Hunter couldn’t wait to get to St Petersburg. He has been studying Russian history and had long dreamt of walking in footsteps of the Tsars. I’m worried I may have ruined him. He fell madly in love. Not surprisingly. The city is beyond stunning; much changed since I was last there.
In 1995 there was only one hotel, the renowned Astoria. Now there are hundreds and any brand you can think of is represented. What I remember as crumbling facades with ruins behind them are now posh apartments, museums and high-end shops.
Once upon a time I ate bready dumplings and chewy stew. There were not many options. Now, you can eat anything… Hunter and I had wonderful Chinese food, the best club sandwiches imaginable and splurged on a vodka and caviar tasting.
We walked miles. Up and down Nevsky Prospekt, along which no building was allowed to be built higher than the Winter Palace, at night, and through countless museums during the day. The Hermitage was still magical. Catherine the Great is notorious for her fictional prowess in the boudoir. She really should be remembered as a collector of art, not men. She began her personal gallery with the purchase of 250-ish (the records don’t lists the exact number) painting from Johann Gotzkowsky. Included were 13 Rembrandts’ and 11 Rubens. She just kept acquiring. Her museum opened to the public in 1852 and is one of the largest in the world.
Inside, the babushka squad may have resigned their headscarves since my first visit but these elderly women still fiercely guard their respective galleries. And the windows are still left open. No climate control for these Cezanne’s. Or Titans. Or Van Dycks. I spent as much time plotting as I did admiring the masterpieces. What if I quickly cut a masterpiece out of its frame, roll it up and toss it out the window to Hunter in the courtyard below.
I decided not to too, instead turned my energy to imagining myself in a glorious ball gown as I climbed the steps the Tsarinas had once graced.