From Russia With Love (III)

SAINT PETERSBURG
Part II

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Trudging through the softly pilled snow along the markets. Boots sinking down with every step following the freshly created footpath. The market is quiet from its usually hustle and bustle.

Under the shadow of the structural impressive, and equally intriguingly named, Church of the Sacred Spilled Blood the market offers tourists a spot to swap rubles for souvenirs for a fraction of the price. Looking for that perfect gift? Look no further that this printed tee of a shirtless Putin riding a bear, get your favorite NHL hockey team on a matryoshka doll, or if the cold has gotten to you the soviet style bear hats are sure to be a fit!

My purchase at the market was more accidental, but equally memorable.

On the corner of the bridge scampering in the snow was a furry critter with a black mask. I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to pet the local dog or cat, so to me… a racoon seemed no different. As I bent down he crawled up my arm and found a new home in the hood of my jacket. My second day here and I’ve already made friends with the locals.

But wild animals in the street aren’t wild. I had fallen into one of those all to often mentioned tourist traps to avoid. To get your picture will an animal will cost you. So far I had be sneakily snapping the men and women walking the streets in historical garb to avoid being charged for a photo but now here I was with a racoon in tow. If you want to see how terrible your Russian is, there is no better way then trying to talk yourself out of situations like these.

After money was exchanged the raccoon, somewhat reluctantly, was taken out of my jacket and I was left with a horrible photo. Ah well, You live and you learn!

***

As dusk fell the lights along the outer walls of the Winter Palace illuminated the deep ultra marine and violet hue of the sky. As a group we entered the Hermitage through the side and made our way down the halls to the grand staircase.

Regrettably it was nearing the end of the day. So we were only able to catch a glimpse of what the Hermitage had to offer. The “highlights of the museum tour” or so it was called.

Like a matryoshka doll, the Hermitage has more than meets the eye. When you enter you are walking through the court of Imperial Russia. The museum its self is a museum. You look at the walls, the floor… then your eye wanders to the windows to look at spectacular view of the river outside. And then like the doll more and more is discovered. You look at the paintings, the ceiling, the doors. Impossible to remain focus on one thing as you try and absorb it all.

The Hermitage is a series of buildings all linked together and houses the impressive collection of Catherine the Great. A woman who lived so large that a painting was never purchased alone, but rather as a collection of two to three hundred at a time. Hundred of statues line the halls. Gold. Silver. Everything. The works of the Italian great masters are found just a few steps from the throne room where matters concerning the empire were discussed until the fall of the Romanov Dynasty.

As you leave you walk back into the very square where so many lives were lost during Bloody Sunday. Now, covered in a sheet of white sparkling in the night.

Looking up at the archway from Alexander’s column the dream comes back to me.

-rt

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