Outside of our frantic exit, the rest of our time in St. Petersburg last weekend was a blast. We stayed a block away from Nevsky Prospekt, the main boulevard in St. Petes that is often compared to Champs d’elysee in Paris. Our hostel, recommended to us by the Aussie sister volunteers, was nice and clean, although the entryway reeked like the volunteer placements.
We were also a block away from the world famous (and enormous) Hermitage museum which we visited on our first day. I was enchanted by all the old rooms in the Winter Palace, and loved hearing about all their former uses under the tsars. And it was amazing to see the Hall of 1812 commemorating the Russian victory in the second Napoleonic War. I got to see a massive painting of the Battle of Borodino which was a major focus in War and Peace, and scan the wall with portraits of generals for names I recognized from the novel. Elsewhere in the museum I found a new favorite artist, Hubert Robert, who painted scenes featuring Roman architecture.
After a pasta dinner at the hostel cooked by two recent college grads from Boulder, Jaime, Liz and I headed out to the Prostata museum, famous for supposedly housing Rashputin’s 30 cm member. Alongside the exhibit were doctors offices (gynecology, urology and proctology) which just added to the overall weirdness of the museum. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re ever in St. Petes. We left the museum in under 20 minutes looking for some St. Petersburg’s nightlife of the non-strip club variety.
We ended up at a bar called Belgrad (Russian for Belgrade), so named because it is a combination of the two proprietors’ last names. We hung out on the dance floor where the dj was playing all sorts of American hits including the great MC Hammer. The one casualty from the night was my camera, which I dropped on its lens trying to take a picture of the crowded floor where Jaime’s beanie was lost. But not to fear. The camera is currently in a repair shop in Yaro, and I should have it back sometime this week.
We got back to the hostel after 1 and headed back out shortly after with two German girls who wanted to see the bridges. St. Petersburg is famous for its low bridges which are drawn up and down at night, generally between 2 and 5 am, to allow ships to pass through. We didn’t catch any bridges in the act, but we did take a good number of jumping pictures, one or two them even successfully, with the open bridge in the background.
On Sunday we went to the Russian museum. It was nice, but I had a sore throat so I wasn’t in much of a mood to tour a museum. We also headed out to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg’s famous church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered by terrorists. It has some absolutely gorgeous onion domes, one, a smooth and solid gold, another with swirls of white, blue and green, and a third, speckled, pointy bits of white, blue, green and gold.
Then in a maze of souvenir stands behind the church I bargained a painted, Soviets vs. Americans chess set down from 4000 rubles to 1500 rubles ($60). I felt proud of myself for capturing a little bit of my dad’s haggling magic before talking it over with Jaime and realizing that it was probably worth only 15 or 20 bucks.
Sunday night we headed to a ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. It was ridiculously difficult to find, but we made it and it was pretty entertaining. I was feeling sick still and a little tired, so I might’ve taken a little nap here or there, but it was still a cool experience. And then afterwards we happened upon a Mexican restaurant only a few minutes after we had talked about how we were craving it. It was far from the best Mexican food I’ve had, Baja Fresh still takes the cake, but it was a great change from the Hotel Kotorosl food.
Monday we journeyed to the Peter and Paul fortress. We were feeling a little cheap so we didn’t go into any of the museums, but decided instead to wander the grounds. And then we got what might have been the personal highlight of the trip.
We were walking outside the fortress, between the stone walls and some body of water, when we noticed old men stripping down to speedos. I won’t deny them that the sun was out, but it couldn’t have been warmer than 40 degrees. One of the translators had warned me that it was an old pastime of Russians to tan standing up, because they believed it gave them a fuller tan. Still in near-freezing weather it’s something that must be seen to be believed. I approached two of the bold tanners and asked for a picture with them. Thankfully they were only joking when they insisted I strip down as well, but they waited an awkward beat before telling me they were kidding.
I really loved my time in St. Petersburg, and wished I could’ve stayed longer. It’d be a fun city to study abroad in, especially if I take Russian at William + Mary.