(This entry, Part One of Two, is after my impressions from my first night walking in St. Petersburg, Russia.)
On one side, there is Vasileostrovskaya Island, with 3-story buildings, restaurants and cafes. It feels Eastern European. Russian. It feels right for the era we’re living in and the part of the world in which it is located. It is where I’m staying.
But I take a walk to the other side of the bridge, where there is a vastly different layout. Large buildings that show an empire. Grandeur. A towering cathedral. And it just doesn’t work.
In the center of St. Petersburg, a local is just as much a tourist as any foreigner. The time that the buildings belong in just doesn’t exist anymore. Communism and democracy have no place within the scope of the palaces of the State Hermitage (a world-class museum). It’s depressing, seeing people playing soccer with an empty plastic liquor in front of a massive cathedral. The whole time, I thought, “they don’t deserve the magnificence that is around them”.
A friend argued with me online, saying that no old city matches up with its current inhabitants. I don’t buy that.
London still has a monarchy, so it isn’t as odd to see castles and the trappings of a kingdom. New York looks odd in post-apocalyptic films, but other than that, it suits itself. Berlin’s wall shows a scar in the city, but doesn’t provide for an incongruous juxtaposition. Berlin has a solid throughline to its history.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city that is so disconnected from its center. There are touristy old towns throughout Europe (and beyond), but something about St. Petersburg just doesn’t fit, at least in its core.
And the problem is the people. Take them away and it makes sense. Bring in an Emperor and his court and it will feel natural. But St. Petersburg as is, is more like Venice, a strange reflection of its former self, trampled on by tourists, foreign and domestic.
All pictures taken by Roni Weiss and available at flickr.com/roniweiss.
Part Two, “I Loathe St. Petersburg”, can be found here.