St. Petersburg - Russia - July 1990
First it was Petrograd, then it was Leningrad, then it was Stalingrad, then back to Leningrad, but while we were there in 1990, I kept calling it St. Petersburg and soon after communism fell they changed it one more time back to Petrograd (St. Petersburg). It is a lovely city, in contrast to Moscow it is sort of bright and breezy. The people dress in brighter colors and walk faster and with their heads held higher. They seem to talk more openly and laugh more readily. I have run this observation past a friend from St. Petersburg and she agrees.
It is the Venice of Russia with 65 canals and rivers that flow through the city and it's many trees and beautiful archetecture make it a lovely city. The down-side is that St. Petersburg was built on swamplands and this is a problem. The underground pipes are beginning to rust and even bottled water tastes a little rusty. You couldn't drink the water out of the tap in 1990 because they had a little protogoan parasite called the giardia lamblia which attacks the small intestine and one gets a grusome case of diarhea. I believe we had already encountered it ten days earlier in Tblisi, Georgia.
Our hotel was built under a "joint-venture" with Sweden and was a five star hotel by my rating system. The rooms were modem and had bathrooms equal to any nice hotel in the U.S. In particular, it was nice to have a tubs again to soak our aching bones in.
The world-famous Hermatage houses a very extensive art collection and it would probably take several days to see it all. However, where most art museums around the world have a controlled atmosphere to protect the paintings, the hermatage, in 1990 had open windows and no air conditioning and no humidity control. In fact we even saw a couple paintings that were directly in the sun and on the third floor where they kept the French impressionists, a couple of our group left early because of the heat.
One of our group had a frightening experience. We had some free time and Mimi went into town was on a bus, returning to the hotel when it started to rain heavily. The bus driver let as many crowd onto the bus until the bus was full. Then he closed the doors and the crowd outside became so enraged they banged their hands on the bus and broke several windows so the bus driver got off the bus to call the police. While he was gone, the crowd started rocking the bus and Mimi was afraid they would tip the bus over. They didn't, but she came back to the hotel and stated quite emphatically that she had been terrified.