We left the Hermitage by the front door and at two o’clock it was hot on the banks of the River Neva so as we had been on our feet for nearly four hours we found a kiosk in a park next to the Museum and drank some reasonably priced local beer called Baltika (Second largest brewery in Europe after Heineken) and planned our afternoon.
Now it was time to resurrect Kim’s plan to see the best of the City bridges but an examination of the map confirmed that this a was rather ambitious project so we decided to set off and just see how far we could get in a short afternoon.
The first bridge across the Neva was nothing particularly special except for two magnificent lion statues sitting opposite the Admiralty building so we crossed it over to Vasilievsky Island and then walked along the western embankment of the river. Kim’s objective was to see the fourteenth century Egyptian sphinxes by the side of the river in front of the Acadamy of Sciences in the University Quarter and having achieved that we crossed back over the Neva on the Lieutenant Shmidt bridge with decorative seahorse railings and once on the other side in Sennaya Ploshchad we slipped into a labyrinth of tiny streets and canals on our way the Egyptian bridge.
As I had feared this was quite a long walk and we were only about half way there when Kim, who was getting weary, began to complain as she regressed to childhood car journey mode and kept a barrage of ‘how much further is it, are we nearly there yet questions’.
The route took us past the Yusopov Palace where Rasputin was murdered, the Mariinskiy Theatre, the home of the Kirov ballet and the nearby monument to Rimsky-Korsakov outside the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory. Kim was fed-up with the walking now and when we reached the pastel blue St Nicholas’ cathedral accused me of setting the itinerary to suit my own preferences which was untrue but she had to agree that it was better visiting the Cathedral this afternoon because the Primate of all Russia wasn’t there and it was much less busy.
It was time to start walking back towards Nevsky Prospekt and we quickly took in the Egyptian Bridge, the pedestrian Lion Bridge and then the Gryphon Bridge for a second time before taking our bearings from the golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral and walked in that direction because I had a mind to visit the interior. In return for this I promised a refreshment stop but there was a surprising absence of cafés or bars in this part of the city so when we arrived at the Cathedral Kim declined to join me and I had to make a rather rushed visit to the interior which remains a museum even today and then a dash to the top of the dome to get the splendid elevated views of the city.
After my solo speed-sightseeing interlude we were back at Neksy Propekt where we stopped at the beer kiosk in the square outside the Church on Spilled blood where after twenty minutes or so Kim’s mood improved enough for us to walk to and see the Anichkov Bridge at the western end of the Prospekt with its four statues of men taming wild horses.
Despite weary legs it was important to stay out as long as possible this afternoon, not just to see as much as we could on our last afternoon, but because there was no room to return to the hotel because we had checked out earlier this morning. After evening meal we were transferring to Moscow by overnight train but that wasn’t until very much later so an early return would potentially mean a tedious wait in the hotel lounge. Eventually we made our way to the Metro station and took the journey back to Primorskaya for the very last time and as the mini-bus sped past the rows of concrete high rise housing blocks I reflected on life inside must remain quite a struggle for families on low incomes in a city of high prices and a widening gulf between rich and poor as Russia adapts to a market rather than a managed economy.
Each apartment had an individual balcony as a window on the world and it struck me that here, as everywhere else, the occupants had conspired to spoil the original concept by inappropriate conversions, boxing them in and glazing them and using them for all sorts of things that they weren’t really intended for – bicycle store, laundry room, high rise gardens, external store room or a place for the kid’s toys but I suppose the pressure on internal living space probably makes this inevitable.
Thirty minutes after leaving the city we were back at the hotel where we ate evening meal in what can only best be described a functional dining room. It was difficult to spin this out for much more than forty minutes or thereabouts so shortly after that we were sitting in the hotel lounge with the other passengers waiting for the transport to arrive to take us to the railway station.
I generally find that waiting around like this is not a great deal of fun and this was no exception. After an hour so I broke the evening up by visiting the supermarket for the last time and bought some wine for the train journey and then sat with the others and just waited.