Friday, August 04, 2006

2726 Trip Tale: Russia, first views

We met our trip companions, Gloria and Doug, in Helsinki at the beautiful train station designed by Eliel Saarinen. Martti and Riitta gave us big hugs and repeated the warnings about the dangers we would meet and we boarded the train for Russia on Monday of our second week. The Finnish countryside was beautiful, tidy and meticulous as our Sibelius train neared the border with Russia near Vyborg (which used to be in Finland). Even if it hadn't been announced in three languages we could tell we were in Russia by the smartly uniformed border police and the corresponding crumbling buildings.

But if the Russian countryside was gray and forlorn, the outskirts of Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad, formerly Petrograd) were almost horrifying after tidy, dynamic Finland which has so overpowered its former enemy in everything but military might. From 1917 to the break up of the USSR in the early 90s, the people have suffered the worst form (well, not as bad as North Korea) of totalitarian despotism. And for years before that regime, it was the Tsars and serfdom with not a lot of the population in the middle ground.

The cheaply built high rises of the Soviet era we saw in the distance were in various stages of decay, depending on their ages which ranged from 10-40 years (I'm guessing). Our guide who met us at the train with our other companions, Betty Lou and Barry, told us that after the revolution in 1917 the homes of the rich were broken up and the rooms were given to the poor--sometimes six families sharing a bath and kitchen. But even 90 years later, it is still the same in many housing area with several families sharing a bathroom and kitchen. Housing is very difficult to find.

Now in the post-soviet era, crime families have taken the place of the party and the criminals who ousted the Czarist system. One can only pray for the Russian people--that this will be a temporary phase on their way to a republican form of government.

The G-Eight Summit was meeting in St. Petersburg at the same time, so our talented van driver had to take many detours and we sat in a lot of traffic (although not as bad as Washington DC) as traffic was being rerouted so the visitors would see the restored areas with good streets. My husband with a new digital camera was giddy with snapping photos, so a lot of the pictures of our first day look like this.

Other entries about the Russian leg of our trip
Our tour group, the G-Six
Peter and Paul Fortress
St. Isaac's Cathedral
Russian Folk Singers and Dancers
Tsarskoe Selo
Tsarskoe Selo, pt. 2
St. Petersburg by canal boat
Church of the Spilled Blood

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