Tuesday, 18 August 2009
First time in St.Petersburg
We were not even supposed to visit St.Petersburg this year, but circumstances brought us there. We were thinking of returning from Petrozavodsk by the same bus that took us there, but the seats were fully booked. So the great Karelian round trip happened, and we dragged our bones to the only Metropolis in this region.
The visit was definitely worthwhile.
I am crazy about Karelia, and in my geopolitical imagination, the rest of Russia still remains under persistent clouds. In the 70s my parents took a tourist trip to Leningrad and brought a balalaika, some nice porcelain, matryoskha dolls etc. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it was not popular in my circle of friends to travel across the border at all. There didn't seem to be a reason. I only visited Tallinn for the first time in 2005. After that, there have been too many cruises. And now, in 2009, St. Petersburg. Now I'm already dreaming about the next trip. This time, I hardly saw anything. I would give it a week at least.
Getting train tickets from Petrozavodsk to St.Petersburg was not so easy at last minute. There are only two-three trains between the cities in a day, and they are often fully booked in the summer months. We got second class tickets on a night train from Murmansk to St.Petersburg. Upon entering the train, I wished I had been travelling to Murmansk instead. Or Archangelsk.
Surprisingly, the second class ticket included dinner, tea service and a package of travel necessities, like slippers, soap, toothbrush and paste, shoe polish etc. Tea was served in old-fashioned chai glasses from a samovar. (I want these at home. Iittala has pretty ones, called Tsaikka. Very Russian style, but they're bloody expensive.) First, it seemed that the kids might not fall asleep at all, as the train was shaking quite robustly. I could not recognize the places on the way, apart from Lotinanpelto. Throughout the trip I was carrying a heavy Karelia guidebook by Markus Lehtipuu. The attitude of the book was annoying, but it helped me recognize some sites around Petrozavodsk. Next time, I will take with me some books published by SKS (Finnish Literature Association). I wonder if we rode through the cradle of Vepsä culture? In the darkness of the night, one could not see much. I think I slept for 3 hours, too.
We were in St. Peterburg with all our things at 5 AM, and our hostel room would not be available before noon. Some breakfast was had in several cafés. Bookshops also opened early. Luckily, the hostel was so conveniently located (just behind the Hermitage) that we could visit all key sights by foot. I particularly liked the Kazan Cathedral, which used to be the museum for atheism in the Soviet times. It looked like people popped in the cathedral in their lunch breaks just to kiss their special icon.
Nevski Prospekt can be overwhelming for the provincial mind. I was suprised to discover how white it was. One did see Russian Asian faces, some Chinese and Japanese tourists, but just once in two days did I see an African man with a Russian woman holding hands. In other words, our everyday reality in Tampere is far more multicultural - and ordinary - than in the Metropolis.
The kids were overjoyed to have dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have now been to KFC in Jamaica, Iceland and Russia, and I must say I liked the Russian KFC best. I saw some extremely hip young people there, with haircuts that we can't dream about in Finland. This particular phenomenon of globalization has not yet arrived to Finland. I was also looking for Starbucks, but couldn't find it yet.
An evening boat cruise on the Neva was magical. The second day went almost totally to queuing in the Hermitage. I enjoyed visiting a supermarket close to Finland station more than Hermitage, because it was the only occasion in the two days to see ordinary city-dwellers. I became a fan of Alyenka chocolates, with a baby-babushka face printed in every wrapper. Russian candies have a triple amount of sugar if compared to Finnish ones.
In the train back to Finland, one sees Terijoki, the intense place of Finnish cultural imagination. The place where everyone who was something summered in the 1930s. I want to see Edith Södergran's villa, Raivola. Maybe also Ina and Tito Colliander's Villa Golicke. That's a totally different Karelia from the woods around Petrozavodsk. Nowadays, the filthy rich of St. Petersburg have built their mansions there.