on August 6, 2007
Sitting on its own island, the Peter and Paul Fortress has come a long way since its inception by Peter the Great in 1703. On one particularly warm and sunny April day we found that the fortress had become a place of self-expression and recreation, a far cry from its roots as city garrison and political jail.It’s free to walk around the grounds, which aren’t particularly extensive but definitely pleasant to stroll around considering its proximity to the city centre. The centrepiece of the fortress is the Cathedral. The brilliance of its golden spire stands out not only against the bare skyline of the north bank, but also within the Neva as it reflects the soaring needle in its waters. At 404 feet, the cathedral is also the highest building in St. Petersburg.There’s a fee to enter the buildings, which include the City History Museum, parts of the former jail and the cathedral. We decided instead to head to the perimeter of the fortress and walk beside the river. There’s a small sandy beach and from here you get clear views of the Hermitage and a distant view of the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.We arrived in time to set up a video camera to record the daily firing of the cannon. Even though our guidebook advised that the cannon is fired from the Naryshkin Bastion at noon, nothing could prepare us mentally for the heart-stopping experience of having a cannon shot just a few feet over our heads. It was deafeningly loud and induced in us a sudden and unexpected outburst of expletives, which at the time aptly summed up our sense of shock, albeit in a very primitive form.After our heart rates had returned to normal we followed the river to the east and came upon a sizeable group of scantily clad retirees sunning themselves against the perimeter wall. I only saw one bold soul actually take the plunge in the Neva although there are signs on the beach indicating that swimming is prohibited. I’m not sure what Peter the Great would have made of it all but despite the warm weather it was an odd sight given that the winter ice had barely started to break up.Unfortunately for us our final experience at the Peter and Paul Fortress was a meal at the “Anarchist Restaurant.” This strange place was decorated in the loose style of a farmer’s cottage and was run by three reluctant teenagers. We ordered a sesame-seed encrusted chicken fillet and an exceedingly chewy lamb dish and waited a painful thirty minutes for the food to come out. Paying a highly inflated price for both dishes I assumed that their justification is the tourist location but I was left wondering if they were paying homage to the food once served to fortress inmates. If so, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, and Trotsky would be sad to learn that the quality has improved little with the passing of time.
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