St. Petersburg, Russia: A Stroll through the City

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

St. Petersburg is a fascinating city, full of history, intrigue, and paradoxes. Although I could spend weeks in this city, I only have 3 days. I am eager to venture out on day 2 of my Baltic Cruise in St. Petersburg, and I chose a tour of the city. I hadn’t seen the city since my two-day visit here in 1998 and it would be interesting to compare the city at these different times in its history. 

Russian newlyweds, photo Denise Ames

After a bus drive through certain parts of the city, our first stop was a park along the Neva River, viewing St. Peter and Paul Fortress across the waterway. The cool, damp air did not deter a new bride from shedding her coat for wedding photos, framed against the dramatic river backdrop. Food trucks offering Russian treats and children playing emitted an atmosphere of gaiety, lightness, and freedom that had been missing in my 1998 visit that released a glum, fearful atmosphere.

We boarded the bus and it wove its way through narrow streets to a store specifically designed for tourists. Tour companies seem to like these stops since they combine shopping and a bathroom (always welcomed). I quickly got at the head of the line for the women’s bathroom and since I was not in the market for touristy items, I decided to venture out into the streets. As I usually do when I am in this situation, I ask the guide and bus driver for the departure time then enjoy time on my own. I decided to take my chances on my mini excursion, since St. Petersburg has strict rules that tourists cannot wander the city without the accompaniment of an official guide. I was on my own.

photo Denise Ames

One of my first clues that St. Petersburg was a “hip” city that followed Western pop culture was a poster for a café that appeared to be named after the hit American TV series at the time: “Breaking Bad” (filmed in my hometown of Albuquerque, NM I might add).

As I wandered through the maze of streets, I came across men working on street repairs with modern looking tools and machinery. The JCB backhoe (the company started in 1949 in the UK) was not like the worn-out, broken-down Soviet machinery of the past. I was surprised when the backhoe operator even willingly smiled for my photo of him. 

nested dolls

I arrived at the tourist store on time but we were “given” more time to shop. Helping myself to their delicious complimentary tea, I decided to look over their extensive collection of matryosha dolls, a traditional symbol of Russia.

The word matryosha literally “little matron,” the diminutive form of the Russian female first name Matryona. A set of matryoshas consist of a wooden figure which separates, top from bottom, to reveal a smaller figure of the same sort inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on. The number of nested figures is traditionally at least five, but can be much more, up to several dozen for the finely-skilled craftsman to master. The prices ranged from over 5 figures in $ to a couple of dollars. I opted for the lower end (very lower end) as a gift for my granddaughter, adorned in the traditional red and yellow colors.

A set from 1892

Finally, the avid shoppers were corralled and loaded onto the bus. We then motored across the Neva bridge to the imposing Peter and Paul Fortress. It looked so intriguing!  

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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