The first major excursion of the week was to the Piskarevskoe Memorial Cemetery, where I went with Pippa and our Russian friend Yaroslav who we met on the train home from Moscow. The cemetery is a memorial to the thousands of people who died during the Leningrad blockade, so it was very interesting to visit just two days after I'd been to the Leningrad Blockade Museum (which you can read about in my previous post). Although the cemetery is made up of mass graves rather than individual ones, its sheer size, the statue of Mother Russia, eternal flame and numerous memorial plaques make it a special place. The plaques mainly tell about how the cemetery is intended to serve as a reminder of the past in order to educate the youth to stop such tragedies happening again. I thought it certainly achieved this, as the whole place felt very Soviet (they were even playing music out of loudspeakers) and really emphasised the sheer number of victims. There was also a small museum with pictures and a computer where you could search for people buried there. It was quite moving being there, though I wouldn't call it a particularly uplifting destination for a day out. Here a few of my photos from the cemetery:
(Top Middle: Sign at the entrance to the cemetery; Top Middle II: Panorama of the statue of Mother Russia; Top Left: One of the mass graves, which were sorted by year of death; Top Right: Close-up of the statue of Mother Russia; Middle: One of the memorial inscriptions on the wall behind Mother Russia; Bottom Left: Me at the cemetery, trying to look as sombre as possible; Bottom Right: A pretty bird we saw; Bottom Middle: The view from the eternal flame at the entrance)
Before I write about my next jaunt around the city, I need to post a couple of photos I took on a street near my flat (Гороховая - Gorohovaya). This street has been undergoing huge roadworks for a few months now, but something looked a little different as I walked along it on Monday... See for yourself here:
(Yep, it's an upside down lorry in a hole. Health and safety really doesn't exist in Russia, though I do hope the driver was okay)
Anyway, the next event in my eventful week was on Monday afternoon, when Marion and I created 'The List' (as mentioned above) over lunch on Nevsky. This list is pretty thorough, and I hope to complete all of the tasks on it before I leave in 6 weeks' time. As I said earlier, it features 34 activities in total, so I'm not overly hopeful that I'll complete it, but we shall see! As of today (Friday), I have completed three of the activities, though tomorrow I should be able to tick another box off when I visit Pavlovsk (expect a post about this in the next few days...). After lunch and list-making, we had an urge to visit a couple of places along Nevsky we hadn't yet been to, so went to St Catherine's Church (one of very few Catholic churches here), the Armenian church, and an old shopping centre called 'Passazh' (passage). The two churches were very different, but both beautiful in their own way, and the shopping centre was lovely, even if it was full of very expensive tat. It was also a lovely sunny day, as you can see in the following pictures:
(Top Middle: St Catherine's Church; Top Left: Inside St Catherine's Church - very minimalist compared to Russian Orthodox churches, but still had very lovely pastel walls; Top Right: Inside St Catherine's again; Middle Top: The dome in St Catherine's Church; Middle Bottom: The Armenian Church - I didn't take any pictures inside as it was tiny and I think we would have been scowled at; Bottom Left: 'Passazh' shopping centre, with its lovely glass ceiling; Bottom Right: Glass ceiling in 'Passazh'; Bottom Middle: The boat trips have started again in Petersburg! I need to go on one! [It's on the list])
On Tuesday night, another odd event occurred (though not quite as odd as finding a lorry in a hole) - the roof of the house opposite mine caught fire. Somehow I managed to sleep through the noise of the fire itself, four fire engines and their crews shouting in the middle of the night... I've been reassured by Rosa that this is a fairly common occurrence, as tramps often live in abandoned houses and light fires in them to keep warm, but it's still a little disconcerting. As you may know, I take a lot of photos of the pretty skies out of my window, and those will all look quite a lot uglier now there'll be a burnt-out roof in them, but never mind. Here are a couple of pictures of the damage:
On Wednesday I missed school due to laziness of epic proportions, though I felt a bit more energised later in the day and met up with Katie and Luka after school to tick another activity off of the list. As it was a lovely clear and sunny day, we decided to go up to the top of St Isaac's Cathedral, which offers a panoramic view of the whole city centre. It was absolutely amazing, and we'd chosen the perfect day to go up it. All of the major sights were visible, though they all looked much smaller than usual and closer together than they feel when walking on foot! This sounds a bit stupid though really, as that's obviously what happens when you climb something high... Oh yes, I forgot to mention that we had to climb the entire way up... After buying our tickets we were met by a huge spiral staircase with a tiny metal staircase at the top, followed outdoor steps at the top. I would really advise against taking anyone old, obese or afraid of heights up there. Apart from that it's really one of the best tourist activities I've done since I got here. Here are a few of my photos:
(Top: The evil spiral staircase; Top II: The view which made said steps seem worth it; Top left: The view, with one of the mini domes of St Isaac's; Top Right: Even more steps - it could have been worse!; Middle: The directions were painted on each side; Bottom Left: Me at the top - it's officially sunglasses weather now; Bottom Right: Peter and Paul Fortress, the Admiralty & the Hermitage all looking very close together; Bottom: Another panorama shot... I'm addicted now!)
On Wednesday night we decided to go out... I ended up drinking far too much disgusting cheap wine in far too short a period of time, and really paid the price on Thursday. Unfortunately this meant missing another day of school. Oops.
On Friday, that's today, we decided to visit the Russian Museum of Political History after school. The museum is on the Petrogradskaya island of the city, and is right next to the main mosque in Petersburg. We took the opportunity to get a closer look at the mosque, which I'd only seen from a distance before. It is a rather strange looking building, and it seemed prayers were about to begin as there were a lot of people milling around it so we didn't go in or anything, but I took a couple of photos of the outside:
Anyway, on to our main destination of the day. The Russian Museum of Political History is housed within the Kshesinskaya Mansion, where Lenin once made a famous speech from the balcony. This mansion previously belonged to star ballerina of the Russian Ballet Mathilda Kshesinskaya (who was also the lover of Tsar Nicholas II), before becoming the Bolshevik headquarters following the revolution. The Soviets seemed to like ironically replacing the contents of buildings with the complete opposite, as I also discovered when reading about St Isaac's Cathedral earlier in the week - it once housed the 'Museum of Anti-religion'. The museum was a lot bigger than I was expecting, and contained all manner of exhibits. Quite a lot of the descriptions had been translated to English, and I was surprised to hear several people speaking English whilst I was looking around... It must be somewhat of a tourist hotspot. I don't know what else to say about this museum, really, other than that it was very interesting and a good tourist destination for anyone who is interested in Russian politics. Here are my photos from our visit:
(Top: Main entrance to the Museum of Russian Political History, closed right now due to refurbishment; Top Left: The slightly less glamorous entrance we used; Top Right: Inside the museum; Middle Top: A selection of old bank notes, which were all huge, including a 50 Kopeck note - around 1p in today's money; Middle Bottom: The old Bolshevik headquarters; Bottom Left: Painting of the Tsar, torn up with bayonets during the storming of the Winter Palace; Bottom Right: A beret given to Yuri Gagarin by Fidel Castro... Yep, weird; Bottom Middle: A cool Soviet mural)
I think I managed to include all of the main things I've done this week in this post... Time to go to bed now I think, so I'll be wide awake for my trip to Pavlovsk tomorrow. As you can see, I'm becoming a lot more enthusiastic about visiting places around the city now I only have 6 more weeks here! I'll be sure to update every time I visit somewhere to tick off the list!