Strolling St. Petersburg's main thoroughfare.
Click on any image for an enlarged view.
Strolling along Nevsky Prospect, the Main Street of St. Petersburg,
see some of the most beautiful and interesting architecture of anywhere
in the world. The many waterways and canals rightfully earned Petersburg
the name Venice of the North, however, during its construction it
was quickly learned that the far northern climate made it impossible to
navigate like its namesake. Still, you see many pleasure boats cruising
the canals during the summer months. And now a little historical
By comparison, Petersburg is a pretty young city. While Moscow celebrated
eight hundred and fiftieth birthday in 1997, Petersburg is less than
hundred years old. The official date of its founding is held to be 1703,
when Peter the Great decided to build a new capitol, to wash away the
conversative style of Moscow. He wanted Petersburg to be a true European
city. Construction took place so rapidly that the city took shape not by
the week or even day, but by the hour. In fact, travelers to the new city
were required by Peter's decree to bring stones and building material
them, or pay a hefty tax!
Canals were dug along the streets and the ships bringing materials were
expected to dock along the shores to unload their materials. However, it
was quickly realized that this method was not suited to Petersburg brutal
One of the first buildings to be constructed was a wooden cabin, Peter
Great's first home in his new city. This building is still preserved and
in a simple brick building, near the Peter and Paul Fortress. It's an
amazingly simple building. Peter probably didn't worry about making it to
fancy, since he'd soon have some of the most lavish digs in the world.
Of course, construction was begun very soon on Peter's Summer Palace, on
the opposite side of the Neva River; he built there to encourage other's
build along the bank of the river.
The pace of construction was relentless, with tens of thousands of
being brought to the city to work on the massive project. Many of them
died from the intensive labor and brutal climate. For this reason,
is sometimes said to be built on bones. Doesn't really give one a pretty
feeling, I can tell you, to be told this while one strolls Nevsky
looking for tourist trinkets.
But apparently the climate in St. Petersburg, at least for Peter and his
cronies, wasn't too bad. They were known collectively as the
All-drinking Council of Fools and Jesters." Sounds more like a
college fraternity, doesn' it?
Whatever went on back then, those almost three hundred years ago, what is
left to be seen today by a tourist such as myself is a magnificant city.
Buildings designed by architects from all over Europe, brought to Russia
to showcase their talents and design a city rich in diversity, meet you
at every corner and cause you to stop in your tracks.
The buildings in Petersburg are not tall, so they are not terribly
structures, like the skyscrapers of New York, for instance. In fact,
the Great made it law that no building, except for churches, could be
taller than his palace. So as you walk around Petersburg you are not
dwarfed by huge structures, or made to feel boxed in by giant walls on
either side of you, as in some cities. The sky, at least during the White
Nights of summer time, is always visible, and as a pedestrian you feel
a part of the city. There is a sense of modest proportions that make
Petersburg feel open and friendly.
As I have said before, there is a whole different feel in the air in St.
Petersburg than in Moscow. Petersburg has a hopefulness, and a pace that
feels more like a western city. The people appear more optimistic, and
smile more easily, especially when asked foolish questions by lost
tourists; I can attest to this personally.
One evening, with the sun placed in the sky just about where it is here
Nino, Galina and I decided to search out a place to have dinner. Since
Galina was the St.
Petersburg native, we let her lead us around looking for a restaurant.
said she had a place in mind that I might like, a notion that should have
made me immediately suspicious, and were began heading down Nevsky.
I was surprised, but only slightly, when she brought us into a sandwich
shop that had a strange and familiar feel to it. Then when I saw on the
the familiar, large displays of the New York City subway system I knew
exactly where I was. It was an imported American Subway Sandwich Shop.
"Eegad!" I said aloud, "Now they have Subway, too."
After explaining to Galina that I ate in an identical shop about three
a week while at work back in Atlanta, we set out for someplace different.
where she led us next was on just about the completely opposite end of
spectrum, a very nice restaurant right next to the
Church of the Resurrection, pictured here on the right.
While we waited for a table, I took the shot you see to the right, and
more detailed shots with a high power lens. This church is probably the
familiar structure in Petersburg, and certainly one of the most visually
stunning. The incredible intricate detail on the paintings covering
all of the outer walls are truly incredible.
We sat down to dinner and ordered a bottle of wine, and a few glasses of
lemon vodka. We had had a great day wandering casually around this
city. We had made no specific plans, set no time tables, and had set one
of the laziest paces a tourist possibly could. Galina demonstrated the
patience of a saint, as my curiosity had us stopping at everything from
shoe stores to side walk art markets. So now it was time to settle down
to a great dinner and relax.
After we had just sat down a moment or two a very noisy crowd of about
people came into the restaurant, chattering away loudly. I had become
accustomed to not being understood most of time, so I said over to them,
in an obviously joking and friendly manner, "Hey you bunch of
Quiet down over there!" One man in the party shot me a glance, winked
an eye and pointed. They then went off to a table some distance away.
A few minutes later the man who had winked and pointed in response to my
little remark came back to the table to say hello; he was from Chicago.
The group were mostly college professors from America doing a tour of
Russia. Just my luck, and I told them all to be quiet.
The meal, of course, was wonderful, and not too terribly expensive by
Russian standards. The total bill, with the wine and vodka mind you, was
little over two hundred dollars. Remember, this is russia.
When I handed the waiter my visa card he said something in Russia I
understand, but I knew something was up, because the visa card did not
transfer to his hand. Oops! He explained they did not take Visa after
five in the afternoon because their bank closed. "You have your own
bank here in the restaurant?" I asked. "Yes," he responded.
in Russia, ladies and gentlemen, only in Russia do restaurants have
their very own banks.
So now it was off to hunt for an ATM machine that would take my Visa
and I left Galina there in the restaurant as collateral. I told the
if we didn't come back, Galina would wash the evening's dishes. He didn't
this amusing. Galina giggled and then poured another glass of wine; she
was having a fine time of it, apparently.
Out in the street Nino and I were trying to remember where the machine
we had used earlier along Nevsky Prospekt. While were heading in what we
hoped was the right direction we passed another ATM machine with a man
cursing at it in english, "Damn thing," he kept saying, as he
his card only to have it spit back out at him.
From my own experience I recognized his dilemma at once. I explained to
this machine was owned by a Russian bank, and intended only for use by
customers. He then explained to us he needed to find a machine in a
because he left a friend back in a restaurant after trying to pay their
with dollars. Silly American! We told him to follow us. So the three of
set off to find one of the rarest of species, Visa accepting ATM machines
You couldn't be more adventurous hunting the great Russian bear.
We found the machine, performed a cash-ectemy, and went back to the
to rescue Galina. She, it turned out, was having a good old time
the wine and chatting with our waiter. We scooped her out of her chair
headed back into the street.
By now the sun was beginning to look as if it were ready to set, but I
knew by now that it was only fooling me. During the summer here in
the sun barely goes down for about a moment around five in the morning,
before creeping back up just a short time later. This may sound strange
someone from more equatorial climes, but as a tourist it's great. You
never run out of sunshine, and at this late hour as the sun moves toward
the horizon, the beautiful buildings of St. Petersburg are shaded and
The temperature had dropped enough to allow us to put on the light
jackets were had carried for most of the day. Walking along the canals,
the sun would occasionally break through a courtyard, or small side
and reflect off the water into our eyes; I didn't look away. The trails
left in my vision as my gaze surveyed this wonderful place were truly
visions of St. Petersburg, and I didn't want them to fade.
I knew that the following evening I would be
back on a train for Moscow, and the time we had spent here had been far
too short. As I felt my departure come closer, walking along the
and I felt that sense of sadness one feels when leaving such a place, I
realized that in St. Petersburg, even a lifetime would be far, far too
All contents and photos © 1997 by Skip Evans