From Russia With Love (V)

SAINT PETERSBURG
Part III

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Traffic is bumper to bumper and we slowly crawl through the city across frozen canals and through snow drifts falling from rooftops. When traveling traffic means one thing – less time to explore.

We missed out Peter the Great’s log cabin, but as day turns to night we manage to get to Peter and Paul’s fortress before the gates close.

Peter and Paul’s fortress is one of those places with a long and repetitive name. This is because in the centre of the island is the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It’s tall steeple peaks high over the brick walls  that surround it, and it is one of the few churches dedicated to two icons. While you cannot photograph the interior practicing churches, Peter and Paul is not a typical church. It is more of a living mausoleum to the royal family. Here lies many of the great rulers of Russian history. The most decorated tomb being that of Peter the Great himself. Golden icons watch over the graves of the wives, husbands, sons and daughters of the former rulers. You are almost taken back by just how impressive this protected church really is. So much so you almost trip over it’s resident cat and it blends into the marble walls.

In a room in the corner lies seven bodies apart from the rest of the tombs. Here lies the remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexis. Possibly the most famous and the most mysterious members of the bloodline to the Western world. The reasoning behind the separation of the last tzar of Russia and his predecessors is simple. The remains are yet to be verified. Five nations have all examined the bodies, and the Russian government has yet to confirm the results. Until then, here they lie.

Before we leave we are escorted into a small chamber to hear the monks of Peter and Paul perform a hymn. With heavy accents their baritone voices fill the room. Russian is the only language that allows for such low notes to be sung. It is both amazing to witness and haunting to listen.

Everyone is filled with silence as we leave the fortress. With sleep in the corner of our eyes, traffic has come to a stand still. We sit on the bridge overlooking the Winter Palace. Slowly we crawl past the Admiralty building and turn onto Netsky Prospect. The traffic is to brutal and we all vote to walk back to the hotel.

We all wander off in different directions, but in time each of us finds one another until we all decide that we should have dinner together as a group. Rather than going for the traditional option we pile into a corner Italian bistro for pasta and drinks. The atmosphere with this group is fantastic. I start to look past my “tour-group” prejudices and find that it is actually a lot of fun with the right people. You can air your grievances over the state of your flat in London, or share in a laugh about the cow farms you left behind at home.

With a couple hours to spare before we depart on the next leg of the journey we all bum around the tourist shops and the twenty-four hour bookstore next to the hotel. If there is anything to suggest that Saint Petersburg is heaven… it is the fact that bookshops are open all night long.

It’s 23:00 and we all gather back at the hotel lobby. All the Aussies with there extra large suitcases and me with my little backpack. We trudge though the snow around the Soviet star and head to Moskovsky station.

We’re on the midnight train to Moscow.

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