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Thursday, May 10, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG: Venice of the North

Before I traveled in Russia in 2004, the term “Venice of the North” meant nothing to me. Color me dense.

A great deal of St. Petersburg’s charm derives being built around a network of canals and rivers, and the most incredible bridges you can imagine, bringing 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.

ONE OF EUROPE’S MOST ROMANTIC CITIESSaint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the most romantic cities in Europe, with an ambiance which maximizes the rich cultural background and history of Russia. Both the country and the city are vast sources of inspiration.
St. Petersburg is the setting I selected for my soon-to-be-release romantic suspense, ALL FOR SPILLED BLOOD, book four in the Tour Director Extraordinaire series. You'll walk through the city with the heroine, Harriet Ruby, and her spy fiancé, Will Talbot, as Harriet takes on her first spy mission.                
     Google Borderline map of Russia showing
      geographical relationship to adjacent countries

St. Petersburg (population now 5.28 million) is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. Founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, it served as the capital of Russia from 1703 to 1728 and again from 1732 to 1918. In 1914, the name was changed to Petrograd. In 1924, again it was changed, this time to Leningrad. In 1991, the city’s official name went back to Saint Petersburg.
The area was originally developed as the fortress Nyenskans in 1611 by Swedish colonists. In 1703 the Tsar began to build a new city to be the capital of his empire and a seaport in order to trade with Europe. The physical construction was done by conscripted Russian and Swedish prisoners of war.
The first buildings were situated on ten islands to the north side of the Neva in the river delta. 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.
                                   Tourist map of the city
Peter the Great created St. Petersburg to be as much like a European city as possible. While the older parts have the definite “feel” of a European city, the buildings themselves take on some of the special expansive qualities typical of Russian architecture. Nothing ancient in St. Petersburg, but plenty of marvelous things to see.

Being built on the marshlands of the delta, there are at least seven rivers, four major canals, and other smaller canals running through the city, over 180 miles, and 800 bridges of all sizes to cross them.
The climate in St. Petersburg is described as mild, but that depends on what you’re used to. Winters, with freezing winds and snow, average around 9ºF to 10ºF (-13ºC to -12ºC), and during those months the Neva River is frozen solid. You can see in the photo that it is a wide river.

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, the people were to use them with sleds. There were few, if any, bridges.
Good luck with that! After Peter’s death, the city started building bridges at the demand of the public. The first permanent bridge of bricks and stone across the main branch of the Neva was constructed in 1850.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood*                                                    
Gribojedov (Griboedov) Canal                                           The Winter Canal   ​                                        
The Bolshaya River       

Trinity Bridge/ frozen river    
Griffons at Bank Bridge                                                               

There is so much to see there, but don’t expect any of it to be ancient – the city itself isn’t that old by European standards -- and there are many modern marvels to see as well. A few of the must-see places are listed below, but there are so many more.

The State Hermitage Museum
This five building complex was initially the winter palace of the imperial family built in 1754-62.  Nicholas I opened it as a public museum in 1852. The museum and houses nearly three million works of art.
The General Staff Building
This neo-class structure is located on Palace Square across from the Heritage Museum, has a triumphal arch adorned with a bronze sculpture of the mythical Victory in her six-horsed chariot. The monument commemorates Russian victory over Napoleonic France in the War of 1812.
Peterhof Palace
Located outside St. Petersburg, Peter the Great built this palace in 1714-21, intending its magnificent fountains and gardens would rival French Versailles.
The Catherine Palace
Named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband's death, the Catherine Palace was originally a modest two-story building commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717. The Palace owes  its awesome size and  grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who chose Tsarskoe Selo as her chief summer residence. 
Statues and Sculptures abound in the city and there will be one any place you choose to go. Many are serious monumental dedications to heroes of history, mythology and famous people. Others, contemporary, are more whimsical.
Churches and Cathedrals of St. Petersburg, despite being used under Communist rule as everything but churches and were plundered for their fabulous decorations and icons, many have been restored and they are the highlights of a visit there.

They deserve their own article which will be coming next month.

Book four in the Tour Director Extraordinaire series
Scheduled for release in July 2018

An international youth convention, art smugglers, and terrorists trying to recruit young computer geniuses and a national art treasure.

Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire, and her fiancé 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.


We waited without speaking.

I crossed and uncrossed my legs a dozen times and pulled nervously at the hem of my skirt, still unsure whether I wanted to be a spy.

I could get killed doing that.

While I stared out the large window overlooking the pink carpet of cherry blossoms arching over the streets of Washington, DC, the woman we waited for breezed into the office and took her place behind the desk in front of us.

"Good morning, Ms. Ruby." Eleanor Morrison nodded formally, speaking as if the Department of Homeland Security required the use of surnames, then added, "Harriet." She turned her smile to my fiancé. "Agent Talbot. Will."

The formalities dispensed with, Eleanor settled into her leather chair, rested her elbows on the surface of the teakwood desk, and leaned forward. Her intense gray eyes studied me and then flicked to Will. "Thank you for coming." She spoke as though we happened to be in the neighborhood and dropped in for a visit on the spur of the moment.

I returned her smile with a broad grin. "Our pleasure."

Will and I liked Eleanor. Otherwise, I wouldn't have traveled all the way from Rome, and Will from Spain, to be there. Of course, Eleanor Morrison was not her real name, only the cover name we knew and used. Spooks didn’t have real names: one of the rules of spydom.

"I wasn't sure if you would still be interested in doing work for me." She peaked and unpeaked her fingers. "I thought you two would be married by now and have other things on your minds."

Will and I exchanged a glance. Eleanor quirked an eyebrow. She didn't miss much. Being the definitive perfectionist, her nature didn't permit her to overlook even the slightest innuendo or gesture. Her attention to detail defied reproach, particularly when it came to her official responsibilities. Fortunately for the US, she worked for our side.

"We're still engaged," Will replied, his tone curious. "Does it make any difference whether we're married or not?"

She pursed her lips. "Married might be better for this mission, but we can make it work." Her sentence ended in a shrug. She picked up a sheaf of papers and tapped them on the surface of the desk until the edges aligned perfectly, then set them in front of her.

I shifted in my seat and clasped my hands together in my lap to keep from waving them around or picking at the arm of the chair. At best, patience and I maintained an uneasy alliance, although I'd learned a lot during the past two and a half years with Will, some of it too personal to even think about without getting hot.

He and I shared such a profound emotional connection, almost at the molecular level, that at times it seemed we read each other's minds. But sitting there in Eleanor's office, as I searched his face and body language for his reaction to her offer, I read nothing. He was playing it close to the vest and screening me out.

My decision. He would not intervene.

Travel to Foreign Lands for Romance and Intrigue


1 comment:

jean hart stewart said...

Fascinating facts, as expected in your columns. Wish you'd let that lovely pair get married though!!!!!!

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