Why do we travel? There are some things that are difficult, the plans that don’t work, the arrangements that are more difficult than you’d expected, the hour-long wait to buy tickets to a museum you’re not sure you really want to go to, the stairs when you’re carrying your luggage, the screaming children, the adults yelling into their cell phones, the separation from family and friends. But there are moments that are more perfect than you could never plan or even anticipate, and certainly never replicate at home.
I’ve had more than my fair share of the latter here in St. Petersburg. I love this city!
Little can make me happier than reading in a park. Today I sat in two parks reading. The first was on an island in St. Petersburg that was once some super high security military enclave. For decades it’s been abandoned, but now they’re making it into a space for modern, public art. There’s nothing there yet that is so great except the idea – a Cold War relic that’s becoming public art. It was just too cool to believe. Across the canal from the island there were great old buildings just begging to be renovated. Give Bart, Mark, and me about a year and this would be my fantasy home.
Then I went to the big park between our hotel and the Hermitage. The police are weird here. Sometimes there can be a hundred people sunning in the park. And sometimes they go through telling people they can’t stay there. As far as I can tell, totally random. One place I was in they appeared while I was reading and told me I couldn’t stay there. I went somewhere else near there and they seemed OK. Either way – grass, sun, and a book and I can be insanely happy. And I was.
The funny thing about my current book is that I’m reading on of Paul Theroux’s books on traveling. He’s writing about a train trip he took from Europe to Japan and back to Europe and I get so engrossed in it I forget I’m in Russia. I get up from the book, walk around for a couple minutes and have to remind myself I’m not in Vietnam or Japan or wherever he’s writing about in that chapter!
Two other things I love are good restaurants and good cocktail bars. Over the last couple days we’ve eaten in two eight-table restaurants; both perfect. Nothing particularly special, just that great sense that you’re some place where someone really cares to get things right.
And then we discovered this great bar just a few blocks from our hotel. A couple nights ago we were looking for a place to have dinner, we peeked in, and it looked great. They made world-class Manhattans, had great food, and were experimenting with all sorts of other stuff. It was remarkably New York-ish and when I asked how long they had been open, Igor, the bartender-in-training, told us “We’re not opened yet.” Turns out they’re still in rehearsal mode. That first night Mark & I were the only ones there but when we went back last night it was quite the scene – a Russian poet/musician and his pianist were there, with maybe 20 or 25 people there. Very theatrical, and very Russian; if you know our Boston office, think of Ali & Boris’s love child. Who knew Russian poetry, when you don’t understand a word of it, would be so much fun?
And then, along with all of that, you’re in St. Petersburg, a city of canals, beautiful churches, great 19th century buildings, and long sunsets. These are just a few of my favorite shots.