The city of the water,
the city on the waters
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September 1996I do like water, and running water in particular. One of the things I like about it is the beauty that reflections in the moving and rippling water add to landscapes... or cityscapes, for that matter. You may have seen that already in my wilderness travelogues.
Perhaps the water is one more reason why I love St. Petersburg and like taking pictures there whenever I'm lucky to visit the city. Long time ago the city was given the nickname of Northern Venice thanks to its rivers and canals.
If you come to St. Petersburg, do not miss the chance to ride a boat and to look at the city from the water. It seems that architects who were building St. Petersburg were well aware of this strange angle at which you see the facades, bridges and cathedrals from a boat. Small water taxi that now are easily available may be more comfortable and interesting than any larger vessel.
The stone of embankments and bridges perfectly connects flowing images on the water with classic lines and shapes of the buildings. There are no skyscrapers or ugly concrete cubes on the banks in the downtown. St. Petersburg is less eclectic than Moscow and more openly European. Should I say Western? Here palaces and apartments alike look decorative and proud. I bet you'll use more than one roll of film in the course of one hour long boat ride.
Water means a lot for and gives a lot to the city and its dwellers. To some, it gives food. These fishermen catch the pike perch from Neva on Vassilievsky Island in the very heart of the city, right across the river from former Tzar's residence, Winter Palace (click on the picture on the right). By the way, this was not their only trophy on that morning.
Of course, water also gives jobs to so many who work at the docks or the wharves, in the port or on the ships. Water also brought the fame to not only St. Petersburg itself, but to one of its environs, Peterhof. This former summer residence of Russian Tzars is famous all over the world because of the park with unique fountains.
The park offers its visitors more attractions besides wonderful fountains. Would you like to try the dress of a lady of last century? I do like this nice service they offer to the visitors of the park. They will dress you up in a very real (though made, of course, recently) costume and let you see the transformation. I was fascinated to watch how two girls in jeans and leather in ten minutes became romantic characters from a XIX century novel. Well, there is always some romantic mistery about a beautiful girl, but it's fun to see how a dress can add up to this effect.
...Fountains break the tradition of horizontal water of the planes and marshes and perform flying verticals of water jets. This well-ordered protest against flatness makes fountains very proper in St. Petersburg, the city of pillars and spires. They do belong here as well as vertical lines of flowing gold molten by the setting sun that inevitably attract your attention. The tall spire of St. Peter and Paul fortress is the most prominent landmark. The central peak of the skyline, brightly lit pin in the cushion of dark foliage on Hare Island.
In a city of rivers there must be islands, and yes there are many of them in St. Petersburg. The largest and the most famous (because the city started there and the oldest buildings are on it) is Vassilievsky Island. Let's take a short walk and cross the island from the banks of Small Neva to the banks of Grand Neva. St. Petersburg offers you, like any other Russian city at the moment, all the spectrum of impressions. (By the way, if you take a waterfoil boat from Peterhof back to St. Petersburg, the bank of Vassilievsky is exactly the place where you arrive)
Hungry after all the wanderings in the park and a bumpy ride across the Bay of Finland, you'll be glad to find a small and cosy cafe to drink coffee and have some snacks. Soccer fans should not miss the "Penalty" one! You'll enjoy the unique collection of soccer items and VCR playing tapes with the most exciting moments of the games. And, by the way, you'll get a chance to taste good local beer, because Baltica brewery is the sponsor of local soccer team!
Crossing the island, you'll see some funny scenes... Like this nice van rotting under a sign saying NO PARKING! in bright white letters. Yes, I do see why... You will also see typical narrow passages with walls falling apart and hordes of cats dwelling in the rubbish.
You will pass by beautiful buildings where many famous characters of Russian history have lived. Sometimes you can guess something unusual about the place before you read a memorial plaque on the wall.
If before this adventure on Vassilievsky you already stayed a few days in St. Petersburg, you may have visited Russian Museum, a wonderful collection of Russian paintings... Or maybe you visited Moscow and Tretyakov Gallery there. Then you possibly know the name of Kuinjy, Russian artist of XIX century who left us his landscapes, real and fantastic and unmistakably Russian...
Passing by the house you will notice this unusual detail on the roof, obviously an artist's studio. And the plaque near the door will tell you that Kuinjy leved here.
...Living in the city on the water one should be ready to have not only pleasures, but some unpleasant suprises also. Floods have been a threat for the city ever since its early days... This strange monument on the bank of one of the rivers keeps the metal belts marking flood levels for the most memorable disasters.
In the Soviet days, the project of erecting a huge dam that would protect the city from the water coming from the sea was started. Unlike many other strange ideas, this one finally has been materialized and now the city is safe from the angry waters. Instead, it has to smell and drink its feces. The sea was angry occasionally, but in the meantime it was taking care of all the wastes discharged into Neva river. Now these wastes produced daily but a 5-milion city quietly stay on the bottom of the Gulf next to St. Petersburg shores... which used to be beaches before the dam.
Okay. The sun is setting and it's time to go home or wherever we stay tonight. The time to look at the crosses and facades lit by the low sun, to maybe take something less regular than a taxicab... The picture on the left may be a little strange to a person who has been to St. Petersburg a few years ago. For over 30 years, the Cathedral of Crist-On-The-Blood, built on the spot where ALexander II was assassinated, has been under repair. Now, for the first time in my life, I can see it without scaffolds. And those are its crosses that glow above the buildings on the Palace Embankment. And I was visiting St. Petersburg very frequently since I was 15.
Here is the full view of the Cathedral. Yes, it's already a bit dark when we get there, and of course it would be better to see the cathedral in the sunlight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe some other time when we come to St. Petersburg again. Because we definitely should do it.
There are many reasons why me, you and anyone else should come here over and over again. It's the magic of the place and its beauty. It's something the city shares with us even on the first day of the meeting and makes us its friends forever. Well... I hope you feel it too.
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