The Rus­sian Rev­e­la­tion

A hun­dred years af­ter the Bol­she­viks over­threw the Tsar, St Peters­burg has now come full cir­cle

Irish Daily Mail - - Travel - BY MICHELLE JACK­SON

SIT­U­ATED on the Neva River that flows out to The Baltic Sea, this beau­ti­ful city of­fers a flavour of Rus­sia to whet all ap­petites, and with a plethora of events to mark the an­niver­sary of the 1917 Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion this is a good time to visit – some will run un­til next year. Len­ingrad, Pet­ro­grad and now again called by its orig­i­nal name, this Venice of the north is not to be mis­taken for the slice of Florida baked in year-round sun­shine that shares its name. It gets cold in this St Peters­burg and you’ll need your

jacket year round, but with long days (sunsets af­ter 11pm for most of June and July) the white nights are op­ti­mum time to visit. I’ve the teens with me, Mark and Ni­cole, and I’m cu­ri­ous to see their re­ac­tions to sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween this and other me­trop­o­lises − such as the Cyril­lic script on shopfronts and fa­mil­iar places like KFC and McDon­ald’s.

The sweep­ing boule­vards are laced with me­an­der­ing canals, com­pa­ra­ble to the op­u­lent grandeur of Paris, mak­ing it seem oddly sim­i­lar from a dis­tance.

It’s only when we pass by The Church of Our Sav­ior on Spilled Blood, which is also the most pho­tographed Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Church, that we are cat­a­pulted head­long into some­where com­pletely alien, a sight for the kids to savour in con­trast to the Europe they know.

Bal­loon-like tur­rets dec­o­rated with pat­terns of lozenges, di­a­monds and en­crusted with gold leaf point to the sky and all the pomp of an elab­o­rate wed­ding cake − this church is mighty im­pres­sive.

Brush­ing up on my his­tory is one of the joys of travel and while tak­ing a guided tour with the lovely Svet­lana, who has the knowl­edge of a univer­sity pro­fes­sor and aloof­ness of a prison of­fi­cer.

I learn that St Peters­burg was a hot­bed of ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the sec­ond rev­o­lu­tion and rise of the Bol­she­viks in Oc­to­ber 1917. She’s bru­tally hon­est, de­scrib­ing harsh liv­ing con­di­tions for the av­er­age worker who lives in a 700 square foot apart­ment.

No­body seems to own a house and she tells us that the con­di­tions of an apart­ment can be gauged by the qual­ity of the win­dows.

Time for a bit of shop­ping and Nevsky Prospekt is the place to start. Tra­di­tional pur­chases are, of course, the Ma­tryoshka Dolls or Babushka (mean­ing old woman) dolls, or the de­sir­able Fabergé eggs.

Fabergé is a name that is syn­ony­mous with the pomp and deca­dence of the Tsarist Au­toc­racy that reigned for over 500 years and stirred up the peas­ants to re­volt in the first place. Mark and Ni­cole have a mini-rev­o­lu­tion of their own and in­sist on find­ing western stores – which I find carry ex­tor­tion­ate prices.

Western makeup and clothes seem to be just as ex­pen­sive, if not more so, in the lux­u­ri­ous shop fronts and malls.

I re­mind them that we didn’t come to St Peters­burg to shop –be­sides it’s time for lunch.

The Ho­tel Moscow re­sem­bles a 1960s air­port ter­mi­nal from the out­side but its lo­ca­tion is ideal and it has all the home comforts that Euro­peans ex­pect – es­pe­cially free Wifi which is a must when trav­el­ling with teens.

We en­joy a bowl of borscht (beet soup), fol­lowed by or­ange caviar ap­pe­tiser and Beef Stroganoff (which I’m sure has beet in it) fin­ished off with ap­ple tart − sweet­ened most likely by beet.

Vodka is lib­er­ally served with our meal and if I’m not mis­taken it’s much sweeter than the type I’d buy in my lo­cal at home – per­haps there’s beet in that too!

Trav­el­ling is easy with a metro close by, and sta­tions are richly dec­o­rated with elab­o­rate stucco work, chan­de­liers and sculp­tures. Av­tovo is re­garded as one of the most beau­ti­ful sta­tions in the world. De­signed with the theme The De­fense of Len­ingrad it was opened in 1955.

The wall of the cen­tral hall is dec­o­rated with a mo­saic of Vic­tory hold­ing her child. ‘Are you sure this isn’t a mu­seum?’ The teens ask. Not yet but we are on our way, I warn them.

The Her­mitage or Win­ter Palace is one of St Peters­burg’s most recog­nis­able build­ings and houses a hugely im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of Euro­pean art. Some of Pi­casso’s blue pe­riod and a host of Rem­brandts, in­clud­ing some renaissance paint­ings bought by Cather­ine the Great – but thanks to the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917 the art be­came ac­ces­si­ble to all.

This great mu­seum is so vast, with over 400 rooms spread out over three floors, that there is no chance of get­ting around it in a day – es­pe­cially with two teens. Buy­ing mu­seum tick­ets on­line be­fore ar­riv­ing can help avoid the long queues (visit her­mitage­mu­seum.org). I de­cide to take my teens to The Cathe­dral of Peter and Paul to visit the re­mains of Tsar Ni­cholas II and his fam­ily, and hear about the gory details of their grue­some end af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion.

Old Rus­sia: The Win­ter Palace

Re­gal: Our Michelle and Tsar Ni­cholas I

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