Never far away
It rained overnight and the streets were still wet as we set off early this morning. We had a 7.40 departure and were up and about shortly after 5 am. Being on holiday is a serious business!
So far, we’ve stuck broadly to the centre, touristy areas of St Petersburg but this morning, we were to drive out through the suburbs, past scenes which were more representative of the old country we remembered from 1986. It’s all still there, in spite of the capitalist gloss which is on the surface we’ve seen in the last couple of days.
So we drove past this triumphal arch, commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleon, the kind of place which would have been on our earlier itinerary, for sure. Four square, solid and bang slap in the centre of the suburban roundabout, there are countless of these memorials all over the place but interestingly, we haven’t been taken to any on this occasion.
We drove past a suburban railway station, surprisingly quiet considering the time of day. It looked rather bleak and down at heel.
But as our guide Mel was talking about it, my eye was caught by one of those old Soviet-style statues. I’d snapped it before she explained who and what and wasn’t really listening to the details of the station as a result. I did hear that this statue is of Kirov, though; yes, he of the Ballet Company and of the factory which bears his name across the street from here. He came to a sorry end, sadly, as a result of his popularity with the workers. Stalin felt threatened by this popularity and engineered his demise – Mel told us that research has proved Stalin’s hand in the plot to, ahem, “remove” him.
(I very much doubt that we’d have been given such details in 1985, though)
Just along the road was a Stalin-style factory, too, with the hammer and sickle motif clearly remaining up there on the lift shaft. “Soviet Constructivism” at its best.
And Mel described these apartment buildings as “Stalin style” too. She said they were very desirable properties now, because of the solid construction and generous proportions to the rooms inside. Modern tower blocks are flimsy and insubstantial in comparison.
Kirov had left his name on the nearby metro station, too. Another remnant of the Stalin era, this Greek style building was part of the grand concept of bringing art and fine architecture to the workers by means of extraordinary architecture on the metro system.
The next station along was modelled on Jefferson’s memorial!
So out we drove, past more familiar suburban landscapes of shopping centres and hypermarkets, built in and around markers such as this one, marking the limit of Nazi siege of St Petersburg.
Still the suburbs went on, with tower block after tower block of modern apartments, linked to the metro system and the city centre by a rickety looking old tram system running alongside the road.
Every so often, we’d spot a glimpse of the (very) old, pre-Revolution Russia in between the trees. We were actually heading for a pre-Revolution landmark and were getting quite excited, as it was somewhere we remembered very vividly from our first visit here, and somewhere we’d loved.
I’ll tell you about it in the next post.