I knew a guy back in the 1980s, named St. Pete. It was a nickname, as he was also called Pete St. Elsewhere. I am on the train to St. Petersburg, Russia, often called “Peter” by the locals, I presume, just like we call San Francisco, “The City”.
Here are some things you need to know about good St. Pete. First, it is in Russia, but it is not Russian!!! The city was conceived to rival the great cities of Europe, like Vienna, Prague, and Paris. Russia always wants to be seen as an equal in Europe. It is as true today as it was three centuries ago.
Good St. Pete is Russia’s most Western city in appearance. It is named after Peter the Great, Peter I, or as his friends called him, Tsar Peter I. He was a man of the world, spoke eight languages, and definitely thought his forebearers were a bunch of uneducated heathens. And of course, Vladimir Putin is from St. Elsewhere, I mean, St. Pete.
This city is not on the Trans Siberian route, but is considered the best place to end a trip to Russia. I shall be the judge of that. It will be tough to top Moscow, in my opinion. The city is built on multiple waterways, with opulent palaces and world class museums. I wonder where they got (stole, ransacked, or otherwise took) the stuff to be in the museums. Perhaps more politically correct, I assume they had a very creative curator!!! That was a joke, of course.
Petersburgers are not something to eat, but residents of this fine city. They refer to their city as the “northern capital”, or in conversation, as “Peter”. Why here, at a latitude equal to North Dakota? They have 4 hours of daylight in the dead of winter, and only 45 minutes of darkness in June when they celebrate “White Nights”.
Much like one of my favorite city names, Constantinople, Peter has had numerous names in its past. The one we most think of is Leningrad, after Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow. Also, between 1914 and 1924, it was known as Petrograd. The Communists never treated the city in a fair manner, even after the war (WW2).
The great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky said that Peter was a force wrecking the lives of its inhabitants. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was blown to pieces by anarchists in the center of the city. Leon Trotsky’s Bolsheviks arrested the provisional government and declared Soviet power. The new leader would be Vladimir llyich Ulyanov, known to us as Vladimir Lenin.
Today, after millions of rubles invested in the city, it is Russia’s second wealthiest city, after Moscow. One local lad, as my travel books say, has made good, and seems to keep Peter on a good growth pattern. That lad is none other than Vladimir Putin. The population is now over 4.8 million, Russia’s second largest city.
Everyone tells me that I am visiting Peter at just the right time. They are getting ready for White Nights as I write. The sun never sets in June, and neither do the partiers, who seems to be in a constant state of celebration, after the long, dark, dreary winter.
It was another ordeal to get here, as the cab that my hotel had arranged, took me to the wrong train station. Nothing even closely resembling a train to St. Pete. So, I had to take a 1500 RU cab to the correct one, and pay a premium for a seat on the next express, since I missed my scheduled train by about 4-5 minutes. I got here at 9pm, and it is still quite light out. Time for a beer and a snack!!!