyone. It is a very, very beautiful city, and the good parts go on and on... not just confined to a few blocks in the city center. The river and canals only add to the interest. I haven't been to Moscow yet, but I imagine that this has been the cultural center of a huge empire for a long time. As a result there are lots of stuff to see and things to do.
Anyway, I went to the Winter Palace and spent about 6 hours just going through the first two buildings. I didn't even bother to buy tickets for the others as I knew I'd never make it there. Saw quite the range of things... from 2000 BC Egyptian artefacts, to rooms full of Picassos... and everything in between. Did a special tour of the Gold Room... the most spectacular were items of the Assyrians and Greeks. Some jewellery had such fine detail that it could only be seen under a powerful magnifying glass. Which begs the question: if it can only been seen under a magnifying glass, and magnifying glasses weren't around at the time, then how did they see to do it? Anyway, that was a highlight, but there was so much to see that I started getting sensory overload. Definitely needed a break.
Inside the Winter Palace
So today I did another Hop-On, Hop-Off. Absolutely beautiful weather. Lots of places that will have to wait until another trip to explore. I hear the National Library has documents from Egypt written on papyrus and some from India written on leaves. Too many places. Actually, this is a pretty easy place to get around. Knowing a few words in Russian helps, but at least here, it's not really necessary. Most signs in the tourist spots are in both Russian and English. No other languages though. I'm quite surprised at how much English has slipped into Russian advertising and signage. If you can sound out the words written in Cyrillic, then you have the battle mostly won. Lots of words are recognizable through the sounds.
St. Peterburg's Version of the Flatiron Building
So I had dinner at a cafe nearby the other night... Russian beet salad followed by perch with cauliflower. The perch had some egg salad on top, so except for the beet salad, it made for quite the white dinner. White food on a white plate. Maybe that's why there was a cherry tomato on the side. And today, I had lunch at a typical Russian cafeteria. But I have seen that there is a very strict (weird) custom here. You never hand anyone money. It always has to go onto some intervening surface. Even on the bus today, I had to put the money on a towel, and he put the ticket back on the towel. As if that would disinfect it. It's the same everywhere. At the grocery, at the checkout of the cafeteria, everywhere. I don't know if it's a germ phobia moved mainstream or if it has it's roots in being able to display the money before it is picked up. I saw it a few places elsewhere in Europe this trip (but just this trip), so maybe the habit is spreading. I was watching and everyone does it. Something to be aware of because violation of this rule gets you at least a scowl if not an under-the-breath mumble.
So not far from the hotel, and on the way to the bus stop is a very ornate building - an orthodox church built on a spot where one of the earlier Czars was assassinated. He was pretty progressive, but it seems that didn't help him. And just a few blocks the other way is the Winter Palace. Also, just around the corner from my hotel, on the same block, is the cafe that the Russian writer Pushkin sat and had coffee on the morning in which was to duel someone over a woman's honor. He should have stayed for seconds, or thirds, or had second breakfast and brunch as if I have my Russian history correct, the duel didn't go quite the way he had hoped. He was dead by the end of the day. No word on what happened to the woman.
Church of the Spilled Blood
So plans are to leave in the morning and try to get all the way back to Tallinn tomorrow. The border will be chaotic. I'll just have to push to the head of the line... Euro biker style. When in Rome...