St Petersburg

Sadly all good things must come to an end and for me my adventures came to an end in St Petersburg. I think it has taken me so long to write up this post due to a weird kind of denial. If I don’t write about the end it can’t have happened. Right? However, it would be unfair to just disappear into the mists without a wave goodbye and a final tale.

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Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

Thus we find myself standing on the pavement having just disembarked from what was was the most luxurious commuter train I have ever had the pleasure of riding.  Orienting myself, I begin the hike to my final hostel, Polosaty, which really deserves more of a mention than most hostels since it had a different breakfast every morning and did the laundry for free every evening not to mention being wonderfully decorated in bright colours.

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Inside the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

My first foray into St Petersburg took me along Nevsky Prospekt to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood because with a name like that, how could I not go? The church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881 by political nihilists. To me though, it was a beautiful building with delightful domes and complementary colours. Personally I would say it averages on a level with St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. I prefered its exterior, but the fantastically colourful mosaics were a little too imposing for me and I prefered the quieter, soothing corridors of St Basil’s.

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St Isaac’s Cathedral

Continuing to the end of Nevsky Prospekt after sushi and sangria by the canal, I visited  yet another the cathedral, this one by the less imposing name of St Isaac’s Cathedral. It’s appearance on the other hand, was far more intimidating with sharp corners and towering columns. The interior, normally open as a museum, was equally grand and to my mind the most stunning pieces were the artfully decorated upper reaches of the walls and ceiling.

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Inside St Isaac’s Cathedral

After a jaunt through the Alexsandrovskiy Gardens to see the bronze horseman I turned my head home, pausing for a moderately awful coffee at a place called the coffee bookshop (with a name like that I couldn’t give it a miss, even if all the books were in Russian).

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The Bronze Horseman

The evening saw me pairing up with another hostel guest to go out for drinks. On the advice of the hostel staff we headed to Ulitsa Belinskogo, a road with plenty of watering holes to choose from. We ended up in a cocktail bar that had the most mouthwatering of old fashioneds I have ever had the pleasure to drink. From there we strolled through the streets and parks of St Petersburg, admiring the city by night. It is extraordinary how different a place looks with sodium and neon in the place of sunlight.

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The Hermitage

Rising in time for porridge, I braved the trolleys to get to the Hermitage at the opposite end of Nevsky Prospekt. This was a lot less intimidating than I thought it was going to be. I just found the person in a hi vis vest and handed over my 40 rubles in absolute silence. On a side note, clearly I have the Russian expressionlessness and dress code down pat as people kept asking me for help in Russian, not figuring me for a tourist. It definitely needs a little more work however, as it would seem my five foot one of pure glower is not powerful enough and I am still “approachable”.

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A stairwell in the Hermitage

The Hermitage was what I expected it to be, a museum with lots of artwork in it. I had been assured it was different to most museums and that I wouldn’t be bored. This was only half true. Aside from its sheer size it was the same as the vast majority of art museums I have visited. What lessened my boredom fractionally was the fantastic architecture and decor of the museum, which was quite stunning.

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A room in the Hermitage-so much gold!

Having rested my feet for a bit at the hostel, I dress up and with much excitement caught an Uber to the Mariinsky Theatre. I have expressed my love of The Ballet before so you can understand there was no way I was going to miss a trip to watch Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in Russia. To do so would be heathen. With the Bolshoi in Moscow on it summer break, I had been forced to wait until St Petersburg. Fortunately the wait was most definitely worth it. The performance was impressive, although I was not expecting the less used, more traditional ending in which the prince breaks the spell, enabling him to marry Odette.

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A not at all creepy bust

The biggest drawback was that I had to share the theatre with other people, many of whom had merely come for the kudos points they would earn. People were continuously chatting, on their phones (including taking photos and videos) and being generally disruptive. This lack of respect for the dancers was horrifying and even more shocking was the vast exodus that occurred even though the curtain call had barely started. The constant grind of absent respect-since I’ve no doubt this was a regular occurance-had definitely taken a toll on the quality of the performance, but honestly who can blame the cast when faced with such a disrespectful rabble every night?

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Fountains outside the Summer Palace

My holiday drew to a close the next day with a trip to the gardens of the Summer Palace, made cheaper by the wonders of a student discount. I wasn’t prepared to spend the extra to see the interior of the palace-there is only so much gold moulding a person can see before they get bored-but the gardens were well worth the visit. The numerous fountains and waterways were captivating and I wandered aimlessly through the gardens, stumbling across them now and again until I found a good spot to perch and alternate between people watching and reading my book until I caught the hydrofoil home.

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Making friends

Thus this adventure of mine has come an end and reality returns once more. From here I have one more year of university and then will have to face the real world, and won’t that be an adventure in itself?

Ballet Under the Stars

I can still remember the first (and only) ballet I ever attended.  I must have been five or six at the time and the memory is perhaps one of my oldest.  It was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and despite a little confusion as to why there was no speaking, a small seed was planted within me that day.  Like lots of young girls, I participated in a number of different dance clubs before my interest waned and that seed was lost.

Then about four years ago, I came across an article about ballet dancers which explained the work and pain that goes into breaking in a pair of pointe shoes only to have to replace them a few weeks later.  I read it with mild interest but GCSEs were beckoning and besides shuddering at the thought of people willingly wearing pointe shoes I continued life as normal, unaware of that little seed beginning to unfurl.  In that peculiar manner that things always appear in groups I came across several articles and videos about ballet and dance after my exams.  The seed began to bloom.  Reading about the physical demands and watching the grace with which herculean moves were performed I developed a deep-seated sense of respect for all dancers, ballet dancers most of all, with their unending grace and prowess.

Since this enlightenment I had not had the opportunity to attend a live ballet.  Instead, I have subsisted on snippets in films and video performances.  That is until now.  When I saw a post asking if anyone wanted to attend Ballet Under the Stars I put my name down before I had even read the details.  I was going.  I was going even if I had to sell a kidney.  I didn’t, but I would have.

Ballet Under the Stars runs for two weekends and is pretty self-explanatory.  It is a series of three ballet acts performed at night on the lawn of Fort Canning by the Singapore Dance Theatre.  Each weekend had a different line up.  The first weekend was a set of contemporary pieces and the second a classical trio of weddings.  It was to these weddings that we went.  Coppélia Act III, Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty, and Kitri’s Wedding from Don Quixote to be exact.

Armed with several layers of bug spray but absent a comfortable rug to sit on, we settled down for what has quite possibly been my favourite night since arriving in Singapore.  While it was a shame not to see an entire ballet unwind from start to finish, the immense skill of the dancers and enthusiasm of the crowd completely made up for it.  Not only this, but my friend and I spent the interlude plotting the procurement of some of the stunning dresses and costumes that glittered oh so beautifully under the stage lights.

Some of the solo dances were absolutely amazing, with the dancers flowing across the stage in sync with the music or performing pirouette after pirouette after pirouette.  I held my breath as gravity neglected to pull flying forms to the ground and dancers were held aloft.  The sheer skill, not only to hold a pose but to hold a pose where arms and legs align in graceful curves and make it look utterly effortless is breath-taking.  To transform a jump into an elegant artform, perfectly in time with a clash of cymbals or trumpet call is what gives me such a sense of respect for dancers and why I can’t wait to watch another ballet.

Photo from here.