From his early childhood, Peter the Great wanted a Navy for his Russia and at that time the Swedes were occupying the territory on which sits the St. Petersburg of today. So in 1703 Peter established Petragrad on a little island on the mouth of the Neva River as the spot from which he would launch his attacks on the mainland and regain this part of his country.
Ultimately he was successful but the early years were quite difficult. As a military installation the island became out-moded right from the beginning, however, as a fortress city
it was ideal and well planned. He had hundreds of carpenters, masons, etc. on the island and the buildings were almost completed when
a terrible flood swept it all away, loosing many of the workers. But Peter was determined and finished his project, won the Northern War against the Swedes, and was able to establish his Navy.
Today the island is mostly a tourist attraction but you can still see the high water marks and one shudders to think how terrible the flood must have been. Later Peter moved his city on to the mainland where it is today and the island became a potitical prison, housing Peter's own son, Prince Alexei and later still, Dostoyevsky, Chernyshevsky and Gorbachev.
One night we got all dressed up, had a wonderful dinner and were taken to the the ballet to see Gizelle. It was performed by the second string of the Kurov Ballet as the first string was out on tour. However the group that performed were as good as one might have imagined and we would have never known they were not the first string if they hadn't told us. I should mention
that we were experiencing the Russian "white nights" because, when we came out of the theatre, it was like three in the afternoon. At midnight it was like dusk for a couple hours and then it became daylight again.
In 1710 Peter founded the Alexander Nevsky Monastary in honor of one of his celebrated military commanders and as we were leaving we passed through the 18th century necropolis of famous persons. I was able to get the tombs and grave sites of Dostayevsky, Glenka, Rimsky Korsakov, Mousourski, Borodine, Stravinsky and my all-time favorite Tschaikowsky, before my film ran out. It was a poignant moment for me to stand there amidst the bones of so many masters, who have so greatly enriched my life.
There are certain innefficiencies throughout Russia. Although they are kind and intelligent people they don't seem to know how to grout a bathroom One time we were warned that if we brought our cameras with us we would have to pay certain fees, depending on whether we were carrying a regular camera, a camera with a flash, or a movie camera, but when we arrived at our destination, there was no one there to collect our monies. And twice we passed auto accidents on the way to our destination and a couple hours later we passed the same spot and the accidents had not been cleared away, and were still blocking traffic.
We stopped at the St. Isaacs Cathedral which was build between 1818 - 1858 on 24,000 piles, and employed over 400,000 men, many of whon died or were crippled after falling off the scaffeling. Many others were poisened from mercury vapers while guilding the interior of the dome in a then-new process which is no longer used. The columns at the