I have a particular relationship with the city of St Petersburg. I recall the first visit vividly. Hanging over a hand-rail on the Black Watch. Her timber smelling sweet in a glaring dawn. We sailed up the Bol'shaya Neva. Alongside we are met by a mis-shapen brass band in mis-matched ragged uniforms. As if they had staggered to there from the Siberian front. They play Lara's theme, the recurring motif from Doctor Zhivago. My mother has an exquisite glass domed music box that plays a plinking version of it as you turn the handle. Procured exotically for her from Germany when I was a child, I've always coveted it.
From Bora Bora to Borneo I never feel further from home and more alienated than when in St Petersburg. The dusty neo-classical facades are rude and closed. Behemouths for doors. Dare to imagine what goes on behind the grey ruched curtains. The faces closed and forbidding too - and where are they? Barely a person to be seen. They do not care to communicate with you and simply look through you. Opposite Zayachy Island is an enormous military museum. As with many places in St Petersburg it never seemed to be open and there was no way to access it. For many years I cycled miles to get to it and pushed my nose jealously through the bars of the monumental gates at rows of tanks and cannons running the gamut of Russian Federation military might. The building itself, the Kronverk Arsenal sweeps around in a glorious half arc of intricate red brick. It's been a museum since 1863 and the official title is Military Historical Museum of the Artillery, Engineering and Signal Corps. The very last time I visited the city, it was open. I finally got close to my tanks. Peter and Paul Fortress, and the cathedral tower therein lieth the remains of all the Tzars hovers behind in the summer haze.
I yearn for an overnight in St Petersburg. I must get back. I've promised myself a stay in the Astoria.