Moscow and St. Petersburg have passed in a blur of gold, gold, gold. Churches and palaces, cupolas, and walls all adorned with gold,. Although we have also seen elegant streetscrapes, city buildings, stately parks and canals, and in Moscow the dull edge of the city, it is gold that remains the pre-eminent memory.
So it is refreshing to see green forests and fields as we make our way to Estonia.
Leaving St. Petersburg, we see collections of cars parked outside rows of low-slung huts. These are garages, purchased at great expense in the sixties by those who were fortunate enough to own a car. The cars were mainly used on the weekends, and because the garages were not close to the tiny apartments, father would catch a bus to the car and return for the family. They would then drive to visit grandparents in the country or to the forest to forage. The mushrooms and berries were transported home and made into jams, salt mushrooms, pickles. The two bedroom apartment was too small to store these, so they were stored in the garages. Later, some people put in stoves, so men could work on their cars and escape the cramped conditions of domestic life in their “sheds.”
In the cities, apartment blocks are described as Stalin apartments or Khrushchev apartments etc., depending on when they were built. If you say you live in a Stain apartment, everyone knows exactly what it is like.
In the towns and villages traditional wooden houses sit next to larger, more modern constructions of wood or brick. There are lovely gardens, rowan trees and apple trees. Some houses are well maintained and brightly painted, others appear abandoned or neglected.
We see cows ( just after a poster for McDonald’s), and bare fields which show signs of a recent harvest. As Russia has spent a fortune on restoring its palaces and churches, I wonder about the day to day life of those we see on the side of the street, waiting for buses, the beggars in the cities, (usually old women), those who served us in shops and restaurants and spent their days sitting expressionlessly in the corner of elegant palaces and galleries, ensuring that wealthy foreigners don’t take photos, or otherwise harm the treasures.
It is impossible to sum up the character of a nation in a few days spent in theorist centre, but the contrasts we have seen in Russia of public splendour and private dourness, if not misery, leave me content that I do not have to live here.