A Swiss in Petersburg – gems on Vasilyevsky island

Hidden and unhidden gems on Vasilyevsky island

Vasilyevsky Island hosts some major museums, the university, and the Menshikov palace.These are the obvious gems. There are also some more hidden gems like the street Line 7 and some small sculptures that my wishes guidebook knows of. Also Dostojewsky’s Rasumichin lived here overseeing the Malaja Neva. Today, I want to discover this island.

Where is the Kunstkamera?

As I walk on the Dvorzoy Bridge, a man asks me in Russian: “Where is the Kunstkamera?” This is the museum of ethnology and anthroplogy that Peter the Great founded on Vasilyevsky Island to educate the Russians. I show it to him and continue my way towards the north side of the island up to Tuchkov Bridge, then turning to the middle of the island. A young lady asks me, where the Bolshoy Prospekt is. I can show it to her. Why are all these Russians asking me for direction in their town?

The first tram in town, and Babuschka masters the iPad

At the metro station there is a monument of the first tram in town, pulled by horses. The Russians like to be photographed with it, also mum with her son. Grandma holds the iPad. The boy asks her several time to redo the photo, until he is pleased.

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The inviting pedestrian zone, line 7

The street system is quite straight forward: There is a small, a middle and a large prospekt and perpendicularly there are streets called lines. Line 7 is a pedestrian zone, with a shady alley and inviting restaurants along the sides. I sit down on a bench and eat the salmon sandwich that I had bought at the French Busche (Boucher is Буше in Russian). Можно? (Is it permitted?) someone asks me. I do not look up and say yes. Two drunken men start to chat with me, and one of them touches me. No! I continue my way, say hello to Vasily Korchmin (who may have given his name to this island; he was an imventive lieutenant of Peter the Great). In St. Andrew’s church I light three candles thinking of Ernst.

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Menshikov, the Schlitzohr (shark)

Menshikow was one of Peter’s main architects. Peter the Great asked him to build the university on Vasilyevsky Island. He built it with the short side to the Newa, and next to it, he built his palace with the long side overlooking the Newa. Such a Schlitzohr, as we say in German; I believe this is “shark” in English. His palace is a museum now.

Yes, we are proud of this garden and the sculptures…

At University Embankment 11, I find a guarded entrance. I ask the guard, where the sculptures are that I have read about… and she answers: “yes, we are proud of them, I will show you the way.” She takes me into a nice garden. “Look, here is our begemot (hippo). Rub it, and you will get married.” Hm, no need to rub it, Ernst is in my heart. I take a photo… and the guard supports me to select the perspective. Look, here is the Petit Prince. And at the other end of the garden, there is Columbina… yes, she likes her garden and she likes to share it with visitors. And I find many more sculptures, also an angel and a devil.

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Aztec gods in the dirty yard behind the Kunstkamera

Behind the Kunstkamera there is an unpretentious gate to a dirty yard full of rubbish. The walls are flaking off. In the middle some trees with banks. I already want to leave the place, but then I see small granit blocks between the banks. Yes, these are the Aztec gods. I sit down on one of the benches and say “hello” to them. How did they get here to live in this ugly place? A man sits down next to me. “What are these stone blocks? Aztec gods? Where are they from?” I tell him about Mexico and about Tlaloc, the god of rain who has a huge nose, because he might have a permanent cold (this is how I think of Tlaloc). He laughs and tells me that he is from Siberia, has lived in Piteri for eleven years and does not know this town well.  His children join him and they continue their way.

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My last milestone today: The museum of zoology with the mammoths

The entrance to the museum of zoology is a small door. Today the entrance is free. There is a huge hall with skeletons from dinosaurs and various fish. There are long gangways with a wealth of vitrines showing stuffed animals, set up in their natural environment. E. g. polar bears on (cardboard) ice and wooden boats. Or storks and eagles feeding their young waiting impatiently in the nest. Or wolfs in the steppe etc. And mammoths that come from the Siberian ice.

Families with children are strolling along the vitrines, benefiting from the free day. A great institution. There is also an exhibition of insects here – I buy a book about insects for the daughter of Anna, my teacher in Basel.

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Now have to get back to Raskolnikow’s house to take a short walk with Elena’s Pekinese dog Susja and to tackle my next Russian lesson.

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