Tuesday, June 09, 2009

St. Petersburg, First Impressions

[This week I'm blogging my July 2008 trip to Estonia and Russia. Go here for part 1 and here for part 2.]

St. Petersburg. We have a history with this city, my parents and I. My father was born and grew up here. My mom came here in her early 20s, hungry for big city life and culture. I was born in St. Petersburg and spent part of my childhood in this city, although the regal, famous St. Petersburg of books and postcards is a distant memory. This rankles my mom. “Don’t you remember this?” she asks me every time we stroll past a museum or a monument. “We took you here all the time.”

I don't remember riverboat tours down the Neva river or Spas na Krovi (Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood).
I don’t remember Nevsky Prospect, the famous boulevard where people go to see and be seen. I don’t remember Letny Sad (summer garden), a lovely refuge from the noise and dust of the city. I don’t remember the Bronze Horseman, the famous monument to Peter the Great. I don’t remember white nights. We catch the tail end of this phenomenon when the sun never really sets. The sky is indeed white long past midnight, turning milky gray from 3 a.m. all through the early morning. These photos were taken at 11:30 p.m. A few childhood memories do stand out. The Kazan Cathedral, for example, where, in 1987 or ’88, a Japanese tourist took a Polaroid photo of me. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to keep it. I remember the Hermitage. When I was 6 or 7, my parents took me here to see the Knight Hall, an exhibit of mediaeval armor, always popular with kids. I remember the Rostal Columns along the Neva river. Before we left for the U.S. in 1991, my mom took me here for a goodbye tour of the city. She wanted me to see the famous landmarks so that I wouldn’t forget. Who knew, then, if we would ever come back again?
This is the sentimental, beautiful, wistful part of the trip, the part that makes we wonder what life would be like if we had never left. Of course, I know very well that life would be harder and poorer had we stayed. Tomorrow, the vagaries.

Tomorrow: St. Petersburg, the good, the bad...


amarillo said...

Thank you for posting the photos!

My dad was born in SPB, and he took me there first time when I was 7. I remember how disappointed I was with the "white nights" - they were actually grey! But I loved the buildings, the statues, the bridges, and the ice cream.

On my last visit, in November 1991, I also learned to appreciate coffee with a shot of cognac in every cafe - a few minutes out of the rain and wind.

m.v. said...

I am reading this with great interest and I am glad you actually delayed it by a year - I would have missed it before. Although my daughter was born here and I left at a much later age, I think most people who left wonder what it would be like if they stayed. Not everyone admits it though. Keep this up.

Julia (alias Yulinka Cooks) said...

Amarillo--Yes, "white nights" are sort of grey! I thought it was a bizarre phenomenon, actually. It was nearly impossible to fall asleep some nights. We tried some Soviet-era "eskimo" ice cream on a stick. My parents were nostalgic for it.

M.V.--Thanks for reading. Every once in a while I'll wonder what it would be like if we stayed. I really can't imagine.

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