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Petersburg, the Pearl of the North

Updated on March 19, 2015

The Former Capital of Russia

Dredged up from a swamp in 1703 by Emperor Peter the Great, St. Petersburg, called Leningrad during Soviet times, is the world's northernmost great city. Long the capital and center of Russian art, literature, music and learning, the beautiful Pearl of the North has a distinguished heritage. At night, under winter cover of ice and snow, it glows like a mythical fairyland.

From Vladimir Putin to Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Nabokov; from Rasputin to Tchaikovsky to Dostoevsky and a cast of thousands of others, the giants of Russian history have been born or passed through this snowy place, the Queen City of the North!

During December every ordinary town in the world, to show off its commitment to "high culture", stages "The Nutcracker". In St. Petersburg no one needs to pretend. It's their show! It premiered here at the Mariinsky Theater on December 18, 1892, choreographed by local masters Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a musical score by a local wunderkind named Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (pronounced chee-KOFF-skee in Russian).

Санкt-Пеtербурr, the frozen kingdom of ice, the Neva River and all its tributaries now a vast subarctic skating rink. Is it real or is it a dream?

Old Igor couldn't resist a swim in the nice Arctic water of the Neva. His kind friend cut out a place for him to have fun in. They asked me if I wanted to go next. I said no, I enjoyed my nuts salted not frozen.

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg. From 1732 to 1917 this was the official residence of the Russian czars. Then insurgents stormed the palace in February, and imprisoned Emperor Nicholas. Later that year a group of intellectuals, led by Lenin and Trotsky, established the foundation of the Soviet government here. I witnessed another revolutionary mob on the morning of my visit: long lines of tourists trying to enter the palace, now the Hermitage Museum. In the USA mobs fight on Black Friday to buy TVs and iPads. In Russia mobs fight to enter an art museum and study history. I found the difference in priorities interesting.

At night I attended a concert in the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace along the largest and most famous of St. Petersburg's avenues, the Nevsky Prospekt. Today the former dance hall in the palace is used for public concerts. The theater was packed with enthusiastic local patrons. Young, mostly female Russian virtuosos played a selection of Italian and French music. I seemed to be the only American in the building. Whenever a local approached me and asked for a sample of my wisdom I answered with my favorite of the ten Russian words I know: "Nyet!"

Good-bye, Санкt-Пеtербурr! I had to leave you much too soon. For 74 years an authoritarian government hid your lovely charms from the world, closed your churches, confiscated your original Christian name and tried to erase your history. Now you are free to assert your former grandeur! Western governments now use terrorism as an excuse to build the type of police state that you joyfully liberated yourself from. Let them rot! What rises falls and what falls rises.

© 2015 James Crawford


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    • jhcrawford profile image

      James Crawford 2 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      It was very cold but I think it was more interesting for me to see it then than in summer.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 2 years ago from California

      I've never been to St. Petersburg in the winter. It looks cold! But lovely. I think New Years is the best time to visit Russia. Russians live for New Years! I miss it so much. But I'm totally spoiled by the Californian weather, alas.

      Great photos!