St. Petersburg, Russia
My wife and I recently went to Russia for a vacation, and to spend time with her family and friends. We landed in Moscow on the hottest day in the city's recorded history (102F), and then took a train ride up to St. Petersburg in the early evening. I may seem a little biased because I've never traveled outside the United States before this trip, but St. Petersburg must surely be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Granted, something founded by a ruler with such wealth is sure to have amazing architecture and splendor. We spent four days there, having plenty of time to walk around, visit museums, partake in amazing foods, and relax. I'll spare you from an entire blog post of our time spent there, but wanted to share some things about what we saw.
St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on May 27th, 1703. Sparing the details of empire expansion, the main idea of this city was to open Russia to the great cities of Europe, and the rest of the world (by having direct sea travel). This would allow for a better flow of ideas and goods into, and out of, the expanding empire. In 1705, Peter first mentions building a palace near the sea to oversee ships of war and trade. In 1714, two years after moving the capitol from Moscow to St. Petersburg, construction (based on his own drawings) began on his summer palace: Peterhof (you can see the picture I snapped of the grand fountains that look toward the sea). Like any shrewd ruler, Peter wanted to show the world the majesty and beauty of Russia and, by extension, the strength of his rule. This city, indeed, is considered by many to be the most European, and perhaps the cultural gem of Russia.
As in many of the great ports in northern Europe, tobacco and fish were heavily shipped and traded. And with the presence of the imperial court, this helped to bring in architects, artisans, and merchants competing for favor. While my wife and I did not enter the Summer Palace, we did walk the extensive grounds. Strolling along the paths, people were dressed in period clothing for pictures, but I was more relaxed to stroll and think about Peter the Great taking steps in the same place that I was. While we did see many statues of Peter, one in particular really made me take notice - he was sitting on a cannon holding a pipe! This was not on the grounds of Peterhof, but was one of the beautiful pieces in the center of city where we purchased a few smoked fish, beers, and relaxed in the evening air. It would make sense for him to be smoking a pipe - but I wondered what kind it was. Clays were the most common in his day, and briar pipes were not made at the time. I suppose the sculptor didn't want to make a tiny pipe, but the fact that he is sitting there smoking it is really cool.
During our trip, I was able to enjoy my own pipe outdoors, and even saw others enjoying their briars. Sometimes, though, I simply chose to buy one of the hundreds of smoked, salted, fish to taste with some of the exquisite Russian beers. As you can see in the picture, there was a lot to choose from. I actually got in trouble for taking pictures of smoked fish in a supermarket there, but it probably did look rather silly or suspicious now that I think about it.
Peter the Great passed away in 1725, but while he lived, he enjoyed food and drink to the fullest. So, while I sat in the city with my smoked fish, beer, or countless other gastronomic delights, it came to mind that so many people can have something in common. For most of us, it's the joy of pipe smoking. For others, sharing foods can be equally enjoyable. Smoking during the evenings in St. Petersburg will be one of my fondest memories of a city, a pipe, and a large dose of enjoyable history.