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::sigh:: I don't really want to, but if I don't write it now, it'll get relegated to notepad & remain half-finished forever... In any case even this is preferable to proof-reading G.'s really quite horrible English.

Wherein we arrived, our taxi got stuck in a St. Petersburgian traffic jam & we saw the less glamorous parts of the city on the way to our posh hotel, which made me feel immediately guilty. Then Swetlana, our guide, took the whole group for a walk, and I realised I'd made a big, big mistake to agree to this group-travel thing. That is, when I wasn't distracted and half-blind from dust in my contacts and the western sun in my eyes. Returned to the hotel, red-eyed and grumpy. First impression, overwhelming, intimidating; decaying grandeur; immediate, alive.

Slept badly (shouldn't have forgotten the ear-plugs), woke up extremely disgruntled. Bus trip through the city, and, god, I'd forgotten how I hate this, the 'photo-stops', the getting on and off the bus, the herd mentality, never having enough time for anything, not being able to see something for oneself, let a place grow on you, always an eye on the watch... Gah.. Saw the Peter and Paul fortress, visited the church where the czars are buried (extremely crowded), St. Isaacs Cathedral, then (on our own) the Church of the Ressurection of Christ, which was actually kind of nice in its opulence, the mosaics somehow on the good side of kitsch, with a touch of art nouveau, and the Kazan Cathedral (empty and rather ugly).

Rainy. Hermitage museum, nightmarish, pushing through groups of tourists, trying not to lose your own group. Some of the state rooms were beautiful enough, but it was almost impossible to appreciate anything, it was so crowded. Hot, too. Masses of people queuing to get a glimpse of a Raffael, or Rembrandt, or equally famous painting. Can anyone enjoy art like this? I certainly can't. Lunch in an equally over-crowded cafeteria, after which we were left to ourselves. Greek and Roman antiquities department, which at least was pleasantly empty (realised ancient Greek art doesn't interest me all that much anymore, intellectually or emotionally, but the merging and various connections between cultures, Greek and Asian, that can be seen in the finds from the Scythian kurgans and the other burials from Crimea and Black Sea regions still fascinates me.) Tried to find the section for Skythian art, which, as it turned out was hidden in the department for pre-history, in some badly-lit basement with captions and legends only in Russian. The Scythian gold treasures of course are in yet another department, and you need to book in advance to see them. More frustration. Longish walk alone, which was my first more personal impression of the city.

Pawlowsk, where we stood for half an hour in the sweltering sun, sweating, before we were let into the palace. Brief (and rushed) walk around the building afterwards on my own, scent of lilac heavy in the air, the Pet Shop Boy's Go West blasting from the radio of the builders busy restoring the facade. Catherine's palace, and more waiting, at which point it became hard to develop enthusiasm for anything, Bernsteinzimmer or not, and whose stupid idea was it to come here anyway. Still, I found the exuberance of baroque something of relief after the classicism of Pawlowsk. What I perhaps liked best about the day were the frustratingly brief glimpses of landscape, which I immediately fell in love with. Soft hills, meadows with long grass, trees, all so lush and green... Strange (though perhaps not as strange as it should be) seeing these palaces with their newly gilded decor and then, in every room the photos of the ruins the German army left. Back into the city, Sheremetyev palace (not particularly interesting), and a concert by a choir of not-actually-monks, which was more okay than I'd feared. All right, we bought the CD. ::sigh:: One of these holiday things. Rain in the evening, my mother off to dinner with some other people from the group, giving me some much needed quiet and time for myself.

Peterhof, beautiful, although after so many palaces one gets kind of jaded, and I think I've been permanently spoiled by Potsdam and Sans Souci... The park is lovely, despite the masses of tourists, which don't really allow for any romantic moods, but we barely had an hour to walk around it. Back to St. P., boat trip, over-cast, cold wind, but I love boat trips, never mind the freezing. Walked back to the hotel with my mother, tried a short-cut & took a wrong turn somewhere. I hate when this happens to me, especially right after I boast about my sense of direction... serves me right, I guess (although it is pretty good most of the time). Went for a walk on my own (Smolny Cathedral - Taurian Palace area), managed not to get lost this time.

Alexander Newsky Monastery; since I feel uncomfortable in a church when mass is celebrated (my inner atheist finds it oppressive, and the part of me that was religious once is uncomfortable watching other people worship - whatever my opinions about religion, it is important and serious to them and I feel I have no business watching, detachedly, like observing some curious custom) I spent half an hour outside in the overgrown cemetery, birds singing and the sun shining through the trees, feeling much more comfortable and in tune with things than in the church. The Russian Museum, the one place on this whole trip I actually had any leisure to visit, because I decided to skip the palace where Rasputin was murdered. Definitely worth it, stayed till 5 pm... in the end it was perhaps a bit too much for one day, but it was amazing & really a rush to see all those paintings I only knew from books. Good-bye dinner complete with Russian folklore quartet, playing five songs or so, then selling ocarinas for €20.- and their CDs for € 10.- (we bought the CD, because it seemed rude not to buy anything, and I really don't need an ocarina). ::groan:: I did mention I hate organised group travel, I think. There should have been more alcohol.

Took a three hour walk before we were driven to the airport, and I've kind of come to like the place, as much as you can in such a too-short time... kind of glad to go home, though, too. Caved and bought the Russian tatu CD in duty free. Had to take off my shoes for the security check, which was new to me. Unpack my bag, too, because apparently my keys showed up suspiciously scissor-like on the scan. The food Lufthansa serves really sucks - over-cooked penne with some kind of slightly suspicious sauce and a few equally over-cooked carrot slices and wilted peas. Although it's kind of absurd to whine about food when the thing I really love about flying is when the plane rises through the layer of clouds, into the blue sky, the clouds as if made from some tangible substance sculptured into bizarre landscapes.

Stupid as it may sound, on the whole it was perhaps the landscape that I liked best, a luscious vibrant green one never really sees here, not even in spring, swamps and ponds, meadows with high grass, dotted with white and yellow flowers, trees... it's hard to describe, and impossible to photograph in a way that conveys a good impression (or at least I never managed to)... too wide, too green; but lovely.

Also, pictures, in case anyone is interested. Mostly I'm not really satisfied with them, too touristy, too shiny, there was never any time to really chose a motif, and I'm really not familiar enough with my camera & its functions.


solitary summer

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