Two spectacular days in St Petersburg came to a close yesterday as we sailed for Helsinki. It really felt such a privilege to be there. I feel like I need to revisit the Russian history I learned once upon a time, to take in the full meaning of the places and things that were on the itinerary – Empress Catherine the Great’s palaces, the Neva River, the Peterhof Gardens and Fountains, St Isaac’s Church, the Church of the Resurrection where Tsar Alexander was assassinated, and of course, the Hermitage. There are not words to describe the Hermitage – spectacular architecture, impressive rooms with the most incredible collection of art and artefacts. The tour was a quick two hours in a place where one could spend years becoming familiar with the great artistic treasures.
I saw some of the Rembrandts, the Dutch masters, da Vinci, Raphael! There were Egyptian artefacts that I’ve seen in history books. And, the most amazing furnishings and gilded and frescoed walls and ceilings, the parquet floors!
The Peterhof Gardens and Fountains a few kilometres outside St Petersburg were certainly worth the visit. An expansive park of fountains which delighted the Russian Family for centuries, and now, fully restored since their destruction during the second world war, now delight the Russian people and tourists alike.
Many of the attractions of St Petersburg had been destroyed by the war and revolutions, but are now restored. This is a great tribute to the Russian governments, that these treasures of the past have been restored for all to enjoy.
The residential sections of the city however, tell another story: the difficulties experienced by the Russian people under previous Soviet administrations. The rows of apartment blocks that appear shoddy and dilapidated tell of a time when people did not enjoy the comforts that were the norm in the West. Today’s apartment blocks are still small by comparison to Australian housing, but they appear to be better constructed and enjoy the convenience of modern shopping centres and urban facilities. On my first day in the city I had McDonalds for lunch – cheeseburger, fries and a coke. There is little doubt that modern Russians enjoy capitalism, even if it does have some downsides!