Last days in St Petersburg

Saturday: A Day of Sharp Contrasts

We started the day by taking the Hydrofoil from the Winter Square Palace Embankment out to Peterhof on the Gulf of Finland. This great summer palace of the Tsars was created on the water’s edge, and to this day a glorious network of gravity fed fountains surround it. We walked in silence as they began and later toured the palace that was so associated with Catherine the Great (who invited Mennonites into the realm in 1789). The air was crisp, the sky overcast and the spirits high.

Later after a noon spent wandering in Peterhof’s upper park we hopped on our bus and headed for the Piskarevskoe Cemetery. More than 500,000 Leningraders lie buried there. We walked in silence amidst mass burial plots as we moved to the elegant, poignant memorial at the end and its remarkable statue to Mother Russia. The music in the background only added to our spirits and one person said that they would never again listen to Pachelbel’s Canon the same way. Afterwards, on the bus back to the hotel, several commented on how important this visit was.

So it was in our day of contrasts. Later in the evening a few of us went shopping, others retired early and still others hopped the subway for the Lenin statue at the Finland Station. We are so fortunate to be here, now, at such a time as this.


Sunday: A Police Officer with Attitude, a Bus Driver with a Problem

Our day began with an adventure that might have been totally unimaginable anywhere in the world but Russia. I won’t take too much time to go over it, but I’m quite confident that those in the group will long remember the dynamics between our bus driver Vasilii, and a police officer who was clearly having a bad start to his day.

Eventually we all took the city bus down the main (Nevsky) Prospect and entered the glorious Cathedral of the Spilled Blood just off the Griboedov Canal. It is also something to hear the ahhs of those who first enter into this extraordinary and tiled place. It is alive with brilliantly depicted Bible stories/icons, even as it marks the sudden and tragic death of Alexander II in 1881.

Thereafter we walked along the canal till we got to the Kazan Cathedral where we entered into the very Orthodox worship of that space. Filled with Russian singing, candles burning, and Christian pilgrims praying before icons it had the feel of a holy place, and for good reason.

Lunch was on our own and many celebrated the chance to eat in downtown St. Petersburg. Some had their first Russian borscht and pronounced it “very good”! Then back to our hotel for a bit of downtime before most head for the Hermitage Theatre this evening for a production of Tchaikovksy’s Swan Lake.

It is our last full day in St. Petersburg and it has already been time well spent; except, that is, for Vasilii the driver!


— Leonard Friesen

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