In a way, St. Petersburg froze in time. This fact was confirmed upon our arrival at the airport, state-of-the-art in 1975, never remodeled since, and now turned into a dated provincial hub. The sorry state of the gate to Russia’s second largest city, home to 5 mln. people, set the stage for the things to come.
We got into a shabby taxi cab and drove through the post-war neighborhoods, the welfare housing of the Soviet people, to the old town.
Our b&b is located in the center of the city, within walking distance to most major sites, but in the area built for merchants, not for the aristocracy. Flanked by Sennaya (Hay) Square on one side and a shopping center called Apraksin Dvor on the other, the b&b is tucked into a small lane off Sadovaya Street. Sennaya Square could have been a stately site save for the stalls and parked cars filling it to the rim. Apraksin Dvor might have been of interest before the revolution, but in the Soviet era it went to seed and housed second-hand shops. Now, freshly painted, it is filled with cheap little shops selling sad-looking merchandise and various trinkets.
The taxi dropped us off on a street corner and we walked several yards to the b&b’s front door to the sounds of Russian rock blasting from the nearby basement shops.
The door was of industrial metal and massive. We rang the doorbell and were admitted into the apartment building. Avoiding the typical elevator that must have been modeled after a coffin, we dragged our suitcases on the worn stone staircase to the second floor. There were eight or ten apartments here, one of them being our destination. B&b Assembly is actually an apartment with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. The proprietress occupies one of the bedrooms and rents out the other three. I knew when I chose this very economical lodging to have no expectations.
Our room had two single beds covered with cheap bed spreads – it looked a bit like a barrack. The towels were so small, I failed to notice them at first. But they were clean and so were the sheets, and for 70 euro a night in the highest season, I was not complaining. There was not much more furniture in the room, but the most remarkable thing was the window sill – it was at least 3-foot wide – the width of the walls of this old building. The buildings here, in the olden days, were build like castles to protect the insiders from the brutal elements. Why, I could not even reach the window to open it unless I climbed on the window sill, the other option was to ask the very tall Anna to perform this simple but unattainable task.
But the night outside the window was white, which meant that the sun was shining brightly at 7 PM, and we went out to experience it firsthand.
We walked over to the second largest river, the Fontanka, strolled along it, finally diving into one of the old St. Petersburg streets and into a Georgian restaurant, Cat Cafe.
The decor of the restaurant was very pleasant and the food was good, but honestly, I’ve had similar Georgian food in Brooklyn. The restaurant is mentioned in all the tour books, so English was the lingua franca inside.
After dinner, at 10 PM, the sun was still going strong, and continued to shine until it set at about half past midnight, which still did not bring total darkness but dusk – the dreamy light of a white night.


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