Trip to Russia. Day 9. Saint Petersburg. Along Nevsky Prospect to Vasilyevsky Island

Trip to Russia. Day 9. Saint Petersburg. Along Nevsky Prospect to Vasilyevsky Island

“If the weather is so good, Petersburg is so unfamiliar to you that you certainly want to walk, you will not regret. I advise you to always start from the Lavra…”
                                                                                          Nikolay Dobrolyubov
                                                                                          September 26, 1853

 

The moment I told my dad we were going to Saint Petersburg, he went ballistic. His particular way — with silence. Brows together. Teeth clenched. Eyes deadlocked with mine. Silence. Long. Breathing. More silence.

— This is dumb.

He was right. What can you see of Saint Petersburg in two days? Hermitage alone needs a week to touch its surface. But dad is the one who taught me to take my chances and make the most of my time.

My father has always loved Piter, as they call it for short, and had many friends there. When a teenager, he once ran away from home and successfully joined the Nakhimov Naval Academy. My grandmother pulled a lot of strings to get him out of there and return back to Moscow. My mom always joked that dad would have looked good in that navy uniform.

Later, for his work, dad had many joint projects with scientists from Saint Petersburg and travelled there a lot, frequently taking me with him. Since I was little, this city has always been to me like an extension of Moscow. Our trips rarely lasted more than three days and dad’s tips on how see the most of Piter in a few hours certainly didn’t get lost on me.

With that, shortly after 6 AM on our ninth day in Russia, Tom was documenting this Gatchina scenery passing by our windows.

 

 

Meanwhile, in our compartment, I was teaching the girls a required ritual on every Soviet long-distance train — morning tea. It arrived in traditional podstakanniki — glass holders — just like I remembered them.

Tea was a big part of my daily routine.

After Radio Mayak was turned on in the kitchen, a teapot was on the stove first thing in the morning. A cup had to be drunk before going out for an hour bus ride to work in Moscow weather.

At work, an electric teapot was already plugged in by the first person in the door — not me — to warm up after the cold. In our office building, electric teapots were strictly forbidden by the fire safety department so, naturally, every room kept them locked in a security box together with money and important documents.

The next cup of tea was due around noon — to refresh an inner self.

There was tea around 2 PM, before lunch — to get ready for the meal.

Tea was required after lunch — to aid digestion.

Another cup of tea was in the late afternoon — “zamorit’ cherviachka” — to calm an inner worm of hunger.

The next cup was just before leaving the office, at about 6 PM, and diving back into the cold commute home.

Once at home, before dinner, a cup of tea was a must — to warm up.

There was one with dinner — to relax and digest.

And the last one — just before bed — to wash all the thoughts away.

On the train, my old instincts woke up and I asked for tea.

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Back in the day, I always travelled the Red Arrow — a traditional Moscow-Leningrad overnight train — and arrived at the Moscovsky train station. This year, we wanted to try Sapsan — a new speedy train that takes about four hours to get there. But our decision to go to Saint Petersburg was so last minute, that we could only get tickets on the train passing by Piter on its way to Helsinki. That train dropped us at Ladozhskaya train station. To save some time and check out the northern metro, which is much deeper than in Moscow, we went underground.

Ladozhskaya Metro station is 61 meters — more than 200 feet — deep. The escalator here moved faster than in New York and it took us more than 2.5 minutes to get to the platform. I timed it. It is not the deepest station. The deepest one is Admiralteiskaya — 102 meters or 282 feet with the escalators 120 meters — almost 400 feet — long.

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We met the early hours of sunrise at the beginning of Nevsky Prospect. Technically, it is the end of it, but not for me and probably not for most of the muscovites as we arrive at the Moscovsky station just a block or so west.

Our plan was solid. Tried and true, it was the one my dad devised years and years ago when we were here together. When pressed for time in Piter and it’s your first trip, there are three things to cover — take a walk along Nevsky Prospect, visit a suburb, check out a museum, maybe two.

Here’s Prince Alexander Nevsky. In the 13th century, he led Russian troops to victory against Swedish invaders on the ice of the Neva River — thus he’s Nevsky. This monument is supposed to provide a counterpoint to the one of Peter the Great, the Bronze Horseman, at the opposite end of Nevsky Prospect.

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Right behind the monument is Alexander Nevsky Lavra, a monastery that was named after the Prince once he was canonized. The monastery was built around the same time as the rest of the city in early 18th century. It mainly consists of two churches and four cemeteries.

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Despite the early hours the Lavra was open and we went in on a brief tour.

One of my father’s colleagues, at whose apartment I stayed on my solo trips to Saint Petersburg, lived in the House of Policatorzhan — House of Political Prisoners of the Tsarist Regime. From the prestige point, owning a separate apartment there was equal to the penthouse in Manhattan’s Dakota Building. The building always had a privileged status supported by its special location with a view of the Neva, Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, and one of the oldest city squares. Interestingly, the tenants of the building included representatives of different parties and movements — Narodnaya Volya, Bolsheviks, and Menshevik Socialist Revolutionaries. The house united even former political opponents under its roof. That father’s friend was married to a daughter of an important revolutionary buried in one of the Lavra’s cemeteries. Somehow, my every visit coincided with their need to tend to the grave so I would accompany my hosts on that important trip.

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Like in all Russian churches we’ve visited before, picture taking was not welcomed. So these are just a few I managed to shoot off my hip.

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The list of the people buried on the cemeteries of Lavra would read like Who’s Who of Russian art, culture and science: Lomonosov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Rubinstein, Kustodiev…

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And here we go — Nevsky Prospect is ahead of us.

“There is nothing better than Nevsky Prospect, at least in Petersburg; here it means everything. What kind of shine does this beauty of our capital does not shine! I know that none of its pale and clerical inhabitants will trade Nevsky Prospect for all the treasures in the world… As soon as you step on Nevsky Prospect, it already smells of promenade. Even if you had some important pressing pursuits, having ascended to it, you will definitely forget about any business. This is the only place to which people are driven not by obligation, not by their needs and mercantile interests that consumes the entire Petersburg… Almighty Nevsky Prospect! This promenade is the only entertainment for the poor of Petersburg! How cleanly its sidewalks are swept, and, God, how many legs left their marks here! A clumsy dirty boot of a retired soldier, under its weight it seems that the granite itself is cracking, and a tiny, light as smoke, shoe of a young lady turning her head to the shiny windows of the store, like sunflower to the sun, and a rattling saber of the full of hopes ensign, making a sharp scratch on it — everything takes out on it the power of strength or the power of weakness. What fast phantasmagoria takes place here in just one day! How much change it endures in one day!”

                                                                                                       Nikolai Gogol,

                                                                                                       Nevsky Prospect                             

 

Every building on Nevsky deserves a picture and every single one has a story. I was taking pictures randomly in between telling stories to my family or quietly flipping through my memories. This is one of the so called “dokhodnye doma,” i.e. houses for income that belonged to The Lavra — eclectic style of 1873. Probably it is still a Klondike of communal apartments Saint Petersburg is so famous for.

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This is the only way I have ever seen Nevsky — empty with sparkling sidewalks, right after they were hosed by water from the cleaning trucks. My Red Arrow would arrive at about 6 am and I would walk from Moscovsky train station to the House of Politkatorzhan where I always stayed. It would take me 3 hours — give or take — with stops for breakfast and some sightseeing.

Back in my days, somewhere here used to be “Cafe Minutka” — the only one open at ungodly hours for muscovite arrivals. It was a little dive into the basement of one of these magnificent buildings. And there were the best sochniki in the world!

Northern sidewalk of Nevsky is called “Sunny side” and southern — “Shady side,” as most of the time it’s in the shade. Locals being northerners always prefer the sunny side. We followed our Jersey habits and stuck to the shady one.

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Nevsky Prospect is the very center of St. Petersburg, its main symbol, and the epicenter of city life. When he planned this route, Peter the Great envisioned a connection between the city’s spiritual center, Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and the secular one, the so-called Petrogradskaya storona, Vasilievsky Island, and the Peter and Paul fortress on Zayachy Island. With that, he ordered a road, the so-called “Great Pershpective.” Legend has it that, from the west, the road was laid by Russian soldiers assisted by captured Swedes. From the side of the monastery the road was laid by monks. It quickly became clear that these roads would not meet in a straight line as it was planned by Peter — somewhere along the way, the monks messed up their calculations. Peter ordered them whipped mercilessly, but this was of no use to the cause. Two roads connected in the 1760s at the shameful bend at ​​Vosstaniya Square.

As Nevsky Prospect flows along from Alexander Nevsky Lavra to the Neva river, it crosses three other smaller channels: Fontanka River, Griboyedov Channel, and Moika River. This network of waterways crossing and crisscrossing each other created the need for multiple bridges, each bridge eventually becoming a piece of art in itself. It will take more than a day to cover all the bridges of Saint Petersburg — big ones and little ones.

Here we are crossing Fontanka River over Anichkov Bridge, another symbol of the city surrounded with many legends. It is probably the most recognizable bridge with its horses on each corner. In the early 18th century, it was build and rebuilt many a times out of wood. In the 19th century, it was rebuilt in stone. At some point, the bridge was decorated with lions and vases. In the middle of the 19th century, the horses arrived.

Russian sculptor Peter Clodt derived the idea for these sculptures from those installed at the opening to the Champs-Elyseés in Paris. French horses, in turn, were inspired by those on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. Knowing Romans, Greek roots of these horses are probably not too far behind.

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Clodt created a plot — the process of taming an animal — positions of man and horse progress from a man on the ground to the one walking next to the tamed animal.

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Two of the horses are shod and two are not. The shod ones face the West and ready for war, the East facing ones are not. There is another thought behind such placement: shod horses face back from smithy district of Liteiny towards the Neva River, thus they are shod. Horses facing away from Neva towards Liteiny are on their way to the smithy to be shod.

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This is probably the most talked about horse. Rumor has it, that Clodt’s wife cheated on him. As revenge, instead of challenging his rival to a duel, Clodt immortalized him in this sculpture — to be exact, in the groin of this horse. Another version says that the face under the tail belongs to Napoleon, others say — to the tsar.

The day we were there, construction walls blocked access to the other side to take that peculiar shot. But, I’m sure it is floating somewhere there, in the vastness of the web.

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These horses were favored so much that — at different times — their copies were presented to the Prussian king, to the king of Italy. They are in Berlin and Naples to this day. A few versions were installed around St. Petersburg’s suburbs, decorating palaces of Russian nobility, there are some in Moscow. Sounds like the horse-producing office worked without breaks.

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Anyway, we were moving right along. This statue is feminist as it gets — the empress with male favorites at her feet. This is the only monument to Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. She preferred to remain in people’s mind rather than in stone.

In her left hand, Catherine holds a laurel wreath, as if she is about to lay it on a hero’s head. With her right hand, the Empress confidently squeezes the symbol of royal power — the scepter— and at her feet rests the crown of the Russian Empire.

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Behind Catherine the Great, there is the Alexandrinsky Theater, the oldest drama theater in St. Petersburg. Built in the middle of the 18th century by Carlo Rossi, the theater was named after the wife of Emperor Nicholas I, Alexandra Feodorovna. Until the revolution it was the main theater venue in the country.

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Architect Rossi Street behind the Alexandrinsky Theater is famous due to its unique architectural accuracy. The width of the street is equal to the height of buildings — 22 meters. Its length is exactly ten times more — 220 meters.

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Architect Rossi Street houses the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. This is the alma mater of Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Fokin, Vatslav Nizhinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov to name a few.

The day we were walking by, auditions were taking place.

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Along Nevsky prospect, every single building carries some significance — cultural, historical, architectural. This is House of Singer (yes, the sewing machine company), now known as “The House of Books.” At the start of the First World War, here was the Embassy of the United States.

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Across the street from the Singer House overlooking the Griboyedov Channel, there is the Kazan Cathedral.

Impressed by St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, Tsar Paul I required a similar temple in St. Petersburg. Completed by Alexander I just before the start of the Patriotic War with Napoleon, the cathedral became a monument to the victory. In front of the temple, there are two sculptures — Mikhail Kutuzov and Mikhail Barclay de Tolly — the two generals who defeated Napoleon in 1812.

Cathedrals and temples of various confessions overlook Nevsky Prospect. Shut down during the Soviet times, many of them resumed their activities at the end of the 20th century. We walked by the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. There are also the Catholic Church of St. Catherine, the Lutheran Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, an Armenian church, a Dutch church. Someone called this avenue “the street of religious tolerance.”

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In the left side chapel of the cathedral, there is the tomb of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov-Smolensky. There are also keys to the cities that fell under him, marshal’s batons and various trophies.

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Back when I was here during my school days, this cathedral was a museum with an inquisition chamber and Spanish boot on the display. Now it is a church. Despite the fact that the Kazan Cathedral is active, it continues to be one of the main business cards of St. Petersburg, and no one has ever canceled excursions to this attraction.

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Everyone says: the Hermitage, the Hermitage… There’s a hermitage in every major capital — Louvre, Met, National Gallery. Once in Russia, Flemish artists and impressionists can stand back.

If you ask me, when you have only one day in St Petersburg I’d say this is the museum to visit. This is the State Russian Museum — the largest collection of Russian art in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed that day. We’ll have to come back.

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These pop up sculptures are so new to me. We saw quite a few of them in Moscow. Not sure how I feel about them – some things are better left alone. To the imagination.

This is a replica of Ostap Bender, The Great Combinator, an attractive crook operating within the law in Ilya Ilf’s and Yevgeny Petrov’s novels “The Twelve Chairs” and “The Golden Calf.” This favorite hero of my brother knew “multiple legal ways to make citizens part with their money.“ Why on Earth is he here? He’s supposed to be in Odessa.

For good luck, according to the note on the wall, one has to sit on the chair and rub his nose. We’ll see what happens…

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Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This cathedral got its name from the place where it was built. Here, an attempt on the life of Emperor Alexander II was made. The tsar was wounded and soon died.

See how the top of the cathedral is covered with construction material. I do not remember ever seeing this cathedral without scaffolding around it here or there. Neither did my father. There is even a popular song that goes: “For twenty years I have dreamed of removing scaffolding from the Savior on Spilled Blood.”

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Outside of the cathedral we stumbled upon a kindly owner of trained pigeons. The pigeons — as trained — went all over us, ever so cute. We stopped to look at them and take pictures of the cuteness. Then the kindly tamer appeared:

— That’s a hundred dollars, US.

Ouch! Commerce was strong. But we were stronger. We handed him 100 rubles (an equivalent of couple dollars), and headed off.

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The side of the cathedral overlooking Moika River.

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Always trying to find an angle from which not a single piece of scaffolding is visible. Did I succeed? Nope.

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We crossed Mikhailovsky Garden, full of tourists awaiting for the Savior on Spilled Blood to open. It was not even 10 AM.

Saint Michael’s Castle was in front of us. It was built in the 18th century as the residence for Paul I while he was still a prince. Paul was born in the Summer Palace that stood right here in the place of this castle. Ironically — tragically — it is here Paul I would be strangled under the orders of his wife, a German princess, who would go on to rule Russia for 34 years as Catherine the Great. Legends of Paul’s ghost traveling the halls of the palace were so long lived and persistent that even in the 1980’s a special secret commission was formed to investigate them.

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We crossed Moika to the Field of Mars. In the 18th century, this place was called Amusement Field or Tsarina’s Field — this was a place for military parades. After the 1917 revolution, it was turned into a monument to those fallen in that war. Later, an eternal flame was lit here to commemorate those fallen during the Second World War.

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The Summer Garden was closed for restoration, so from the Field of Mars we turned back to Neva and encountered this Museum of Soviet Arcade Games on Aptekarsky Lane. This picture was taken for Anton.

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Along Moika we continued to the Alexander Pushkin Museum. This is the courtyard of the house where the poet lived and died.

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Here’s the owner himself.

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Myriad of quotes and associations — grandma’s readings, school assignments, early heartbreaks — went through my mind. It’s one of those things when you say all or nothing…

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We continued along the Moika River back to Nevsky.

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Palace Square — the heart of St Petersburg. It is twice as big as the Red Square in Moscow. Originally, this used to be a field where emperors hunted rabbits. Later, they planted oats here. At some point, it was a pasture for cows. Bloody Sunday took place here. Nicholas II announced the war on Germany here. Bolsheviks started their attack here.

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The Alexander Column was installed under Nicholas I to commemorate the victory over Napoleon. This solid red granite column is the tallest of its kind in the world— it’s 50 meters high.

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The spirit of imperial St. Petersburg — grandeur and perfection.

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The Winter Palace. The residence of Russian Royalty that now houses one of the largest museums in the world — the Hermitage. No details now, we planned it for the next day.

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At the end of Nevsky Prospect — or at the beginning of it — The Admiralty, the former headquarters of the Imperial Russian Navy, is peeking out in the distance. The Admiralty Spire is another symbol of the city.

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Strategic turn to the left, and here’s our other destination to slow down — St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

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One of my favorite memories about this cathedral was a Foucault pendulum. It was attached to the very top of the central dome reaching all the way to the floor. On the floor, there were gradations. If you were patient, you’d get a turn to launch the pendulum along the middle line and watch it move to one side slowly as the Earth was rotating. That church attraction gave Soviet citizens the proof that our planet was nice, and round, and rotating — no turtles all the way down.

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It is the first time I saw it so crowded here.

 

The pendulum was attached right there where this little bird is now. It’s not there any more.

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The doors. I loved staring at the figures making connections with my school history and literature curriculums. Back then, some of the heads occasionally would missing — eager tourists picking up some souvenirs.

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Magnificent, isn’t it?

 

The columns of these gates are carved from the solid pieces of malachite brought here from the Urals.

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St. Isaac’s has there altars. The main one is the one of Saint Isaac of Dalmatia. The left one is that of Alexander Nevski. This is the right one. It is dedicated to Saint Catherine. Here is one of its most prized icons — Our Lady of Tikhvin. It took some time to get a quiet moment for this video. 

 

Interior explored, here’s the staircase to the outside observation deck.

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We are — almost at the top — 562 steps all together.

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These views from St. Isaac’s Collonade reminded me the first chapters of “Les Miserables” and that detailed description of Paris from a bird’s view.

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Bits of Senate Square where, in December of 1825, Russian army officers lined up to protest against Tsar Nicholas I and his assumption of the throne.

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From this angle, there are the Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, and The Admiralty.

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 There is the Savior on Spilled Blood way in the back on the horizon to the left and Kazan Cathedral to the right.

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St. Isaac’s Cathedral as it looks from the side of the Neva RIver.

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And here he is — The Bronze Horseman. This stone was brought to St. Petersburg from some remote village during winter months — ice made it easier to drag the rock — frozen ground could handle the weight. The final leg of its travel was on a boat. As the boat docked, they had to sink it in order to slide the rock onto the shore. This monument is a gift from Catherine the Great to Peter the Great. She did consult her penpals Diderot and Voltaire while thinking over the concept: a victory of civilization, human will, and intellect over wild nature.

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This little lawn behind Saint Issac’s reminded me of NYC’s Central Park. Times change. I am not sure that back in the day we were allowed to breathe on that grass.

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We crossed The Neva River over The Dvortsovy (Palace) Bridge. This is the one that splits evenly in two halves during the White Nights to let the tall ships go by. This is the bridge that is used in almost every movie where St. Petersburg night scenes are required.

Looking at the Kunstcamera museum on the other side, I recall another moment from the years gone by.

My dad brought me here to show the White Nights and the bridges. I was nine years old and beyond excited to stay up all night. If memory doesn’t deceive me, they start opening the bridges around 1 AM. All day, dad insisted I take a nap. Never good with naps and all worked up with the excitement, I refused. Diligently, he turned in after lunch and I went out to the courtyard — a playground or something. We had dinner later, watched some TV. I was upset he decided to sleep and we couldn’t go out. He was silent about me not following his nap advice. Everything was going great, until about midnight, when some heavy weight started slowly descending upon my shoulders and my eyelids. And my bones suddenly lost their rigidity. And my interest in the night and bridges started vanishing. All what I wanted was just to put my head on my elbow. And just could you please leave me alone… My dad being my dad, without a discussion, wrapped his arm around my waist and handling me like a rag doll carried me outside:

— We came to see the bridges, let’s go look at the bridges.

Once on the breezy embankment, life started returning into my limbs and my neck got some muscles back. I saw the lights, the water and The Dvortsovy Bridge — already split in half. We covered quite a few bridges that night: Blagoveshchensky, Dvortsovy, Troitsky, Liteiny, Okhtinsky. I believe, The Alexander Nevsky Bridge was our last one. When my dad sets his mind — things get done.

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Rostralny columns — light houses — on the approach to Valilievski Island is decorated with the prows of the ships. At the bottom, there are figures symbolizing four major Russian rivers: Volga, Neva, Volkhv, Dniepr.

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Once on Vassilievsky, we passed by the building where Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov conducted his classical conditioning experiments with dogs. Here he developed his famous concept of “conditioned reflex.”

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Charming cobblestones of Vasilievsky Island lines, as they call streets on the island.

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The view from our second floor hotel room. We stayed at the Bridge Inn on Kadetskaya Line, the place that was not fancy and not fussy but oh so friendly and clean. Too bad it was only one night.

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We were up since 5 AM — walking for about seven hours. Once we got to our hotel, the girls didn’t even bother to get undressed.

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For me — I am not very good at taking naps — it was a moment to check out a restaurant downstairs. Grand Cafe Kabanchik — Georgian, of course.

Salat po gruzinski     

Unfortunately, my phone ran out of charge and for this post I have to use these two pictures from the restaurant’s website. This was my lunch — best food from my childhood summers on Black Sea — Georgian salad and lamb lula-kebabs with satsebeli sauce.

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Once we were ready to continue, I had to take my family to the place my dad brought me when I was in grade school — Second Line of Vasilievsky Island, building #13 — seven windows on the first floor.

There are many connections in my family to the Second World War. My grandfather, my mother’s dad, was killed in 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad at Rodimtsev Crossing. My grandmother — she was 38 at the time — waited for him till the end of her days, poring over his letters from the front, reading them to me when I was little. My mom made photocopies of those letters and I have them. The originals, grandma took with her to her grave. My dad was 9 when the war started. He spent his days on the roofs of Moscow, putting out the fires set by Nazi airplanes. My mom spend years in evacuation in the city of Ufa.

The first time my dad brought me to this street I was in grade school and so unimpressed with shrapnel marks on the building walls that were preserved here since the war. He told me the story of Tanya Savicheva. I remembered it. But it took years to sink in.

The world knows about Anne Frank and her diary. But before Anne Frank, there was Tanya Savicheva.

In the 30’s, the Soviet regime kicked Tanya’s father out of St Petersburg and he died soon after. When the war started, Tanya lived with her mother and grandmother, two sisters, two brothers, and two uncles on the first floor of this building.

The 900-day siege of Leningrad — that’s what St. Peterburg was called during the Soviet years — took Tanya’s family — one at a time. One of her sisters died from exhaustion — she was constantly donating blood for the wounded. Her grandmother died from hunger with the final wish not to be buried right away so her food stamps could be used by the family until the end of the month. Soon her brothers and uncles died. Tanya’s mother was the last one to go.

Eleven-year-old Tanya packed her mother’s wedding veil and candles, six death certificates, her diary and took off to her gradma’s relatives. She died shortly afterwards from tuberculosis.

These nine lines of Tanya’s diary were among the documents used by prosecutors during the Nuremberg Trials:

Zhenya died on December 28 at 12.30 in the morning 1941

Grandma died on January 25, 3 pm 1942

Leka died on March 17 at 5 am 1942

Uncle Vasya died at 13 April 2 am 1942

Uncle Lesha May 10 at 4 pm 1942

Mom on May 13 at 7:30 am 1942

Savichevs died

All died

Tanya is the only one left

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Life goes on and we continued on to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

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We crossed The Birzhevoy Bridge and looked back at the ground covered: The Hermitage, The Winter Palace, The Admiralty, St. Isaac Cathedral, Rostralny Columns.

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The Peter and Paul Fortress. Peter the Great broke ground here on May 16, 1703, which since then is considered the birth date of St Petersburg. It is the oldest monument of the town.

Interestingly, the Fortress was never used for its intended purpose — protection from Swedish invaders. Gradually, it turned into a state prison for especially important criminals. One of the first criminals confined to these walls was Tsarevitch Alexei, son of Peter the Great.

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We walked around the courtyard and around the perimeter of the fortress overlooking the Neva river. We went down into the catacombs.

Within these walls, Fedor Dostoyevsky was held awaiting his execution, so were the Decembrists, revolutionaries before the revolution, and tsarist generals after.

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Once out of Peter and Paul Fortress, we walked over to the House of Poiltcatorzhan where I stayed with my father’s friends when visiting. Dad and I frequently had snacks on this embankment waiting for our hosts to come home.

Shih-Tza, two mythical Chinese frog-lions brought from the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1907 as a gift of a local governor. The male lion has a ball under his paw, a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. This is a female lion — she has a cub under her paw. And my cub is next to her other paw.

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This is the palace that my dad and I never missed when in Saint Petersburg — the Cabin of Peter the Great. Our hosts’ house where we stayed was right next to it. Dad liked the thought of the simplicity and asceticism of the tsar.

Unfortunately, the cabin was under reconstruction and I was only able to stick my camera through a construction wall. This is the protective brick covering that Peter ordered to build around the actual cabin after he moved out.

Inside this covering, there is a simple 650 square feet log cabin with no heating and only three rooms — living room, bedroom, and a study. If you followed our previous travels you might remember Pleshcheyevo Lake in Pereslavl-Zalesski where young Peter created amusement forces with his playmates — Petrovsky or Peter’s Regimen. Later, this regimen was organized into two — Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky — fiercely loyal to Peter. In time, these two became the foundation of the Russian Imperial Guard and Navy.

The Semenovsky Regiment built this cabin for Peter in three days and Peter lived in it for 5 or 6 years while he supervised the construction of the city.

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Moving along the Neva embankment, we reached another St. Petersburg trademarks: the cruiser Aurora. This is the ship that at 9:40 PM on October 25, 1917, sent a blank shot towards the Winter Palace which signaled the start of the October Revolution.

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After Aurora, we took a street car — I haven’t been on one for ages — that took us back to Vasilievsky Island. We got off by the restaurant Oruzheyny Dvor where we ordered a big platter of crawfish and a pitcher of beer to share. No drinking age in Russia.

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In Russian, Oruzheyny Dvor means The Armory. Thus, the decor.

They do not look tired, do they?

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Vasilievsky Island at night. Last time I was here it did not look that festive.

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The next morning, we had an early start and had some serious plans. To save time on breakfast, we stopped at that Georgian restaurant to get some food for the morning. The place was about to close but two nice women who were there — Irina and Soraya — took the time to make us a couple of fresh Imeretian cheese pies and gave us a bag of loose leaf tea.

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On our way to the hotel, we saw this plaque on the wall: “Poet Iosiph Alexandrovich Brodsky (1940-1996) has something to do with this place.” It was for a restaurant named Buterbrodsky — a word game, I guess. “Buterbrod” in Russian means sandwich and “-sky” is an ending that turns a noun into an adjective. Not sure what message its creators had in mind but they made the plaque look pretty solid. 

Although Brodsky, in one of his poems, did say that he would have liked to finish his days on Vasilievsky Island.

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We took a few steps today. Tomorrow will be another day.

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