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Baring our soles on St. Petersburg streets

The three-hour time zone and 24-hour journey from Abidjan to Saint Petersburg meant we all slept in a bit (9am in parenting terms is midday) before venturing down to the nearest metro station, Fruzenskaya. Gorkovskaya metro station, which is where we aimed to start the walking tour we had discovered in the hotel guide, was four stops away and our first introduction to the Russian ‘underground.'

As the train doors opened at Fruzenskaya station the smell of Saturday night’s vodka-induced party hung in the air. The carriages were at capacity with among others red-faced men who may have still been heading home, neatly dressed women possibly off to church and several families with children making their way to the Navy Festival along the river. The journey cost us RUB 45 (USD 0.75) each.

We got off at Gorkovskaya metro station, which was named after the writer Maksim Gorky who lived in the building opposite the street from 1914 to 1923. The station opens up onto a lush green area with pathways headed in several directions. Left of the metro exit is a mini-city, made up of bronze miniature copies of all the key architectural landmarks of Saint Petersburg as well as the architects who designed them. It was a fun introduction to the city and the boys especially had fun being tourists in its scaled-down version.

Among all the fun we had not even realized that we had not had breakfast and quickly stopped along the side of the road for some pancakes (and cappuccinos for mom and dad). It was barely 11am and some local revelers of the navy festival parked off next to us with a bottle of coke and well, something stronger to accompany it. The group, like many other Russians around the city, were dressed in blue and white to mark the day.

There were thousands of people out and about, where President Vladimir Putin we later learnt, had addressed the nation from a stand in the middle of the Neva River as part of the Navy Day festivities. Russian naval aviation also took part in the celebrations, wowing onlookers (and our boys in particular) with their display.

We wandered further along the banks of the river around the Peter and Paul Fortress and spent what seemed like hours waiting for the boys to get their fill of climbing on the cannons exhibited outside the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps. I have made peace with the fact that there will not be much shopping involved in family holidays. Such is life.

Anyway, we eventually made it into the much-anticipated Peter and Paul Fortress, which was laid on the Zayachiy Island 16 May 1703. This particular day is recognised as the day St. Petersburg was founded. The fortress is an irregular hexagon with bastions named after distinguished dignitaries of the time. It is said to have been built to protect the city from its enemies, but has never been used for the intended purpose. We enjoyed stunning views of the Neva River from the fortress walls, crowded with visitors from seemingly mainly other parts of the country.

Peter and Paul Fortress

By this time, we had been walking for nearly six hours taking in the atmosphere of the city and decided to do an ice-cream stop before putting the boys off from walking for the rest of trip. At least two Russian friends had told us how good local ice-cream is and the boys were not disappointed.

The ice-cream stop bought us another 25 minutes of energy and we decided to make the trip back to the hotel on foot. After all, Guillaume had read up about a Russian folk show on at a local theatre at 20h15 and we wanted to get some rest before then. While the boys watched the Disney channel in Russian and Guillaume had a nap, I managed to get through to the theatre manager in the hope that a) she could speak English and b) book tickets over the phone. Marina on the other end of the line was extremely helpful and reserved tickets, including a glass of champagne each for Guillaume and I as well as a juice each for the boys, at RUB 1250 each (USD 20). The show comprised mainly song and dance, and even though it was all in Russian, the sentiments of everyday life in rural Russia transcended the language divide and had us all captivated. The boys were particularly impressed with how energetically and acrobatically the men danced, not to mention theirmommy's efortless stage debut!

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