I arrived in St Petersburg and made it to the hotel without getting lost! Yes, it’s true! I love subway systems – they tend to actually make sense and even have maps to help you navigate them. And when I emerged from the subway and was looking around to see which way was west (since I was on the right street for once and just needed a compass point), a nice young man asked if I needed help with directions. Did I mention I love St Petersburg?
I’ve been trying to put a finger on where St Petersburg reminds me of. The first day I arrived, I had a free afternoon, so I just walked around for hours admiring the city and getting acclimated. It definitely feels more European than Russian, and also has a big city feel that I guess I missed these past couple of weeks. The wide, planned streets lined with historic facades reminds me of Paris, although in most ways this city is nothing like Paris. The canals might be like Amsterdam (if I had been to Amsterdam I could tell you better). It has a Northern European feel with a Russian flavor – and I guess comparisons in many ways are silly as it is clearly, indubitably St Petersburg, with a flavor all its own.
I walked first to a gorgeous synagogue about ten minutes from the hotel, called the Grand Choral Synagogue. A few blocks down the way, I completely geeked out in a balletomane way because I saw the Mariinksi Theater, in full green and white splendor. There was much internal squealing.
Then off to the Neva River, not quite as pretty as possible with all the construction but I suppose construction is a necessary part of life. Just like all this mud is a necessary part of spring…
The Neva is a very wide river, dwarfing the golden domes and stately buildings that line it by its very size. I walked down the embankment towards the golden dome of St Isaac’s, seeing the Bronze Horseman statue (the emblem of the city, a statue of Peter the Great about which Pushkin wrote a famous poem) which stands in front of it.
I continued past the grand buildings of the Admiralty to a green and white and gold concoction which turned out to be the Winter Palace portion of the Hermitage Museum complex. I went around to the Palace Square in front, picturing angry hordes mobbing the Winter Palace in 1917, and headed out towards Nevsky Prospect. I have to say the Palace Square is impressive, fronting the Winter Palace and with the curving arms of the Staff Buildings along the other side. There’s a lot of empty space and gracious, simple lines (not including the Rocco Winter Palace).
I ate an early dinner/late lunch of beef stroganoff not far from the Stroganoff Palace (strange thought!) and called it a day.