For our journey overnight from St Petersburg to Moscow, I wanted to travel on the Red Arrow train (Krasnaya Strelya), largely because it’s the only train I’ve ever heard of that has its own theme tune. As the train leaves, just before midnight, the stirring Hymn to the Great City (the anthem of Saint Petersburg) plays over the station’s tannoy system. In Soviet times, the Red Arrow transported the Communist Party elite between Moscow and the town formerly known as Leningrad. “Lenin travelled on this train to Leningrad and it has its own theme tune!” I said to my spouse. “Can a train get any better?” In fact a train could, because on the night we needed to travel, the Red Arrow had no available tickets. I sulked, sighed, then booked what turned out to be an equally enchanting (and much cheaper) experience on the beautiful blue Smena train, leaving slightly earlier.
The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ is its official name. It’s also known as the Church of the Saviour. However, most of us know this most recognisable of St Petersburg’s landmarks as the Church on Spilled Blood. Because that is literally what it is.
Many rhapsodise about its other-worldly beauty, its glittering mosaics, its kaleidoscope of colours. Of course it is beautiful, and of course you must visit if you are in St Petersburg, but I found it sad, despite all the artistry.
What time is it? Not late for my meeting. Yet.
Where am I? The jewel of the Baltic.
Where am I actually supposed to be? Not by this flower shop, that’s for certain.
Who could not love Saint Petersburg?
I knew I was going to like it the moment we arrived at Pulkovo International Airport (ПУЛКОВО) and the driver met us as promised. “Dosvedanya,” I said confidently. (I later realised it meant “Goodbye”.) I raised my eyebrows and waved my arm in the internationally acknowledged mime for “Is the car very far away?” I envisaged the endless car parks of Heathrow. The already baffled driver looked even more baffled, opened the airport door and said, “Прямо здесь.” And there the car was. Right outside the door.