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Pole to Pole

Day 27: Leningrad

Leningrad, USSR 
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The last days of Leningrad.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAlexander 'Sasha' Godkov is my guide to Leningrad today. He is a professional Lenin impersonator and the very fact that he can walk the streets masquerading as the father of the Revolution without being removed to the nearest branch of the KGB shows how lukewarm traditional communism is becoming. He takes me to the Finland Station at which his factual predecessor turned up twice in 1917, once courtesy of the Germans, who encouraged the growth of communism to help win the war, and the next time disguised as a railway fireman. The locomotive he fired is preserved in a Perspex case, which, considering it contains one of the icons of the Revolution, is remarkably grubby and uncared for. Outside the station a single withered rose lies at the base of the full-length bronze likeness of the great man.

From the melancholy of a past no one seems to want any more to the liveliness of a tram-ride down the Nevsky Prospekt. Our driver is a stout blonde lady in a flowery print dress. Tickets are bought in carnets and then stamped in a knob and spring device mounted on the side of the tram into which you insert your ticket and give the knob a sharp bang. Some burly men on the seat opposite are watching me cope with this and smiling broadly. Sasha gets into conversation with them. They are from Armenia and having heard me speak English wish to shake my hand and tell me that English and Armenians worked closely together after the earthquake (of 1988) and how much that had been appreciated. More big smiles and handshakes and at the next stop they disappear. We reach Winter Palace Square, a massive and belittling open space surrounded by classical and Baroque fašades that places Leningrad firmly as a European city. The Alexander Column in the centre of the square was designed by a Frenchman, Montferrant, even though it was to commemorate the victory over the French in 1812. The Tsar's specifications insisted it should be taller than the obelisk in the Place Vend˘me and taller than Trajan's Column in Rome. It weighs 610 tons and is carved from one single piece of granite.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 27
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Leningrad
  • Book page no: 58

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