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9:18pm on Tuesday, 14th July, 2015:

Saint Petersburg


Today we were in Saint Petersburg. It was an early start, so we went to the restaurant as soon as it opened. This was our waiter:

If you have him as a waiter, expect your food to come 30 minutes after you ordered it.

This impressive wall faces our ship:

It's apartments. That whole block is just apartments.

Here's my name in Russian:

It took another 30 or 40 minutes to get through passport control upon leaving the ship. We set off on our tour an hour late. If only the Russian passport office had known there was a ship disgorging 3,000 passengers there, they could have put on more staff.

Here's a more up-market block of flats:

No wonder Russians have a reputation for humourlessness,

Our first photo opportunity! The coach pulls up next to the river, we get out and are greeted by this:

On the other side of the river, though, is this:

It's the Winter Palace, which is one of the buildings that comprises the Hermitage. There's a much better view of it from a massive square at the other side, but of course we didn't stop there...

As soon as I saw this, I knew we were near a tourist attraction:

There's always hideous green netting near tourist attractions.

This is the cathedral in the Peter and Paul fortress:

Entirely predictably, whenever they give you chance to take a photo of a church, it's impossible to fit it in the frame.

The usual restrictions apply:

No dogs, hats, old-fashioned phones, coke bottles or microphones.

This church is quite glitzy inside:

The camera angle is a bit high up because that way you don't see the hordes of people milling around. Peopleless, it would make a good jigsaw puzzle.

This is on the corner of one of the tombs:

I haven't seen more tombs of dead czars anywhere else in the world.

This is an interesting piece of stucco:

I think they based it on licquorice.

Here's the cathedral in the fort again:

Still too close to get it all in. These church architects do this deliberately.

Here's a missile:

Just to keep tourists on their toes.

I like this chap on the window, explaining how to escape in an emergency:

Then again, he could have been warning us that thieves operated nearby. From what our guide Svetlana was saying, they're practically round every corner.

There are two of these columns overlooking the river:

The locals seem to like them, but they look exceptionally ugly in my opinion.

This is the admiralty building:

We must have driven round this three or four times. It's pretty big.

The queue for the Hermitage:

The queue didn't get any better insde. There were queues for everything.

Here's my Hermitage ticket:

250 roubles is just over £3. This is good value for one of the world's greatest museums!

The usual restrictions apply:

No parachutes, no umbrellas, no clothes, no hands, no beer, no pocket calculators, oops we should have given the diagonal lines a different slant, no ghosts.

Inside, the Hermitage is like a stately home:

I was expecting to see artwork from the beginning, but they seemed to take a "the whole place is a work of art" approach.

This is Peter the Great's throne:

Well, one of them, anyway. He did have another one, but made the mistake of ordering it from England so he was dead by the time it was delivered.

Throughout the Hermitage, the floors have intricate marquetry floors:

Svetlana said they kept wearing out and being replaced but everything was original.

The Hermitage is big on chandeliers and ceilings. Here's an example:

The candle bill before electricity was installed must have been enormous.

This is as close as I got to one of the two Da Vinci paintings in the collection:

The image is blurred because I was being jostled by other tourists at the time.

This is as close as I got to the other Da Vinci:

I'll have to look it up next time I have Internet access. The queues were made worse by people videoing the painting, as if they were expecting it to move.

This is a copy of a gallery we saw in the Vatican:

I don't know why, but Russians seem to like copying things they admire. Saint Petersburg itself was inspired by Amsterdam, but it's more like Amsterdam crossed with Paris in my opinion,





El Greco!


There are 26 Rembrandts in the Hermitage. Svetlana walked us past 25 of them.

This is a famous statue I can't say has come across my radar before:

Yes, well when you've been on your feet for two hours it can be a bit tiring...

How was this table leg designed?

"Let's have a big foot ... and wings ... and maybe the head of a lion." "Add some breasts and you're on."

Girl's night out:

They're probably muses or graces or something, to make it non-pornagraphic.

The large cloakroom has enough space for 3,000 coats and bags. It's a corridor with lots of little rooms off it:

The small cloakrook only has enough room for 1,600 coats and bags.

Lunch was surprisingly good:

There was some kind of potato dish as a starter, then a potato soup, then two kinds of identically-tasting meat with potato, then a really nice baklava. There was also a wine that no-one could identify and a shot of vodka in case you had some paint you wanted to strip. Oh, and there were pancakes with a 100% salt caviar-substitute and mayonnaise.

This is the mascot at the entrance to the restaurant:

You know you're in a foreign land when something like that serves to attract customers.

The drains off the roof are enormous, something like twice the diameter of UK drains:

They empty onto the street, which is shaped to form a slight channel so everything runs onto the road. Gawd knows what it must be like going through stream after stream of water in a wheelchair.

A typical Russian scene:

A badly-parked Lada and two people sharing an umbrella, photographed through a rain-streaked window.

This is another famous cathedral:

Our guide had a knack of letting us take photographs of dark objects against light backgrounds, so you can't tell what they're of. This church lets people climb up to an external gallery at the base of the dome, but we didn't even have time to go inside.

I'm starting to pick up the Cyrillic alphabet:

Ps are Rs, backward Ns are Is, Bs are Vs, phis are Fs, backward Rs are YAs, blocky Ws are SHs.

Wrong city?

No, this is merely a copy of St Basil's in Moscow. I told you Russians liked to copy things they admire. This is actually the Church of the Spilled Blood, so called because it was built on the spot where Czar Alexander III (I think) was assassinated. He staggered onto a railing and then died in the street.

This memorial has the exact railing and the exact cobblestones from the street he died on. The people really must have liked him (apart from the ones who killed him, obviously).

This is the ceiling of the Church of the Spilled Blood:

It's all mosaics, restored after a run-in with German artillery during the siege of Leningrad. Here's another example:

It's God shooting three beams of light out of his beard at Mary. I'm glad I'm not religious, or I'd have to understand that.

What? We don't even have one of these in Colchester!

Get your priorities straight, Jamie!

This is a long line of tourist stalls along the river or canal or whatever it was next to the Church of the Spilled Blood:

Every single person on the bus except Svetlana the guide wanted to peruse them. Instead, she dragged us to a government-operated souvenir shop which took so long to get to that we weren't allowed off the bus to visit it. We were threatened with going there again tomorrow.

This statue really doesn't like the way the dust has accumulated on her chest:

Look at the price of petrol in Russia!

There are about 80 roubles to the pound. 50p a litre for fuel!

And so our tour of St Petersburg's roadworks came to an end:

I'd better stop there, it's 11:20pm and our alarm is set for 6am tomorrow morning for our second installment of Russian culture.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).