Beers and Beaches in St Pete’s

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Filled with the kind of overwhelming happiness that only comes from the depths of utter despair, we finish our drinks and surge into the street to begin our journey into the city to discover this Russian pub they call Tolsti Fraer.  After the heavy tension of the last couple of hours waiting for the tickets, we begin to relax to our normal level of banter and commentary on the surroundings.  The hour trip seems to last just a few minutes and suddenly we arrive to see Elena (another local couchsurfer) waiting near the door.  She arranges a table for us and we order some of the beers that this chain pub brews.  With your first half litre glass you receive a plate of Russian drinking food.  This is a couple of types of hard bread, some dried fish and some salty pretzel sticks served on a small bread plate.  We enjoy the novelty value of new nibbly food and order some plates of different Russian sausages and side dishes to try everything.  Elena is helping us a lot here with ordering and then Alisha arrives, relieved to be able to relax after her week at work.  She quickly arranges herself a beer and her smile grows wider with every sip.

You hungry dude?

The beer flows freely and I ask why there’s a mannequin of a guy sitting at a piano in the corner.  Apparently he is who the pub is named after.  I offer him a piece of the sausage, but he doesn’t seem hungry.  Once everyone had eaten, myself Don and Lari pick up the bill (against Alisha and Elena’s objections) and we all agree to go for a stroll through the city.  We cross back past the Natural History Museum and walk along past the Naval Museum.  It’s just before sunset and the fountains are firing up in time with the huge soundsystem placed in the gardens in front of the Naval Museum.  We hear a loud, booming sound and wonder if something bad is happening.  Thoughts of Chechen rebels fade as we notice a man with a small, modern looking artillery cannon charging two hundred roubles (AUD$10) a shot to launch fireworks from it.  The charge flies out of the cannon and then explodes in the air about 20 metres away.  That’s too much for Don, who races over to have a go.  He has to put on a metal helmet and poses as we appreciate his pyromaniacal instincts at work.  He giggles as the firework explodes, immensely pleased with his effort and we keep heading around the SS Peter and Paul fortress.  Alisha and Elena disappear for a few minutes and then return saying they now have supplies for us to visit the beach with.

Alisha with her Winter Palace

We settle down on the beach in front of the fortress to enjoy the slow sunset with the view across the Neva River of the Winter Palace and surrounding buildings.  Yes, there really is a beach in the middle of St Petersburg and it’s quite crowded now.  Elena produces a series of beers from her bag and we have one or two as we chat.  As I sit on the beach enjoying the feel of the sand in my fingers and the constantly shifting golden light reflecting on the calm river waters, I wish this feeling could last forever.  Utterly content to merge into the sand I feel the weight of the world slip away from me.  The beers are certainly helping this, but here I am sitting on a beach in northern Russia sipping beers with a couple of locals and two old friends.  The beauty of the scene mixes with the feeling of friendship to create an afternoon of warm happiness in St Petersburg.

Beachy Goodness

Everyone is herded off the beach around eleven o’clock as they close down the fortress for the evening.  We amble around the edge of the park towards a Metro station, enjoying the very last of the sunlight.  Elena wants to know if we’d like to stay out and go to clubs and see the bridges rise in the early morning.  A few other couchsurfers have already said they’ll be out tomorrow, Saturday, night and we’re planning to join them.  Don is still tired from the train trip from Moscow as well, so we make use of the Russian people’s taxi service to get home with Alisha before the bridges rise.

“If I lived in St Petersburg”, I begin once we’re all at home enjoying a nightcap,
”I would have to take up painting to try and capture the ebbs and flows of the city’s moods.”
Indeed, it’s quite a common sight to see people all over the city with easels arranged and brushes at work doing exactly that.
“I like to draw scenes here myself”, Alisha reveals.
“Really, do you have some you’ve done here now?” I ask, fascinated at a new part of my host’s already delightful character.
“yes…oh..in here”, she mumbles; searching her desk for the scrapbook. 
It is filled with an array of scenes of people and places, facades of buildings and faces captured in time.  She has a straightforward but emotive style I enjoy and we spend time turning through the pages as she explains pictures to me with the self-conscious reservation of a nervous artist revealing their work.
“These are great; you should be doing more of them!”, I finally entreat.
“Maybe….. I like to do them.  I’ll make you one before you go, maybe I will have time”, she offers wistfully. 
I decide not to push her anymore and hope she really will have time to make one.

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