The rails had taken me from Tibet to Beijing to Ulaanbaatar to Moscow, a journey of nearly 6000 miles. I had loved every minute of it. But the ride on the iron horse was now nearly over. After this last trip, I would be at the end of the tracks.
I sat in the Moscow train station, around 11pm at night, waiting with the crowd for the overnight train to arrive. There were sleepy-eyed men like myself, wearing their Adidas jumpsuits over wife-beater T's. Yet, there were also well-dressed men in suits with perfectly made-up wives in tight dresses and heels. All this, for an overnight train.
|Russian train stewardess|
This was Russia: a mix of the old and new. We Westerners used to dress up when we traveled, didn't we? It was nice to see in a nostalgic way. I examined the holes in my sleeveless shirt, and stroked my unshaven beard. Yep. I was not among the well-dressed.
I clambered aboard and found my 1st class sleeper. Only 2 bunks in the entire compartment and a private bathroom! Toilet paper! Fresh soaps! Blankets without any strange smells!! Wowwwww. Yes, I may be a hobo. But even hobos enjoy Luxury.
And so, snuggled in my bunk, I drifted off to th
at comforting deep white noise that can only be found on a train. Pamela Anderson appeared, but not the young version. It was old, weird, Pamela Anderson from her roast on Comedy Central. Her plastic boobs were askew like drunken eyeballs, and her face make-up began to melt. Layer, after layer, after layer ... and then....
The train lurched, waking me. We were there. What did the Pamela Anderson nightmare mean? I jostled in with the pack and fell outside, squinting in the early morning sun.
I had stumbled into a Wonderland.
|The glorious cathedral Nikolo- something something|
There is one city on Earth where it's very clear a woman was in charge. Bright pink and powder blue buildings line the broad avenues. Lush gardens brimming with roses spill over rivers and sprout from parks. In the center of it all is the teal-green mothership: the ridiculously extravagant winter palace, where every room explodes with the bright colors of a child's crayon set. Yet nothing tops the singular Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. (Gruesome name, mind-blowing church.) By far the most spectacular place of worship I have ever seen, anywhere in the world.
|St Pete: Pretty in Pink|
Welcome to beautiful Sankt Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great, but pimped out by Catherine the ... also ... Great. This quite amazing Tsaritsa reigned during Russia's golden age, when the Empire sprawled over 1/6 of the Earth's land mass.
It is not just the gorgeous Italian Baroque and Rococo palaces and Renaissance churches that make St Petersburg feel so candy-sweet. Its also all the wonderful little details. The pretty canals, the endless bridges capped with golden statues of lions and horses, the parks bursting with flowers and fountains, the hidden little fairies along the river. Clean broad boulevards flanked by beautiful art deco buildings, all leading to a ridiculous over-the-top palace that rivals the Emerald City of Oz.
In the late summer
of August, the temperature is perfect. Of course, locals are quick to point out that it can drop to -40 deg C in the winter. I tried to imagine my face frozen and everything covered in snow, sipping a brown-bagged bottle of vodka to stay warm. Then I realized I was sweating in the summer heat. And needed a beer to cool off.
It was a Summer Saturday in a major city in Russia. Which meant that streams of wedding parties were parading around the city, piling up for photos at every major site. In other words, every time I hit a Lonely Planet highlight and whipped out my camera, I had 15 beautiful Russian bridesmaids in the background. It made for really really tough sledding, but someone's got to do it.
|A very shiny Russian groom|
|How did Charlie Brown get invited to a Russian wedding?|
|Its not a real Russian city without a girl in animal print and red heels checking out her selfies|
|It's absolutely not a real Russian city without "sexy pose" in Adidas sneakers on a giant gold griffin|
|The subways were built below the swampland that existed before the city. Waaaaay below.|
You can sense the ginormous Winter Palace before you even get to it. All roads in the city tend to take you there, as it sits in a the middle of a giant wheel. You enter the main sprawling plaza, fountains spouting, and then ... there it is. All 1/4 mile of it. Teal-green, white trim, anointed with hundreds of copper Greek-god styled statues, it is Rastrelli's masterpiece.
The inside is silly. The comparison with the Forbidden City in
Beijing, say, could not be more stark. The Forbidden City is imposing, majestic, and ... empty. Gutted. Which to me at least, made it series of sad buildings where it takes a bit of imagination to see its former glory. The Winter Palace is completely Stuffed with Awesome. The interior is decked out in such dazzling colors that you walk from room to room with a
|It goes on and on and on and on and|
quiet sense of awe and a stupid slack-jawed smile.
There is much much more to Санкт-Петербу́рг (Sankt Petersburg), such as the comically deep subways (they had to be lower than the surrounding swamp), the gorgeous Mariinsky Theater, the gritty fun nightlife, and on it goes, so stay tuned my wanderlusting friends ...
Would definitely take the "dumb" off of the equation.ReplyDelete
Those pictures are incredible! I had no idea there was something alike, now I want to go there. Nice one!
See you in LV,