August 14, 2008

Yesterday, although admittedly not a shepherd’s delight, was an ok sort of day. That is until I got back from work and found out that somebody had tried to deliver me a “povestka” (summons) to the draft committee - a body that, a-hem, well, oversees military drafts and such. I, being ever so slightly above draft age, am a qualified telecommunications engineer with a military rank of lieutenant. The latter was slapped on me when I graduated and every now and then I am still wanted for field-training. This rather annoying event creates all sorts of complications: being off work for a couple of weeks at a time not convenient to myself, missing out on quality time with my wife and children at the beginning of the school year and, simply, spending a fortnight in the company of strangers I would not normally choose to socialize with in the first place. As I did not sign for delivery I will not be expected to show up, so I won’t.

The army and I stopped talking a long time ago. The last face to face encounter was when I was changing my address and had to go and get my passport stamped at the draft place. I was a little worried I might be asked to complete all those field-trainings I owed them, but I guess, as any self-respecting bureaucracy, they got different departments for different things and the departments don’t communicate all that well. The chap in charge, a sub-colonel of this or the other, got mildly pissed off at the fact that I didn’t care to come and get my promotion signed some years ago. He was nice bloke though and didn’t want to let me go without said promotion put in my papers although I tried to reassure him it was perfectly fine with me. He had three pens in his possession and one by one they all failed to work, I swear I saw them running out of ink on me. He finished the job with one of them old-fashioned pens that you dip into the ink first. The tip of it broke off as he was writing. I still have this record, a four word sentence written in four different pens.

When I was a boy I dreamed of becoming a soldier. My favorite museum was the Artillery Museum. It displays articles of warfare dating back to medieval times. It also has three or four rooms devoted solely to WWII. Last summer a friend with a son came to visit and I took the boy to the museum. He loved it. I was disappointed. The magic was gone, my eyes saw nothing but piles of old junk. Directly opposite the Artillery Museum stands the Peter and Paul Fortress, an establishment I did not care for during my boyhood (apart from maybe its dungeons and bastions). Nowadays I find the walk through its courtyards quite a relaxing and pleasant activity.

The founding of the fortress is considered to mark the founding of the city itself. Its history is a gruesome affair. Many forced laborers died while building it. Its dungeons were used as prison cells. However, its Cathedral, along with other features and splendid views of the Winter Palace across Neva, make a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress a must-do. When in town, go and explore it on your own or, better yet, book one of the guided tours offered by Ost-West Kontaktservice.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 2:26 pm

Boy, Do Mosquitoes Suck!

August 8, 2008

This morning, when I opened my fridge there was a mosquito, chilling out. How they get into my apartment in the first place is beyond me. Mosquito screens on the windows, mosquito detector on the door, mosquito check-ups every hour and yet every night they have themselves a feast and I have itchy patches on my arse.
Still I don’t suffer half as much as does my wife.
Which brings me to the point: I am Russian, she is English, we sleep next to each other, mosquitoes mostly bite her and I get a raincheck.

Do Russian mosquitoes prefer foreign blood over domestic? After all many Russian consumers have passion for foreign brands. Maybe Russian mosquitoes are communists? Many supporters of the old times are still about, you see them now and then gathering around statues of the forefather of Russia’s communist revolution.

Of course, when it comes to Lenin, nothing can beat the Mausoleum. When Solzhenitsin died I was half expecting headlines like “Body of celebrated dissident is set to replace Lenin in Red Square” and such. After all, many streets have gone back to their pre-revolutionary names and the imperial eagle has replaced the hammer and sickle.
However, speculative name changing and the replacement of a relic are not even in the same league, so I guess the swap is never going to stick. And rightfully so. The communist past is an important part of Russian history and a fascinating one at that.
The revolution, the Stalin years and the grim conflict of the Second World War all have inspired many talented architects and sculptors and left behind many landmarks.
When in town, check out Victory Monument on Ploshchad Pobedy. It’s dedicated to the victims of Leningrad’s Siege and the heroic defenders of the city. Sculptures of soldiers, partisans, sailors and workers surround a 48-m high obelisk. There is an underpass leading to the Memorial Hall. Solemn music, subdued lightning and the persistent beat of a metronome create an atmosphere to compliment a display of artifacts that records the war effort of Russian people.

Of all crimes against humanity war has to be the most serious one. Do people like George Bush realize that once they give their troops the go-ahead many sections of the community that are not supposed to be involved in the action will suffer a knock-on effect? These people are not soldiers, they did not sign-up and dying is not part of their job description.

The Siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days and lead to death of 2 million people, half of them civilians. Ost-West Kontaktservice offers an excellent guided tour designed to introduce you to the Museum of the Siege,”Piskarevskoe” Memorial Cemetery and “The Flower of Life” - a particularly disturbing monument as it commemorates the city’s many children who lost their lives during this tragic event.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 5:23 pm

Picking Off Pet Pooches

August 6, 2008

As I was coming out of the off-licence at about ten in the evening a group of dogs passed me and disappeared into the courtyard. I swear one of them sized me up but decided against whatever intentions it had on its mind. The incident left me wondering how long is it going to be before the boundary installed through the years of master/pet relationships will be forgotten and finally crossed.

Tehran had a similar problem in the late 70s. Stray dogs were roaming the streets forming violent packs. At nighttime it was not advised to walk on your own, particularly if you were a small child and could be easily carried off.

Saying all this, I somehow doubt that in Russia they might fail to deal with such a problem in the most efficient way. Likely there wont be any lack of wanna-be hunters willing to come out with their unlicensed rifles to shoot bad dogs and save the world.

In fact I wish they would start now by shooting dog-owners who don’t clean their pet’s mess. This is an outrage. Please, put your hand up if you never stepped into a pile of a dog poo on the pavement. Then you either did not live here long enough or you are a newborn baby and you don’t count.

However filthy the streets of St. Petersburg may be, they are still well worth walking, as many of them are historical sights themselves. A glance at a map reveals that a good attempt was made to bestow the city with an organized layout practically made for easily negotiable walks. In some areas around the centre everything is so close together that getting around on foot is the most rewarding way to explore and appreciate many fascinating architectural and sculptural details.

Citizens of St. Petersburg are fond of walking. On a fine day people of all ages are promenading up and down Nevskiy Prospekt or emerge into the parks and gardens. The Summer Gardens and Mikhaylovskiy Gardens offer excellent recreational opportunities as well as a superb scenery.

If you are looking for a romantic time try Palace Embankment at 2 a.m. during the White Nights. A stroll along the Moika or Griboedov Canal will take you away from the busy traffic of Nevskiy Prospekt and introduce you to some lovely residential areas of the city centre.
Excellent St. Petersburg walking tours in English, German and other languages are bookable anytime through Ost-West Kontaktservice. But please do note: during the high season (between May and September) this ever so popular service best be arranged well in advance.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 4:17 pm