Day 37 – 18 June In St Petersburg
I woke up to howling winds but a clear sky. I ventured on to the balcony of the 13th floor apartment and almost got blown away. I feared for the phone camera more! The high railings around the balcony was a harness of sorts while I took in the glorious sights from that height. But the cold winds sent me shivering back into the warm confines of the bedroom in a short while. I decided to take it easy this day with the only objective of wanting to experience the Metro and possibly go to the Nevsky Prospect in the evening. I lazed around trying to find something to do! It had to be the blogs. By about noon I was up to date and ready for the Metro outing.
The Moscow Metro had fascinated me when I visited there in 2014. Many of the stations are virtual museums. Roman had warned me that I would not find the St Petersburg Metro stations so ornate but they would be clean. I learnt that the discussions about building an underground rail system in St Petersburg had started in 1812. There were many plans and proposals. Each of them was torpedoed for some reason or the other. Even the church had played its part in delaying the underground system concluding that it would be an affront to the dignity of the Church! The first section of the Metro opened in November 1955 and now covers 113 km through 67 stations on 5 Lines. The sixth line is under construction. The Metro is one of the most important means of transportation in this large city and carts nearly 2 million passengers daily. The unique topology of the city has made the St Petersburg Metro one of the deepest in the world and the Admiralteyskaya Metro station is 86 metres below the ground. This makes the elevator systems so steep that I almost felt that I would fall off the elevator. When I reached the Zvyozdnaya Metro station, the closest to my residence, I thought it resembled a dungeon. The doors to the line were steel encasements! Then I came to know that the Metro stations were also meant to be bunkers in the event of nuclear attacks. Each trip on the Metro system costs RUB 35. Metro coins are issued that has to be inserted into the turnstile to gain entry into the station. Metro cards can also obtained and topped up as and when required. However, unlike the London Underground there is no facility for a Day Pass. That’s a bit tiresome for tourists. But they can avail bulk travel coupons for journeys ranging from 10 to 50 trips. The stations are so vast that daily use of the Metro can also provide enough exercise for the body as I found out by late evening.
The morning outing was short because, as soon as I ventured out, it started drizzling and the winds made progress almost impossible. I secreted in the confines of a McDonalds for a Big Mac and a drink. I virtually ran back into the residence after experiencing the Zvyozdnaya to Kupchino ride in a Metro train. It was a seminal foray to appraise how user friendly the system is. I found it extremely so and thought of using it for the evening outing, weather permitting.
When I woke up after a short snooze following lunch of chicken cutlet and a bun the weather was not as threatening as it had been in the morning. The irony was that I had packed up all the warm clothes in the car for shipment to India. Armed with a sleeveless jacket I took the Metro to the Nevsky Prospekt without having to interchange. The Nevsky Prospekt is the main street in St Petersburg and serves as the principal shopping place and where nightlife never ends! The avenue is said to have been planned by Peter the Great, the founder of the city which served as the capital of a growing country for two hundred years. The grand Kazan Cathedral hogs the limelight in the area, the construction of which was completed in 1811. The church was considered primarily as a memorial after the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812.
While walking around the cathedral area enjoying the architecture and the memorials around the place I found many tour operators promoting canal rides. St Petersburg is built across the Neva River delta and hence, is interlaced by a system of tributaries and canal systems that run more than 300 km in and around the city with over 800 bridges crossing them. From the Kazan Cathedral I walked along the Griboedov Canal enjoying the views on both sides of the canal as well as the grand sight of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The major tourist attraction in St Petersburg is an arresting sight from anywhere. It is modeled after the St Basils in the Kremlin. The colorful onion rings are captivating. The church was built at the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in an attack by an anarchist in 1881. The construction of the church was completed in 1907 but was badly damaged in looting and arson during the 1917 revolution. During WWII the church was used as a morgue and thereafter as a warehouse for potatoes! The renovated church does not have regular worship but is a rich museum of mosaics. However, memorial masses are held in the church.
After spending considerable time soaking in the sights of the canal and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood I trudged to the Palace Square. By this time the feet had become weary, for distances are deceptive and the sights too captivating to skip. The Square was decked up for some major events. Three huge stages had been put up that spoilt the grandness of the place. I was told by one of the security guys that the Square often serves as an open air concert center for international artists. The Winter Palace or the Hermitage is the central building in the Palace Square. Opposite to the Winter Palace is a huge arc that was designed as a monument to the victory against Napoleon. At the centre of the Square is the red granite Alexander Column, which is the tallest of its kind in the world.
A short walk away from the Palace Square is the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and Square. The magnificence of the Cathedral is indescribable. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the largest Russian Orthodox Church in the city. At the centre of the Square is the bronze equestrian monument to Tsar Nicholas I. Opposite to the Cathedral is the beautiful Marjinsky Palace, which presently is home to the Legislative Assembly of the city. The Blue Bridge and the Moika River grace the front of the erstwhile Palace.
By the time I reached the Blue Bridge, which at one point had been the widest bridge in all of St Petersburg, my legs had stopped co-operating. It was time to head home. I reached the Admiralteyskaya Metro station and made haste to the flat after making an interchange. Leftovers from lunch served as dinner laced with a few stiff servings of Russian Standard Vodka.