Turned away from the Stieglitz Academy of Art and Design, I blundered into an orthodox mass and grabbed enough blue sky to walk around the Peter and Paul Fortress and walk back across the bridge. Learned skipping breakfast is a very bad idea and Uber, while not infallible, is close to it.
I stayed up late reading*, then updated my blog. I was running late, so I figured I’d grab a coffee on the street.** Ebullient at the prospect of seeing the Stieglitz, the cradle of St Petersburg artists, I skipped to the entrance. Young people were coming in and out like bees to a hive. A woman carrying a large portfolio came out, a skinny person of ambiguous sexuality and asymmetrical, semi-shaved green hair went in. I was in the right place. A ticket office box is next to a turnstile, but I can’t quite see how to get to it. The clerk tapped a finger on the inside of the glass.***
Sad for me. I came up with Plan B on the fly. The sky was blue, I’d walk to some nearby cafe for a coffee and pastry, then Uber to the Peter and Paul Fortress and poke around the church and cosmonaut exhibits. I set out to the nearby Transfiguration Cathedral that I’d marked on my Google Map, where I intended to light a few candles and say my prayers. I didn’t see a cafe until I was on the square of the church where I saw a swanky specialty coffee and tea place. Eureka. It’s past noon and I am feeling the lack of caffeine and calories. There was one customer there and the clerk, measuring out tea leaf by leaf. No, I am not exaggerating. They consulted on the next tea selection. Five minutes went by without any acknowledgement. I left, now seriously cranky.
Walked into the church and smack into a mass in full swing. Incense in clouds, priests and altar boys dressed elaborate purple and gold Lenten vestments. The floor was packed with SRO worshipers, who bowed and crossed themselves in repetitious patterns. They were not in synch with each other, but moved to their own beat. There was a slender, dark man in my peripheral vision. He wore a goatee, dressed entirely in black,and gave off a D’Artagnan vibe, complete with sardonic expression. It was as hot as a bakery oven with a heady odor of sanctity – incense, beeswax, cologne and humanity. An altar boy appeared and handed D’Artagnan a wrapped package of what looked like a very large biscuit. I lit candles for my beloveds and slipped out.
Uber took me to the entry to the Fortress, where I walked around listening to an audio guide of the island’s history on my iPhone, and hoping to find a cafe. No luck, just little kiosks of souvenirs and carts selling boiled corn on the cob. This sculpture of Peter the Great drew a crowd of youths who stood in line to rub his skeletal fingers. I felt like he looks. Not happy.
I visited the engineers’ house and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, which holds the marble sepulchers of the Romanovs.
In one of the hallways was a family tree with images of each member of the dynasty. That would be handy to have in your pocket when you’re trying to keep all the Alexanders straight.
The golden angel that tops the church’s spire has fallen repeatedly (bringing to mind another fallen angel). I liked the story of the third angel that broke and dangled precariously overhead. A roofer repaired it, using his ropes to climb up to it without delay, sparing the city the cost of scaffolding.
I circled the island twice, but failed to find the cosmonauts exhibit, and was too depleted by hunger to care. I came across this manhole cover and thought of my dearly missed spouse, Robert Kempf.
Traffic was not moving on the road leading to the bridge back across the river, so I decided to walk across and then call Uber. A creative and nimble driver was able to outwit traffic and delivered me to the door of my favorite restaurant Fruktovaya Lavka at 4:30. Minutes later, good bread and olive oil was in front of me. By the time I finished my main course, followed by a raspberry custard tartlet, all was well with my world.
Back to The Alexander House to pack for my move to the Astoria Hotel. I’ve enjoyed my stay in this friendly little hotel on the outskirts. They have treated me very well, and provided that welcoming, safe home base I had hoped for. My room was bright, spacious and comfortable and the cost not only reasonable, but thrifty. The staff are friendly, cheerful, and flexible. They are the heart and soul of the establishment and make all the difference. I’d stay here again, and heartily recommend it to people who want what I wanted – a quiet haven at the end of the day, removed from the bustle of the center.
* Mistake #1 (tired) ** Mistake #2 (hungry) ***Mistake #3 (angry). My trifecta of errors. Never skip breakfast. Low blood sugar sucks the joy out of living.