Tsarkoye Selo is Catherine The Great’s summer palace, or at least one of them. En route, outside Moskovskaya station (that’s my unique interpretation of the Cyrillic) there was a magnificent example of Soviet town planning.
It’d be hard not to feel home-town pride with vast concrete vistas such as this. Plus the DJ system playing The Hamster Dance added a unique twist. We found a minibus and rode past burgeoning suburbs – all massive blocks of flats often stretching entire blocks, something I thought had been architecturally discredited but not here, apparently.
Pushkin, the town beside the palace, is beautiful: rows of 19th century townhomes painted a sedate yellow, green or pink; trees planted evenly with wide sidewalks, and a great restaurant called “White Rabbit” loosely themed on Alice in Wonderland. We were assigned an English-speaking waitress who gave us a pamphlet about the palace and told us how friendly St. Petersburg residents were. Her coworker stood in the corner, not watching us but ready to serve if needed.
By the time we got to the palace it was 4:30pm, and it didn’t seem worth it to pay $12 to visit for half an hour. So we resolved to return another day and wandered the massive grounds instead. Faux-ruins, a pyramid, something that looked like a mosque – they appeared to be follies for the Empress’s enjoyment. I also found two concrete embankments which I guessed were military installations, since the Nazis occupied the grounds during the seige of Stalingrad.
At one point, thoroughly exhausted by the size of the place, we sat down to eat apples. I turned around and saw a big dog had flopped down right behind our bench. He didn’t respond to our attention, just lay there. I could only assume he was like the Hermitage cats, employed in some capacity – not a guard dog, obviously. There are stray dogs everywhere, often big and Alsatian-looking.
We had arrived by minibus so my instinct was to take the same minibus back, getting on where we disembarked. But traffic was terrible, and M. suggested we move down the street, as chances are the buses would take the same route back. Local buses circle, but intercity buses go straight, since people are less likely to know their routes. Sure enough, one of the ‘back to St. Petersburg’ buses – actually, one of dozens of private minibuses plying the route – came by and we flagged it down. This kind of instinct – guessing where buses are going to go – is something I’m not a seasoned enough traveller for. Still, early days.