St. Petersburg, Russia: A New Outlook with Old Trappings

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

I am looking forward to St. Petersburg, our second stop on a Baltic Sea cruise on board the Nautica, a small cruise ship that is part of the Oceania Line. I am the cruise ship lecturer, but with my lectures carefully prepared ahead of time I have free time to explore all the destinations. We will be staying three days in St. Petersburg, so enough time to get a little taste of the city, the second largest in Russia.

Nautica cruise ship on the Neva River, photo Denise Ames

The morning dawns as the Nautica nimbly maneuvers through endless miles of channels along the Neva River, after all St. Petersburg has for many years been a major port at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. Many of the factories lining the channels look worn and in disuse, a testament to the once industrial might of the former Soviet Union during World War II and into the 1970s.

The ship docks along Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment, a place specifically for cruise ships that line its banks. I am eager to disembark and start exploring the city before the “official” tour begins, but I am told that cruise ship visitors cannot just stroll the city at their leisure, they must be accompanied by a guide. This restriction reminded me of the endless and nonsensical “rules” I encountered during a 1989 trip to the former Soviet Union. I forego my morning explorations and read my notes about Russia.

Old factories along the Neva River, St. Petersburg, photo Denise Ames

Even though reform-minded Premier Mikael Gorbachev instituted greater glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an effort to revive the flagging Soviet Union in the 1980s, it was not enough to stem the tide of corruption and inefficiencies rotting the Soviet system within. The Soviet Union unceremoniously ended in 1991, at which time it broke into 15 independent republics. The largest in size and population is Russia. In a show of independence from its communist past, St. Petersburg changed its name from Leningrad shortly afterwards.  

It was not an easy transition from a communist command economy to capitalism and from an authoritarian state to a democratic (liberal) form of government. In fact, I would argue that there was never a full transition, and vestiges of the Soviet state remain, as evidenced by my walking about restrictions.

Another vestige of communism and a corrupt system affects me on my first day in St. Petersburg. I take some time to visit the ship’s concierge and enquire about my lost luggage that had been missing since I arrived in Stockholm, the departing port for the cruise. He informs me that the luggage will not be delivered to St. Petersburg, but instead to Helsinki, Finland, our next stop. I ask why. He candidly replies that luggage delivered to the St. Petersburg airport destined for the cruise ship often goes missing. I nod my understanding. Three more days in the same clothes! I profusely thank him for the laundry service they are providing and prepare for the day’s excursion.

Peterhof Palace, built by Peter the Great, photo Denise Ames

As a cruise ship lecturer, I may also accompany certain tours that need a “helper” to check on stragglers and answer questions. I can’t complain about the price (free). I am lucky to accompany a tour to Peterhof Palace, located about 21 miles from St. Petersburg. It is often referred to as the Russian Versailles, and as I approached the entrance of the estate I can see why, another stupendous Russian palace.

Blog series continues, Monday, December 21.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 8 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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