ONBOARD WIND SURF- We are docked this morning for a two-day stay in St. Petersburg, tied up at the Morskoy Vokzal Sea Station, a facility that has been expanded and improved since my last visit, thanks to a 2005 extension adding additional berths and a new Marine Passenger Terminal. It is a safe and highly efficient complex, with its only drawback being its location, some 45 minutes away from the city center.
Although we have two days here, it’s hardly enough time to take in the city’s myriad attractions. St. Petersburg is the largest and, without question, the most spectacular destination on Wind Surf’s Baltic itinerary.
Since Mel and I are about to depart for a long, tiring day on our feet at the Hermitage, trying to see as much of the fabulous art on display there as we can, I’m going to limit today’s blog to a brief introduction to the city and then follow up tomorrow with the details of our visit.
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg flourished as the home of the tsars and the center of imperial Russian culture until the demise of the Romanov Dynasty in 1917. Re-christened Petrograd during the World War I, the city was renamed Leningrad in 1924 in honor of communist revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. In 1991, with the dissolution of the USSR, the city reverted once again to the name it was always meant to bear, St. Petersburg.
While the Bolsheviks under Lenin didn’t hesitate to execute the last of the Romanovs, including Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children, neither they nor subsequent Soviet leaders destroyed the magnificent palaces, cathedrals and opulent mansions of the Imperial Dynasty. Many of the royal residences, including the Winter Palace that now houses the Hermitage Museum, were damaged during the Siege of Leningrad from 1941-44. Remarkably, however, virtually all of the key structures of the former dynasty were restored, largely during the communist regime, to the fine condition we find them in today.
Although this may not be the ideal forum for expressing political opinions, I’m going to digress for a moment to express my loathing for the current Kremlin regime President Vladimir Putin in particular. Reasons for my enmity include his military aggressions in the Ukraine and Syria; the brutality he’s displayed in disposing of his political enemies, and his complicity in hacking the email files of American political parties. Putin is bully dictator and a tyrant who has never shed his role as a KGB operative. It is my opinion that his actions foment peril in an already dangerous and complex world putting Russia on a collision course with the West for another Cold War.
I’m sharing these views because they affect my mood and mindset as I contemplate this visit to Russia. I’m not at all enthusiastic about spending my money here, abhorring the thought that it would in any way contribute to a Kremlin dictatorship. I’ve felt the same way during some of my previous travels. Like visiting South Africa during the woeful era of apartheid, or Myanmar during a period of repressive military rule when the generals were holding pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
This creates a personal dilemma. I could simply refuse to go ashore, although history tells us that boycotts are rarely effective. So I’ve deposited my $89 for the Hermitage tour – a pittance for the privilege of viewing some of the world’s most priceless art. I also will attend a ballet performance tomorrow evening at the Musical Comedy Theatre, a complimentary private event, courtesy of Windstar. But I’m not going to ante up for any of the excursions on tap tomorrow, ranging in price from $155 to $799. I’m calling it a limited boycott.
Mel shares my sentiments about Putin and his Kremlin cohorts, but unlike me she’s never been to St. Petersburg, so she has signed on for a couple of tours that will take in some of the grand sites for which the city is famous. I’ll remain onboard, where I’ll interview some of the ship’s officers, and hopefully catch up on my rest.
August 30, 2016
Photos by Dave Houser