A few years ago, I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace for the first time ever. (Today, September 9, by the way is his birthday.) I knew almost nothing about Russia other than their part in World War II followed by their paranoia and belligerence during the Cold War.
War and Peace is about the experiences of several families during Napoleon’s attempt to invade Russia from 1805 through 1813. (I was so dumb I thought Tchaikovsky’s War of 1812 was about the American War of 1812. Instead, Tchaikovsky’s tribute celebrated Russia’s resistance of Napoleon.)
Surprise: Charleston, South Carolina, was founded prior to St. Petersburg, Russia, which was established by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. He wanted Russia to have a Baltic Sea port with access to Europe. St. Petersburg was more European than Russian for centuries, with residents speaking French rather than Russian. (Maybe all my friends knew that, but I didn’t.) Great portions of War and Peace were written in French! My curiosity about St. Petersburg and Russia was piqued.
Having never read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I decided to read that classic on our cruise to St. Petersburg. It seemed fitting, but it was not a good idea. Since we were on a luxury cruise for which we paid a lot of money, I probably should not have been reading a depressing book about the slums and the criminal world of a massive and gloomy 19th century Russian metropolis, even if the city was/is St. Petersburg.
Tourist sites in 21st century St. Petersburg are similar to tourist sites in other European cities—museums, castles, and famous landmarks.
I’m glad we went. I don’t ever need to go back.