August 2, 2012
Dear Peter and Catherine
Great work. You created a city that is grand and elegant, historic and vibrant, that doesn’t just rival the other great cities of the world but rolls their best into one … New York, Paris, London. St Petersburg. You obviously liked things big. Bigger than big.
Your palaces are so enormous I cannot imagine how you filled them.
Possibly the collections of weird and wonderful animal specimens you gathered from around the globe. Or the magnificent artworks you admired and acquired.
The giant parks I know were places to display exotic flora, nurtured with individual heaters until they matured.
And the huge streets, that seem to stretch to the horizon? Well, I guess you needed them to give all the huge palaces an address.
Although Peterhof? Seriously? 140 fountains? That was a little over the top don’t you think. Spectacular, with some serious gold bling in the reception rooms to rival Versailles. But hardly necessary.
I admire the way you showed such foresight, though, in sponsoring academia and the arts. And even tried to put an end to serfdom.
The colleges of the university are still standing, with their own gardens and statues.
In fact we stayed in an apartment near the Academy of Arts, which remains guarded by the pair of sphinxes taken from Egypt in the early 1800s.
And while you, Peter, encouraged a few too many public executions for my liking, I acknowledge your expertise in warfare. The fort in the middle of town is impressive, as is the artillery museum it now houses.
And I appreciate your dedication to your passions. Anyone who refused to build bridges because they wanted people to use boats instead gets my vote.
Fortunately much of the grandeur and even opulence of your city survived the Communist Soviet era.
I don’t know how but the mosaic-laden Church on Spilled Blood, the shiny St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral and the massive St Isaac’s (yes, we climbed up to the dome) are still standing and have even been restored. Perhaps it’s a sign of the strength of your legacy even now.
There’s no doubting St Petersburg residents are a strong bunch. We heard how they survived the German blockade of the Second World War … for almost four years they resisted invasion, without food or heating through the dire winters. So many perished. But they would not give in. No wonder you see so few older people smiling.
But we found most to be friendly and helpful … the exuberant van driver who almost stopped traffic to yell out hello and find out where we were from; the man in the supermarket who helped us weigh our fruit and veggies; and our friend, whose name we never discovered, who looked after our motorbike while he was working on renovations in the building behind our apartment. Oh, and his friend, Dmitri, who said it was ok to park there.
You’ll be pleased to know, Peter and Catherine, that your city is being renovated. And I think you’d like how it’s coming along. Thousands of tourists are visiting, many like us bringing in their money from overseas.
It’s tough getting in and out across the borders and the roads need fixing. But your St Petersburg is worth the journey.