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Sunday, February 10, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG, VENICE OF THE NORTH



"St. Petersburg is a maritime city, so it never gets truly cold…if you're Russian or an Emperor Penguin from the South Pole, that is. By mid-April the snow has melted, and the Neva River, which averages five hundred meters in width and eleven meters in depth, is no longer frozen solid. Now, that is one massive chunk of ice."
From "All For Spilled Blood" by R. Ann Siracusa


Baby, It's Cold Outside

St. Petersburg, Russia, called the Venice of the North, may be one of the most romantic cities in Europe and a fabulous place to visit, but it's also one of the coldest. In February, the average low is -11° F and the average high is -3° F with an average of 17 snow days. Yes, those are minus signs. It's no wonder the Neva River freezes over. And there are only 6 hours of sunlight.

My suggestion: Don't go there in the winter. My heroine in All For Spilled Blood goes there in early May and the ice in the river has just broken up…but she finds out how cold it is.

Breaking Ice on the Neva River                                                                                                                            A/P photo by Dmitry Lovetsky
But not to worry. Thousands of Russian Orthodox followers celebrate the religious holiday of Epiphany (January) by taking a dip in the icy rivers and lakes, cleansing themselves with water blessed by a cleric and deemed holy and pure. Some believe it holds special powers of protection and healing. Since this is a common yearly practice, it must keep them from getting the flu and hypothermia. Read more about this at: http://nightfame.com/style/2011/01/thousands-of-russians-jump-in-ice-holes-for-holiday/

The longest days of the year come in June, with approximately 19 hours between sunrise and sunset, and I've read that during this time of the year, the few hours of night are like twilight and it never really gets dark, allowing many hours of sightseeing. The photo shows the Neva River at 11 pm.
Photo by James Hill of the NY Times

Venice of the North

Before I travel in Russia, the term “Venice of the North” meant nothing to me. Color me dense. A great deal of St. Petersburg's charm derives from being built around a network of canals and rivers, and the most incredible bridges you can imagine to bring pedestrian and vehicle traffic across those canals. In addition to being the main lifeblood of the city, the waterways help define the unique atmosphere by creating eerie mists which rise from the frozen water in the winter and glimmering mirror facades in the summer.

English Bridge in Fog


Zimnaya Kanavka Canal
Founding of St.Petersburg

Founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, the first buildings of the city were situated on ten islands to the north side of the Neva in the river delta, but as the city grew, the center moved south of the river. Today St. Petersburg spreads over more than forty islands, with 342 public bridges cataloged, all sizes, types, and designs.  It’s impossible to walk more than a few hundred meters without crossing a bridge.

Anichkov Bridge
Tsar Peter the Great created St. Petersburg to be as much like a European city as possible. While the older parts of the city have the definite "feel" of a European city, the buildings themselves take on some of the special expansive qualities typical of Russian architecture. But nothing there is really old by European standards.

The Tsar expected residents of the city move around during the summer months by boat on the canals. In the winter, when the canals are frozen, they were to expected to use the canals with sleds. I guess that didn’t work out. After Peter’s death, they started building bridges. The first permanent bridge of bricks and stone across the main branch of the Neva was constructed in 1850.

Griboyedova Canal
 The Resurrection Church of Our Savior

Better known as Church On Spilled Blood, The Resurrection Church of Our Savior is built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. This church, in the Russian Revival style, is one of the most outstanding structures I saw in Russia.

As you can guess from the name of my novel, All For Spilled Blood, this church plays a role in my novel. You can't imagine how many times people have corrected my references to it using the word "of" instead of "on", but it's definitely "on Spilled Blood".


Russia is a fascinating country with a rich cultural background and history.  If you read or write historical fiction, Russia is a vast source of inspiration.  It is also home to twenty-four world heritage sites, fifteen cultural nine natural. That makes it worth visiting.

All For Spilled Blood

This novel, due for release by Breathless Press on February 22, 2013, is the fourth of a five book romantic suspense series featuring a spy and a tour director. It's set in St. Petersburg, and I've tried to capture in the writing some of the flavor of the city.

 Cover Blurb

Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire, and her fiancĂ© and favorite spy, Will Talbot, travel to Russia undercover as tour directors for the US delegation to an international youth conference. Harriet tackles her first covert assignment to investigate smuggled artwork while Will’s mission is to locate and destroy a group of terrorists recruiting young computer experts.
Their marriage plans hit a snag when Will locates a long-lost cousin with startling news about his heritage. When the artwork being smuggled has particular significance to one of the terrorist sympathizers, their missions entangle and begin to unravel, leaving Will at the mercy of terrorist kidnappers and Harriet holding the bag.

Excerpt

Without warning, a mud-spattered Chinese-made Chery careened around the corner and, with shrieking brakes, slowed behind us. The plates were so filthy I couldn't tell if they were Russian or not.

"Take it easy, buddy." I pulled the car close to the sidewalk to give the anxious driver room to get around me. No way did I intend to speed up.

As the other vehicle pulled alongside to pass, I cast it a sideways glance and caught the fleeting silhouettes of three men. The gaze of the passenger in the front seat fixed on mine. Young kids. Even with our windows rolled up, I heard loud music.

Figures.

Wham. The other car veered into ours, smashing against the driver's door.

"Hey!"

Terrified, outraged cries filled the car as the blow threw my chest against the steering wheel. The air whooshed from my lungs in a single burst, and I bounced sideways into David. Startled and frightened, a surge of adrenaline sent cold shivers through me, but my tingling hands managed to hold onto the wheel. I whipped the car to the right, away from our attackers and slammed on the brakes.

The air filled with shrill squealing and the odor of hot tires.

Cr-runch. The vehicle smashed into us again, more to the rear. We bumped over the curb and across the sidewalk. The front of the car rammed into the waist-high barrier wall, the momentum propelling it through the concrete and halfway over the edge. The vehicle teetered above the uncaring river, the broken wall acting as a fulcrum.

My heart pounded from fear. Blood roared in my ears. I half-turned toward the back seat and scream at the kids. "Get out!"

The car shifted, its torn metal groaning. Steam poured from under the hood, condensing in the cool air. My eyes stung and watered.

Carla already had the rear door open.

"Hurry!"  She tumbled out onto the sharp stones and bent reinforcing bars from the wall, pulling a wailing Sienna Dawn with her. The car shuddered as they moved.

I battered my shoulder against the bent driver's door. "Open, dammit!"

Crushed inward and held in place by the wall outside, it refused to budge. Beside me, David struggled with the other one and cursed. I twisted to look behind me.

Ohmigod! My ribs screamed in agony, and my eyesight blurred with pain. Gripping the steering wheel with all the force I had in my hands, I tried to ground myself against the pain, and yelled. "Andy. Charlie. Get out!"

"It's stuck."

"Use your legs!"  Andy hollered as he scooted across the seat to the already-open rear door and followed Carla.

Charlie leaned back on the seat and kicked with both feet. The door scraped open and he scrambled out. With the shift of weight, the car groaned and tipped forward.

The shriek of tires nearly broke my eardrums. Carla screamed. "Get back."

I couldn't see her, but the roaring engine told it all in the split second required for the other car to hit us again from behind.

With an ear-shattering whine, the Siber lurched forward. The trunk rose into the air. The rear doors, forced into the jagged opening in the stone wall, slammed shut as the car dropped like a detached leech and hit the frigid water, grill first.

9 comments:

Melissa Keir said...

It sounds like a nice place to visit... in the summer! :) I've seen a television show on rail travel through Russia and found it to be a unique place and one on my visit list.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Melissa, I took a cruise on the Volga River from Moscow to St.Petersburg. But Russia is huge and to really see it would take many trips. Travel is my inspiration for writing. Ann

Sandy said...

The excerpt sounded exciting and scary. Great pictures.

jean hart stewart said...

Hey, girl, I'll comment on your blog if you comment on mine...Deal?
This one sounds great and congratulations on a new release.

Molly Daniels said...

I would love to visit anywhere in the summer, lol! And this book sounds wonderful!

Cara Marsi said...

What beautiful pictures. It's a magnificent city, but that cold will keep me away. I prefer the tropics. Your book sounds excellent.

Cara Marsi said...

What beautiful pictures. It's a magnificent city, but that cold will keep me away. I prefer the tropics. Your book sounds excellent.

Janice Seagraves said...

Sounds like a lovely city to visit in the summer.

Loved your excerpt, so exciting.

Janice~

CelticAmazon said...

I'm going to have to take a look at this series and have added to my tbr wishlist. I have a friend that has been to Russia and St. Petersburg. Because of what she has said, it is on my lit of places to visi in the future.
Patricia

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