Roads Less Travelled: St Petersburg continued…
Welcome to the last St Petersburg instalment of Trips and Tales. It’s been a pleasant run, but realistically; a mere sketch of a great, historical city. Although Trips and Tales is presented as a journey along the Trans-Siberian railway from west to east, it is worth emphasising that St Petersburg is not actually on it… but how could I leave it out? The remit of this series is to include those diversions and offshoots along the way that make the whole experience rewarding. (Staring out of the window as you clickety-clack along the track, although bona fide Trans-Siberian, is missing the point… and most of the experience too.) Surely no “offshoot” is more diverting and enrapturing than St Petersburg itself?
For now its story is cut short with the second selection of alternative locations. More Roads Less Travelled, St Petersburg style:
Sandwiched between the Baltic and artificial Lake Sestroretstky Razliv, Sestroretsk lies north of St Petersburg and North East of Kotlin/Kronstadt. It grew up around its arms factory (now the Tool Plant), established there in 1721. Paradoxically it is also a renowned spa town, centre of respite/health resort and seaside holiday stop-over with sandy Baltic beaches… all just a rail-ride out of the metropolis. The marshy artificial lake was created to service the arms plant, when the Sestra river was dammed, cutting its flow to the Baltic. Around it: beautiful parks and pine-forested countryside abound.
The Neva Embankments
The Embankments go on for miles… and miles, allowing views of the main attractions from a distance, whilst offering their own unique features; the Rostral Columns for example. You can filter your visual intake to be as “Less Travelled” or as “Beaten Track” as you desire… it’s all there.
Sunset views of St Petersburg’s majesty across the Neva at sunset are just astounding… and ever so slightly away from the Madd-(en)-ing Crowd. A random scoop into the Embankment’s Horn of Plenty reveals: The Winter Palace, Smolny Cathedral, The Academy of Fine Arts, The Rostral Columns, Palace Bridge, Trinity Bridge, Vasilievsky Island, Pushkin House, The Palace Embankment, The English Embankment, Peter The Great Bridge, Laundry Bridge, Trinity Bridge, Alexander Nevsky Bridge, The Academy Of Sciences, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Kutozov Embankment, Foundry Bridge, Kutuzovskaya Quay, the haunting Sphinxs of the powerful monument “To the Victims of Political Repressions” … and many more.
For an unearthly experience (at least for us Westerners), winter’s frozen Neva is another world altogether: a vast plain of crystal white, jagged with broken slabs of ice re-frozen into an alien frost-desert, an industrialised horizon squats misted and low across the water, frothing white from its needle-spire chimneys.
Home of the Taurida (Taurean) Palace, gifted to Grigory Potemkin; favourite of Catherine the Great. It is close to central St Petersburg but maintains its seclusion, a nearby parallel place to escape to. It features curving pathways overhung with trees, winding around the islanded waters and sculpted hills. Once, the aristocracy strolled there and gradually after war and flood: repair and restoration are returning its former grandeur. A beautiful place to be.
Museums: all of Them
These are definitely worth a mention because of the sheer quantity and diversity alone. You’ve all heard of The Hermitage, but what about the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology or the Museum of Non-Conformist Art? The quoted total number of museums in the city vary from “many” to “over 100” to “200”… any advance on 200, anyone?
Diverse is not the word (…actually, perhaps it is). From Dolls to Political History, Urban Sculpture to the Cruiser Aurora: there’s bound to be something for all. The more extreme include Kresty Prison Museum, made all the more grim by the fact that the prison is still in use (you see and hear the prisoners; I’m not presenting this as a selling point incidentally) and the Museum of Hygiene with its explicit cautionary models, photographs and other representations of what can go traumatically… wrong with your person. Star attraction is the authentic, stuffed Pavlov’s dog. Form an orderly queue please…
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 18)
We head east.
[Many thanks to Nickolay for information and photos.]