Peter And Paul Fortress and Other Russian-y Things

Trip Start Aug 25, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The first thing I noticed in St. Peterburg was the smell.  It stinks everywhere of pollution.  Everywhere smells like gasoline.

I thought it was supposed to be pretty and westernized.  I didn't get either impression.  Even the pretty buildings were covered in grime and dirt as were the cars.  Nothing can keep clean in this amount of pollution.

Also, you can't drink the water.  There's a weird organism that basically gives you constant uncontrollable diarrhea.  And if you get it, you have to take pills for a month that make you turn yellow.  I was told not to be too paranoid...but whatever, I brushed my teeth with bottled water.  Apparently, you can drink the water in Moscow, but it actually tastes worse than St. Petersburg.  It's like a giant cup of smog water.

On the first day, due to a stroke of luck, I didn't miss breakfast.  Some kids spent too long pondering the sign on the first floor that said breakfast with an arrow.  Breakfast was, actually, on the 18th and top floor.  Who knew?

The breakfast was awesome.  Such a nice change from bread and cheese and blah of Danish food.  There were crepes with sour cream, eggs, cereal, bread and cheese (for the other Europeans) and oh, rice and steamed vegetables.  I think they were perhaps targetting the Japanese business men crowd, not that it worked.  Oh and a pastry table of cookies and those awesome apricot things.

Despite it being 9 in the morning, the view was not spectacular.  It still looked like the dead of night and a heavy layer of smog lay over the city.  In fact, I had first thought I had set my alarm wrong when I woke up as it was so dark.

But anyways, our first stop was to the Peter and Paul Fortress.  St. Petersburg is a new city, in the grand scheme of things.  Of course, it's older than the United States, but that doesn't mean much.  Peter the Great (the great is up for debate) built the city to westernize Russia.  He wanted lots of reform and catching up so to speak.  Still, he did this in typical Russian fashion.

First of all, he picked the least hospitable place possible.  Cold swampy land on the Baltic.  Second of all, no one in Russia actually liked the sea or thought it was very useful...yet he built the city on the sea.  Russia didn't even have a Navy before this point.  It was supposed to be the impossible city to build.  The early wooden buildings all deteriorated due to the nasty conditions.  But as a tzar in a really big country, Peter the Great had one hell of a disposable work force.  Nothing was impossible as long as you were willing to kill lots of people in the process of westernizing.

Peter and Paul fortress was his version of a Kremlin.  All old Russian towns have Kremlins.  Peter made a fortress.  And inside there's a very westernized Orthodox church with all the dead tzars inside...including himself! 

Peter and Paul Fortress was not all that exciting.  The buildings were dirty and grimy and construction seemed to be happening EVERYWHERE.  The whole place just seemed a bit touristy and useless.  Of course, the torture museum is located here...but we didn't get to go there.  Another interesting museum I missed out on was the Natural History Museum, the first museum in Russia, also created by Peter the Great.  He was quite the culture guy.  So cultured, that he collected deformed fetuses.  That's right, you can see 400 year old deformed fetuses in St. Petersburg all thanks to him.

Speaking of Peter the Great, here he is! 

Apparently, he really did look like this.  He was really really big and had a really really tiny head.  Also, climbing on him and such doesn't seem to be against the rules which is an odd thing in Russia.  Russia is generally anti-fun.  The list of things one cannot do is usually very very length.  For the Peter and Paul Fortress, you may not do any of these things, one of which appears to be "one cannot commit suicide from the Peter and Paul Fortress." 

We also got to see this statue of Peter the Great, which looked suspiciously like the poster 6" in front of my face on the plane flight. 

At the fortress, we also got some views of the skyline.  Thanks to the swamp, St. Petersburg is really really flat.

And you get a lovely view of really flat buildings.  And there would be a nice view of the Orthodox Cathedral in the distance if the smokestacks didn't block it.  Mmm, I can hardly breathe just thinking about it.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around.  We did some souvenir shopping at a souvenir market.  This little market was pretty much the last time we met Russians who spoke English.  They were also a lot friendlier than the average.  I suppose they are half doing it for the sale, but one of them even liked discussing politics, which many of them avoid.  He likes Putin...but then again, everyone likes Putin.

We also navigated the Metro.  With all the signs in Cyrillic, it's not always the easiest thing, but trains come back to back.  St. Petersburg boasts the deepest subway in the entire world.  Yet again, problems you face when you build on a swamp.  It seems like most time is spent on giant and very very steep escalators. 

Metros are government property.  Therefore, you aren't allowed to take pictures.  Not that everyone adhered to that but I didn't want to bribe a cop.  They are filled with ridiculous communist era architecture, though.  But the Moscow ones were even more ridiculous.

I should also mention there's a fancy cakelike church in St. Petersburg too.  It's not as fun as St. Basil's but here it is anyways. 
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