USSR 1991

USSR 1991

USSR 1991


What a busy day!  When I woke up this morning, I was a little disheartened because the weather looked wet and bleak – or to put it another way, typical for what I have heard is Leningrad’s weather.  My room in the hotel looks out to the north-west across the Gulf of Finland and the wet greyness was a depressing sight indeed.  However, by the time we left the hotel at 10:00am, the rain had stopped and the clouds were thinning.  At 11°C the temperature was also a little warmer than I had been expecting.

Our first visit was to the Peter and Paul Fortress, built on an island in the Neva River by peter the Great, and dominated by the gilded spire of the cathedral that has become a symbol of Leningrad.  I had not been there before, and I found it to be really interesting, especially the walk around the Neva embankment where a few hardy souls were actually swimming in the very cold river.

From the Fortress we drove straight to the Piskaryovskoye Memoral Cemetery on the outskirts of Leningrad which houses the remains of 600,000 of the victims of the Siege of Leningrad.  The siege is said to have caused the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city, with 1.5 million deaths, and the cemetery more than one-third of them, with the large mass graves each containing 17,000 people simply labelled “1942”, “1943”, etc.  The Red Army managed to bring in some supplies and evacuate about 1.4 million people on the so-called “Road of Life (Дорога жизни), which was a route used by trucks in winter across the frozen ocean into city.  If this hadn’t been possible, more people would have died, the city would probably have surrendered, and the history of the rest of World War II would almost certainly have been quite different.  It is said that some residents resorted to cannibalism to survive.  Some of the ladies in my study tour group were quite upset by the harrowing stories, so we cut the visit a little short, limiting it to the main avenue only.

We returned to the hotel for lunch which was accompanied, most unusually, by live music performed by a father and daughter team.  The father played the piano accordion while his daughter, who I would guess was about 14, played the violin and sang, doing both brilliantly.

Our afternoon was designated as free time, so we all decided that we would like to see the Hermitage, which is the famous art gallery housed in the czar’s former palace.  We intended to get there by public bus from the hotel, but while we were waiting, a sympathetic Intourist coach driver stopped and took us instead.  Entry to the Hermitage is 4 roubles for Soviet citizens but 8 roubles for foreigners – which would have been the equivalent of $20 in 1987 but is now only 30 cents with the new exchange rate.

It was really worth it to see the elaborate interior of the palace, even leaving aside the magnificent works of art.  It truly is one of the world’s great art collections.  I had about an hour and a half in the Hermitage, which was an insultingly brief time that did not even begin to do justice to the place.  I read in the guidebook that if a person spent just ten seconds looking at each work of art in the hermitage, it would take two and a half years to see the whole collection (I’m not sure that was calculated for opening times only, or whether it means 24 hour, seven days per week viewing).

To return to the hotel, we walked to the Metro station on Nevsky prospect and took the train to the nearest Metro station, which is almost two kilometres from the hotel.  I felt sorry for one of the older members of the group who found all the walking a bit difficult, especially as some of the others tended to stride off ahead and leave her behind.

After a very good dinner of chicken and chips, we went out for a performance of Russian folk dancing at the Hotel Pulskovskaya, down at the southern end of the city.  The dancers and singers, who were from Omsk in Siberia, were very animated (as one expects of Russian dancing) and the standard was very high indeed.  However, the day has been long and physically draining, so I’m expecting tomorrow to be more relaxed.

Day 9

Leningrad, Russia, USSR


6 October 1991