We’re on a bus leaving Saint Petersburg right now and I think both Scotty and I felt some sense of relief. While it is an amazing city and there are beautiful buildings to see, interesting people to watch, and a whole lot more – it’s also exhausting. We’re both so tired. While we really liked the hostel that we stayed at, the heat made it impossible to keep the windows closed so we had to deal with street noise every night and mosquitoes. I’m bringing about 50 mosquito bites back as souvenirs. And on top of not getting great sleep, each day was so very full. There are so many decisions to be made and it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re going to miss out on something if you don’t keep pushing yourself. We were often out for 9-10 hour long stretches, walking almost constantly. There isn’t a strong café culture here so we didn’t partake of our usual touring habits of frequent stops at sidewalk coffee shops where we would sit and soak up the town. I guess that the difference between our most recent European excursions is that we really enjoy just savoring the local color from a seat on a plaza. And while there are some restaurants with outdoor seating here, it’s not a place that lends itself to soaking. You feel as though there is a frenetic sort of energy but at the same time all that energy doesn’t seem to be directed towards an end goal. I think that the main feeling I came away with was that Saint Petersburg is in the middle of a bit of an identity crisis. It began as this planned tribute to Peter’s dream of bringing Russia out of the dark ages and placing it among the great 18th century European powers. It began with a distinct purpose. And then over the course of the next 150 years it became just that. But its days were numbered from the get-go and Revolution meant its glory days were soon over. And then the Soviets turned their back on St. Petersburg (it symbolized everything they stood against) and the center of power and influence became Moscow. And then the Soviet government fell and everything was different. The 1990s saw Saint Petersburg taken over by violent criminals as money flowed into the newly free nation. The emphasis was once again on the West and, like Peter all those years before, the residents of Saint Petersburg saw the west as the answer. But now it seems that things are settling down and Russians are remembering who they are. The buildings of the city are constant reminders of a fascinating past, a part of their story that is worth remembering. As tourists pour in and affirm the importance of this colorful past, I think that Saint Petersburg will settle into its own. People who live here seem to really love their city and improvements are being made to important buildings that have been crumbling. The city has a long way to go, but I expect that it’s up to the challenge and will one day recapture the energy that once charged its streets and waterways.
We had a wonderful time and it’s all still sinking in. I feel like it’s going to take a while to makes sense of our experience, not that it was that strange, more that I just need to think about it. I also can’t wait to go over my pictures and post some – there really are some amazing things to see – hopefully we were able to capture a bit of it.