Tuesday, May 27, 2008

From St. Petersburg

We arrived at the train station in St. Petersburg and were met by Ada, our local guide, and our bus driver Oleg, who took us first on a guided tour through the city and along the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fort whose outer walls, serve, in the summer time, as a nude sunbathing spot for tan-minded inhabitants.

It seemed to us Southern Californians a bit nippy for that particular activity, but many were out there, enjoying the cool rays of the Russian sun.

Arriving at the fort, we disembarked and strolled along the thick exterior walls and through the crowded parade ground to the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Ada elbowed us through the throng into the church and offered a bright, well-informed historical of the tombs of the Russian royal families.

This is not the place to recall that history—in fact, to be honest, I remember little of it myself—but it was a surprisingly emotional moment to be looking into the modest chapel where the recently rediscovered remains of the brutally murdered Nicholas and Alexandra and their children have been interred in the vicinity of their ancestors.

I hold no brief for royalty or aristocracy, and look back on that period of European history with amazement that so few could hold sway for so long over so many. And yet there is a certain undeniable appeal about it—witness the success of TV shows like The Tudors—casting perhaps the same kind of spell as today’s celebrity culture. The incredible power and wealth of the tsars seems, as I have observed elsewhere in these pages, undeserved, but there it is, on full view in such magnificent places…

Next stop, early evening by now. the Hotel Astoria, where I soon discovered that online access is even more difficult—and more expensive—than in Helsinki. I will have to content myself with doing the writing offline and, hopefully, finding an hour sometime in the next couple of days, to buy enough access to get it posted, along with a few pictures. Our room proved pleasant enough, on the second floor, with a nice view out and, presumably, from the outside, in. A bit disconcerting, with no lacey curtains to hide our nakedness from the passers by on the other side of the street.

A good dinner in the Davidov, the hotel restaurant, and off after a very brief respite to the Mariiknsy Ballet—the former Kirov—where was attended a performance of “Sleeping Beauty.” Tired as we were, we were not enchanted to find ourselves seated directly behind people with seemingly enormous heads, requiring constant shift of the neck from one side to the other in order to see not only the wings but also the center of the stage, where most of the action, of course, took place.

Still, the sets were spectacular, the music, er, dramatic, romantic, perhaps a little sweet… and the dancing impeccable. It was a four-hour performance, and we might have lasted through the third act—the wedding—had it been just a little bit easier to see what was going on. But fatigue set in, too, and Ellie and I left with the majority of our tour group after Prince Desire’s kiss had awakened the royal court on the stage.

Bed—and I wish I could say sleep—by eleven thirty.

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