12 June 1980

Leningrad churches, gasoline and romantic white nights

Touring under the rain around Leningrad city.

At the Saints Peter and Paul cathedral all we can see is a few tombs from Tsars.

Then to Saint Isaac church. We read on a poster that "the people requested that the state take it over from the Church in order to better preserve it and remedy the neglect that it had been abandoned to and because of which many artistic masterpieces were being ruined by time".

Some pictures show damage from WWII but at a closer look they are infantile photographic alterations to magnify the state's role in the restoration and its respect for religion. It is true that Stalin and the Orthodox Church did collaborate during WW II to defeat Germany, but that did not last. On a wall there is a quote from Lenin: "The Church is an enemy of the people, not historically, but by definition".

We climb the stairway to the dome but from the top it is not allowed to take photos of the city landscape. Military secret. There is a large bin with hundreds of film rolls, the film pulled out allegedly from tourists who violated the ban on photos.

We then move on to the Hermitage Museum. Here it is allowed to photograph. Many Italian exhibits. The best exhibit of the Soviet department seems to be a large low-relief map of the USSR which allegedly " stunned visitor from all over when it toured the world in a roving Soviet exhibition.

We then move on to buy some fuel. We have official and perfectly legal coupons, but the lady at the service station does not want them. We guess it is too much paperwork for her. So we pay the local price in rubles, only 6 rubles for 30 liters!! Basically free gasoline!

Evening dinner at the Austeria restaurant, where we eat a lot of caviar and other delicacies to spend all the rubles we have left. At the end the waitress proposes that we pay in dollars, exchange rate 1 to 1. Not so interesting for us. We counterpropose to pay in rubles but give her 8 dollars on the side for two bottles of Soviet champagne. She accepts without hesitation and runs to get the two bottles for us.

Back at the hotel we spend some time chatting in the terrace of our room, it is mid-June, one of the brightest nights of the year, and Leningrad is famous for its "white nights". Very romantic.

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