Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I can't believe I am in Russia- Day 8- Petrogradskaya (St Petersburg)

Sunshine!  Lovely broken sunshine on the Mikhailovsky Palace (now filled with Russian art, and unexplored by me).  

My goal for today was to tour Petrogradskaya, where St Petersburg began in the early 1700s, and so I walked.  
I would like to point out that I, not once, have taken public transportation.  Every single place I have been to (and will go to) has been on foot.  The metros are not as pretty or as efficient as Moscow, and I just figured why not walk.  

This pine log cabin belonged to Peter the Great; he lived here for 6 years while St Petersburg (his pet project) was being constructed.  

Right around the corner is Kshesinskaya Mansion, designed for the prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.  She lived in the mansion, that was designed specifically for her, from 1904 to 1917, until it was commandeered by the communist government during the Russian Revolution.  She moved to Paris in 1920 and married a grand duke (and the father of her son).  
Now the building contains the museum of Russian Political History; the most artistic museum that I have ever seen.  

I wasn't sure about spending time at the political history museum, but I decided that there would be no better place to learn more about Russian history.  
Communist memorabilia is a testament to the power of mind control (not unique to Russian history) and it is fascinating.  

Part of the museum (one part of one floor) pays tribute to the owner of the mansion, Kshesinskaya.  I can only imagine what her famous parties were like.  
She knew how to have a good time; she had an affair with a tsar before she married the duke.  The affair led her to write her controversial memoirs, Dancing in St Petersburg, which is on my list of Russian books to read.  

Isn't it interesting how different ballerina's bodies appeared (prima ballerinas at that) in comparison to now?

This was the moment when my Russian trip almost came to a quick end, and by happenstance the instant that I realized that trams were still functional.  

Take two:  
Behind me is Kshesinskaya's balcony, where the communist party (the Bolsheviks) addressed the crowds after taking over her house.

Peter and Paul Fortress is just a few minutes away.  
This man is not waiting for his wife to surprise her on their 50th anniversary, he is warming up in the broken sun after taking a dip in the Neva, as a member of the local "walruses" swimming club.  

I was very cautious about stepping out onto the frozen Neva knowing that the ice was thin enough for swimming.  I thought about having the ice give way, and wondered what kind of walrus I would make.

I was disappointed that I missed the swim, but also surprised that people were swimming so late since I thought they did their animal mimicry in the early morning.  

It felt very futuristic when the police hovercraft appeared out of nowhere.  They were not happy that this gentleman was strolling around on the ice, when he ran I happy with my cautious decision to not walk too far out on the ice.  I don't know if it is illegal but I can't imagine why else the pursuit began.

I didn't realize that walruses swim at all hours.  
It is surprising who will take their clothes off next...

I think that the word "swimming" should be in quotation marks in walrus "swimming" club.  It is really more of a dip, and was a little disappointing.  But who am I to talk?  I only went in the water in my imagination, fully clothed.

I then entered the Peter and Paul Fortress.  It is free to walk in, but everything else costs money.
The Cathedral and SS Peter and Paul was designed in 1712, and completed in 1733.  It is the resting place of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and many other Romanov tsars, and their family.  

Since we are all thinking it I am just going to come right out and say it, this picture is awesome.

The Trubetskoy Bastion is a famous Russian prison located within the Peter and Paul Fortress.
It's first political prisoner was Peter the Great's son, accused of treason by his own father.  He was tortured and almost beat to death (maybe he accidentally referred to his father as Peter).  
This is just one account of thousands.  One of the most famous people to he held here was Fyodor Dostoevesky, in 1849 (before he was sent off to the Gulags in Siberia).  The bastion has been a museum since 1924.  Outside of each cell is information about the various people who inhabited the prison.

The ghost of Russian past.

As part of their prisoner punishment program (PPP), all convicts were required to wear platform shoes and dance to Tequila Vodka.   

There was almost a fifty year period when not one picture was taken inside the museum.  This rare picture was taken before the walls were restored to their original state.  

This is a picture of the fortress (the tall steeple is the cathedral) taken from the Trinity bridge that crosses over the Neva.  I saw brave souls walking out onto the ice and I considered turning around to tempt fate, going out further onto the ice.  
But I make a better chicken than a walrus.

This was my first Russian meal.  I started to panic a little bit because I realized that I was running out of time and I hadn't been eating much of anything, let alone Russian cuisine.  I was uncomfortable with the idea of going to a restaurant and having the employees not speak English and not have an English menu and then ordering something meat filled.  Since St Petersburg had more restaurants with English menus I decided this was my best shot (speaking of shots...).  
I went to a place called the Soviet Cafe.  There was very little on the menu that did not have meat, and the few things that I wanted they were out of, so I went with fish soup (not my first choice!) and "new" potatoes.  My soup came first and I found it delicious (not because I was starving).  However the bread left nothing to be desired.  

Then my potatoes came.  They were so good.  And I got a side of sour cream.  It was perfect.  When the waitress returned I asked her what I was supposed to do with the transparent liquid next to the potatoes.  She looked at me inquisitively and told me I was supposed to drink it.  It was vodka.  Then she went to clear my fish bowl and asked me if I was going to drink the other vodka. Apparently every order came with vodka!  (Look at the fish soup picture again, I didn't even notice.)  The vodkas were paired with the food.  I enjoyed the soup vodka but the potato vodka was unpalatable.  
I knew that Russians like vodka but had no idea that they were complimentary with meals!  

1 comment:

  1. Brady, you outdid yourself on this posting. There is such rich and diverse topics. I can't believe this was all day #8.

    The history of the Ballerina was very interesting. I would like to read her book as well. I'll see if I can get it from our library.

    The prison with the shoes answered a question I had. Did the museums have English translations? What a funny comment about dancing to 'Vodka'.

    I have been wondering about food since Day #1. Thank you for the yummy photos and the information about the side of Vodka. Funny, funny stuff.

    Speaking of funny. The whole swimming thing was a riot. Wow. I loved each story you told, and the photos. The hovercraft, you being a better chicken than walrus. Ha, ha, ha.

    I loved it all. Thanks for sharing Moscow with me. Wow.


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