A Million Voices
3 years ago in May 2015, Polina Gagarina almost won the Eurovision Song Contest for Russia with her song – A Million Voices
I loved the song and her singing as it was pure Eurovision. Catchy and corny with a dramatic climax.
I can’t even picture a million people let alone voices. Can you? If you have been able to, now times that number by 20 million. I’ll come back to this later.
Sleeping in a strange bed
Our first nights stay and I’m in and out of sleep. Our 8th floor balcony door is wide open allowing everything in. 2-3 times, maybe more during the night someone shouted “CLEAR!” And I woke with a start! The sounds of the city invading my sleep.
Waking up in St Petersburg
Day 2 and after a slow start, we are heading to the Metro. And this I have to report beats our London Underground by a county mile. Here’s why.
You purchase your tokens and then you know how many times you can enter or exit a “turnstile”. No misunderstandings. You put your token in and it’s gone, and, even more significantly, if you don’t use it one day, you can use it the next. The escalators are exceedingly long showing how far underground we actually travelled and hardly anyone moved. What we did see though was a line of pencil line expressions, but perhaps we are just being sensitive.
When a train approaches there is no exposed line for people to commit the unthinkable on but doors open and you don’t even need to ‘mind the gap’.
Within 5 minutes we were in the centre of St Petersburg and here’s where our day truly began.
We began taking pictures almost immediately. Each building had the same uniform windows interspersed with various colours. We saw yellows, peaches, greens and somewhat bewilderingly a building that was painted black. We then saw an advert for Ozzy Osbourne, due 3rd June! I’ve never seen Ozzy live and he’s coming to Russia. Birmingham born Ozzy (must be nearly 70 by now) bridging gaps and coming to St P for a gig! Bet they love him. How is he still alive? Life is strange.
We left the Ozmeister behind and found the Kazan Cathedral with its colonnade of pillars overlooking a peaceful park. However, before we were able to whip out the phone for a selfie, we were accosted by our first cartoon character of the day:a cross between D’artagnan and Prince Charming.Would we like a photo with him? Er, No.. and we sidled past him as he moved onto his next prey throwing his arms out wide to capture their attention.This, I have to tell you is not the last we would see of people dressed in costumes or animal outfits today trying to make money from us. We met a Zebra, Snow White, a Chipmunk, a horse, and the stay puff marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. The world is a verysmall place indeed.
Around the perimeter of the Kazan cathedral were photographs that had been melded together to show the old with the new. Each picture showed the modern day mixed with the black and white. Many of the most poignant shots depicted lines of soldiers marching in front of buildings from the city.
But now the country is preoccupied in another way
In every corner of St Petersburg the city is gearing up for the World Cup, flower beds are being dug over and replanted, flags of all nations erected and statues are being jet-washed. As the sun continued to cook our bodies in a steady 27 C, we arrived at Palace Square. In front of us was the famous Hermitage Palace and it really was something to behold. Apparently, of all the sites to see inside, this is a must see. There’s the threat of rain tomorrow so we will be back then.
20 minutes later having sidestepped a chipmunk and a zebra we were back at Burger King for a very large Pepsi Lite. I have to report that even the girl serving in Burger King.communicated in English. Shame on us. All we’ve got is Robbie Williams inspired “Spasiba” as our goto word.
So much to see!
After cooling down, we headed to the “Marsovo pole” and “Soldiers of Revolution” monument passing by many flags saying 1941-1945 currently commemorating the 20 million Russians lost in the Second World War. It’s hard to imagine what the enemy must have looked like to a Russian soldier. One moment there’s a pact with Hitler; the next they are fighting the Wermacht and both winning and losing battles. At least we knew the battle was with the Germans from the off and that never changed. I didn’t know that Winston Churchill had met with Roosevelt and Stalin and that Stalin had wanted more out of the agreement. So many stories in our history. So much learning about death and destruction, and still today’s leaders posture like fighting cocks about to be set loose in a pen. What a piece of work is man.
We crossed the Troitsky Most and headed for the palace of Peter the great! It’s just as well people thought he was great. I’m not sure we would have visited his palace if he was named “Peter, he’s a bit alright, but moody on Thursdays”. Here, we wondered around an island where the rabbit seems to hold signficance. Legend has it that a rabbit hopped onto the foot of Peter ‘the alright’ in the early 1700s to escape the floods and that is how the island found its name. It’s bizarre to see bronze statues of the rabbit dotted around a place as grand as this.
We sat in front of the church for a few minutes at 3pm and was asked by a 75 year old ticket tout whether we wanted to go to the ballet? Rabbits, old touts, and us in Russia. This is some weird dream right?
Stadiums and dreams
Looking at the map it felt time to head off the beaten track toward the local stadium we had seen on the map. We began to see more signs of the World Cup as we left the coach load of tourists behind us. It’s hard to think of what could happen in a few weeks time after Euro 2016. What I do know is that violence follows football everywhere. I have a very bad feeling about this.
The Petrovsky stadium, capacity 21,000 was home to Zenit St Petersburg but is now the poor cousin to the spankingly new Krestovsky Stadium (a few miles out of town) which is about to have its capacity raised to 68,000 for the World Cup. We won’t be playing there until the semi-finals. So, we won’t be playing there then. This stadium cost 1 Billion pounds and is one of the most expensive stadiums ever!!
2 miles further on (my feet and back thought it was 10) and we inched our way back to the Hotel making “ooh aah” noises in the last hundred yards. Why is it that as soon as you can see the finish your body gives up? Oh yes, we knew we had walked the city and barely touched the surface. What a place!
Step counter is telling me we walked 9 miles today.