"Velcome to rrRussia", as the girls we shared the overnight sleeper bunker with said to us with a big grin, as we pulled into Moscow station.
Ah, back in lovely Piter! Last time I was here was with Jodie, during the white nights, and we wandered around the streets of Piter looking at the most magnificent of churches and the St Peter and Paul Fortress, a day looking at the treasures of the Hermitage, we spent a night watching the Kirov ballet perform Swan Lake at the Marinsky theatre. My favourite of cities, one I thought I would never see again, and now here I am!
As always, when reaching civilisation, we caught the subway. The Piter subway is the deepest in the world, because it is built on a swamp at sea level, so they needed to dig down into a clay layer to form waterproof tunnels. The stations look like museums, with ornate marble and statues, each with its own theme. The lady next to us in the metro has a mouth full of gold teeth, which is something you don't see every day. Hoping out, we were hit by a neon Fosters sign, which made Luke laugh.
Dropping off our backpacks at the comfy Soviet-era hotel we are staying at (and pausing for a nice long shower) we caught the metro back into the centre, and walked along Nevsky Prospket, the centre of Piter. We saw the many churches of every denomination, including Kazan which is done in a magnificent neo-classical style. I had seen it last time, but this time I could appreciate that it started in 1801, and was finished during the Napoleonic wars, so Kutuzov and Barclay are buried there, and have large statues out the front. The main players in War and Peace are surrounding me in Europe by their actions, in Europe events two hundred years ago seem so recent because you walk past the same church Napoleon liked, you see the column that Alexander the First erected when he "defeated" Napoleon. The 47.5m column is in between the magnificent Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Winter Palace, now the Hermitage, which was used by the tsars between 1762 and 1917 when they were all killed in the revolution) and the General Staff building (built in 1819 for use by the army, and topped with a Chariot of Victory for the Napoleonic wars). This most magnificent of squares has a special place in my heart, it truly is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
We walked up to the Niva, and stood on the bridge, watching the river flow past, then walked to St Isaac's cathedral. St Isaac's is one of the largest domed buildings in the world. When the Russians built it in 1818, the tsars had to build a new railway in order to cart in the 120 tonne blocks of granite from Finland (you can do that if you are a tsar). It is magnificent, the dome is covered in 100kg of gold leaf, letting it glimmer in the sun as a beacon from anywhere in Piter. We walked along the colonnade around the capola for a bird's-eye view of the city, with its strange blend of heavy industry, deep history and extravagant culture. We walked past the gold-spired Admirality too.
We strolled along the canals of Piter, and along Anichkov most (a bridge), which was built in 1840. Interestingly there are statues of rearing horses on each corner, and on the South-West corner the horses penis is shaped like a face. Two tales explain this - one is that it is shaped like Napoleon, the other is that it is in the image of the sculptor’s unfaithful wife's lover. We visited the Church on Spilled Blood (so named because it is built in the spot where Alexander II was assassinated in 1883), the most glorious church built in Russian Orthodox style, with colourful domes and ornate work. It really is indescribable. I bought a 5 Kopeck coin that was minted in 1812, and imagined that it was used by those rebuilding after the sack of Moscow. Mmm... I love my Russian history, and nothing makes history more personal than being able to hold it in your hand and pretend that you were there.
After wandering around we meet up with our group for this part of the trip, with whom we pretty much only stay and catch the train with, giving us lots of free time to explore. The trip leader's name is Karen. We went out for dinner, and drank beer in an underground cavern that you wouldn't have spotted as a pub. Lots of fun.