Welcome to the motherland. Day 49
The frost licks at our window, cool and inviting. We draw back the blinds to a crisp Russian morning. St Petersburg beckons and Jess and I are eager to explore. Finally dressed in layers of warmth, it’s a pleasure to completely wave goodbye to the Miami blistering heat. The city seems to breathe, drips of colour splash on weary buildings, footsteps crackle on concrete decaying from over use. This is Russia, this is what we came to see.
Walking the streets is paramount for discovery, history is all over here. St Petersburg, home to royalty. Enormous palaces are seen in the distance, spires of the great fortress gleam golden in the creeping sunlight. Our first stop, the Neva, bottle green water trickles past as the river winds its way in and out of the city streets. The giant Rostral Column stares down at us, a symbol of the mighty Russian empire. These columns represent the masts taken from conquered ships many years ago.
Pigeons flock like floating ash through the park lands while we walk towards the Kunstkamera. A sort of museum of oddities, an insight into anthropological studies, medicine and the macabre. Not exactly the Russian history we thought we would see but it peaked my interest seeing defunct medical theories and floating heads in formaldehyde. The Menshikov palace housed many Russian royalty, it now lies stagnant and worn, age is evident on the St Petersburg streets. The city feels lived in, as though it has seen it all. Makes it a perfect spot for young tourists wanting to discover and explore.
The Peter and Paul fortress is the height of Russian opulence; embossed gold structures, bronze layered features and great marble pillars mark the great Romanov Dynasty. Here they lie, marble tombs now their final resting place. This is the burial chambers for many Russian royalty and Romanov heirs. The heavy wooden doors barely budge as we enter the enormous church, giant pillars flecked emerald green reflect the glow of bronze and gold metal work throughout. Sun streams through stained glass and dazzles the white marble tombs, I cannot believe the beauty of this place. It seems not a house for the dead, rather a place to celebrate their memory. We could explore all day, it would take a lifetime to know the details of this space but the fortress houses so much more.
Street vendors hark and cry from the streets, their carts ladled with brightly coloured matryoshka dolls, fur from far off Siberia and trinkets for tourists. The Russian tongue sounds much sweeter than the almost harsh Germanic tones we’ve been bombarded with. The path ahead takes us to the Commandant House. Once the house for royal guards, now a museum dedicated to the history of the Russian royalty and the building of the fortress. To the east lies the Neva gate, a solid wall separating the fortress from the river. Stones lay dormant against the rivers current as the Neva swells its way past the gate. Here another museum gives us some more history of the structure and the Romanov people it was designed to protect.
During the Russian Revolution their were many imprisoned in the cells here. Trotsky, a famous Bolshevik wrote many papers on his social ideals within these walls, said betrayers were hanged here, revolutionaries were locked in solitary confinement cells cut off from the light of day. This feels a little like another concentration camp, just a quick look I think. Wooden stockades held thieves for public humiliation and the executioners block stands in the centre square. Russia holds no sympathy for those who descent.
Though the Cold War seems long ago, their is still a presence here. Military tanks lay dormant behind rusted iron, the city streets hum with what were once munitions plants, now busy textile factories and shopping malls. There is an indescribable presence of power here. Not something tactile rather a whisper, the Russian people are proud of their city. It’s reflected in everything they do, their architecture, language and I haven’t even mentioned the food. Our afternoon finishes with the Russian staple, blini. Soft, velvety crepes stuffed with as many toppings as you can think of. For Jess a simple ham and cheese, feeling decadent after a day of palaces and wanting to wane of prison hunger I opt for sautéed mushrooms finished in a garlic cream sauce. These crepes ooze warmth, trickling through your body, a serious combatant to the increasingly chilling evening. Mushrooms, earthy and rich burst with garlic heat and I am in love, so much so that I need to cook.
The nearest market is flooded with locals, all I need is some Russian staples. Cabbage, bacon, garlic and just because I’m a little French chef a hefty dose of butter. Our apartment kitchen proves a little haven for me, I haven’t cooked in a while so I’ve been feeling increasingly lacking in my skills. Begin by frying the bacon, the sizzle of fat hitting the pan brings sweet nostalgia only further indulged by the smell of fresh chopped garlic. The Savoy cabbage is slice as fine as these dodgy knives will allow, sous chef Jess hacks at the chopping board with a giggle, we haven’t cooked together in a while so it’s a treat. The cabbage hits the pan and water goes on to boil, what are we serving this treat with? Well it’s not exactly Russian but it’s what we feel like, hot buttered noodles. With the cabbage softening in butter and bacon fat the pasta is cooked and a quick toss brings it all together.
Dinner is served.
Josh and Jess