Well...everything in SP seemed big. Big buildings, big people, big portions of food. It was the bigness of things that was my first impression.
We rode the train in from Helsinki, which was an interesting experience by itself. There were 4 hours and a border crossing so we had to get stamped by the Finnish border patrol and then assessed by the Russian border and customs control. One of the things I "expected" about Russia was to be intimidated by the people with governmental authority. I don't know if they train it or select it, but intimidation is (in my opinion) the method of controlling the masses. I found that both on the train and at the airport, once we were past the security controls, it was relaxed, vibrant and alive.
So, riding the train in, we saw the big communist block apartment complexes. I've been to big cities before, in Europe and America...never have I seen such large square masses of apartment complexes, such large edifices...such sad sad circumstances for passing your life.
The tour company that organized our walk on our final day in SP also does one inside these large apartment complexes. I wish we'd been able to take one of those. I would have found it fascinating...because as I found with everything in SP...once I got past my initial shock of how "different" things were I found how wonderful they are.
We went to palaces (Hermitage, Peterhof, St. Catherines), churches (Peter and Paul's, Church on the Spilled Blood, some Lutheran church who's name I don't remember, and St. Isaac's), restaurants, boat rides, bus rides, and just walked around. Things are simply big. The palaces and churches were built, you guess it, to intimidate. I felt it upon entering these places for the first time.
In fact, when we went out to Peterhof, I'd already seen the Hermitage, Peter and Paul's, Church on the Spilled Blood...and I knew the moment I stepped through the entrance gate to the park WHY the revolution occurred. People simply no longer could stand such grandeur being flaunted in their faces. I felt it again in St. Isaac's...it made sense why religion was not allowed during communism.
And, for someone who has always felt larger than she should be...being in Russia made me feel on the smaller side. People are grown bigger there. They are taller, larger, and occupy more space. Unlike other cities in Europe the restaurants aren't tightly packed...there was breathing room, space to sit and talk with your friends. Still it maintained an atmosphere of coziness.
I loved SP for so many reasons, which I'll go into more in the next posts...but its bigness was something that I didn't expect and don't think I adequately describe. Just like a photograph can never really capture the size of things, my words can't adequately convey the size of things and that you know as a person walking around (tourist, citizen, government official I presume) that the bigness is intentional. It's sending a message of just what Russia can do and how it can do it.