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Intended mode of travelling - Russian practice of bathing horses
-Kazan church-Pavements in Petersburg-English churchDifference of calendar in Russia-Comparison between London and Petersburg-Equipages-Want of hackney coaches-Droschkas–Summer garden-The islands—The Hermitage—The Winter Palace-Military uniforms-Public buildings.
St. Petersburg, June 28th, 1837. We are on the point of leaving Petersburg, and only await a conveyance to take us southwards, which, strange to say, in this great capital, is at this moment a little difficult to meet with. The plan which we mean to pursue, and which is the most comfortable of any
that could be devised for strangers, is to hire a small diligence, which will be at our disposal for the journey. It will contain four people, besides the driver and conductor, who will manage every thing upon
the road, we paying a fixed sum for the journey before we start. We have engaged a man and a maid, the former of whom speaks English, and both speak German and Russian more
Most people are now in the country, but we have dined out twice with M-'s relations since we have been here; once in town, and once at a villa in the imme
diate neighbourhood. The dinners were served in the style which I believe is universal on the Continent; nothing but the dessert being put on the table, and the dishes being brought in, and handed round successively. The chief peculiarity to be remarked here was the custom of handing round liqueurs, with cheese, caviare, &c., before we went into the dining
We had also some national dishes, such as mushrooms, of various kinds and of all colours, which, if they are to be found, at least are never eaten in England. The principal novelty, however, was a kind of cold soup called Batvinia, of which the Russians appeared very fond, and without which they declared that a dinner in hot weather could not be called complete. Like most foreigners, however, I found it exceedingly bad, and, indeed, perfectly uneatable. It is made with quass, (a Russian substitute for beer,) chopped cucumbers, onions, &c. It is iced, and a large slice of salt fish, sturgeon if it can be got, is eaten with it.
The Neva ran close before the windows of the villa where we dined, and in the evening we saw several horses brought down to have a swim in the river. There was a small raft moored close to the shore, round which a man walked, leading into the water the horse, who very quickly got out of his depth. The horses all seemed used to bathing, and I find that it is a general custom to give them a swim almost every evening during the summer. These
small rafts which one sees every where here in the river and the canals, are for the washerwomen, who stand on them with bare legs and wash the linen in the water at the side, or at a hole about four feet square, which is cut in the middle of the raft.
As we returned home we stopped to see the Kazan Church, which is the Cathedral of Petersburg. Another church, however, the St. Isaac's, which is now in progress, will, when finished, be far finer. The chief beauty of the Kazan Church consists in a handsome semicircular colonnade facing the street, and leading from either side to the principal entrance; and in the beautiful pillars of polished granite which support the roof. The dome is much too small for the size of the edifice, and the interior of the church is somewhat narrow. The pavement is entirely unencumbered by pews or benches, as is universally the case in a Greek church. The rails of the altar, which are handsome and massive, are of solid silver.
At the lower end of the church are a number of flags taken from the Persians, the French, and other nations. Against one of the pillars are suspended the keys of various captured fortresses, with brass plates, giving the name of each. Marshal Davoust's baton is also hung up in a conspicuous spot, in a glass cylinder, to protect it from injury.
Throughout Petersburg are excellent trottoirs for foot passengers; but the pavement of the streets in
general is disgracefully bad and uneven, the stones which compose it being of every possible shape and size. To fill up the crevices and give an apparent smoothness, a gritty sand is strewed in large quantities over the streets, and as they never are watered, in spite of the abundance of that element which the Neva and the various canals afford, the clouds of dust, or rather of fine gravel, with which the air is filled on a windy day, render it impossible to keep open
one's eyes or move in comfort. In most of the principal streets, however, a wooden pavement has been introduced, which, when new and good, is extremely pleasant to drive over; it is free from dust, and the motion of the carriage over it is smooth and easy: it is, however, very expensive and by no means durable, not continuing more than two or three years in repair. The first process in forming this pavement is to smooth the ground, upon which a flooring of stout board is laid down: this is covered over with a thick coat of pitch; blocks of wood about six inches long, and cut into hexagons of about four inches to a side, are then laid endways on the boards, side by side, and fastened together by wooden pins: being equal hexagons, they of course fit accurately together, and form, till worn into holes, a smooth and compact pavement. The wood which is thus used is birch and fir.
On Sunday we attended divine service in the English church, which is very handsomely fitted up
and liberally maintained by the British Factory.* The present chaplain is Mr. Law. Here we were strongly reminded of our distance from home by the change in the calendar, since, as you are aware, the old style is still in use in Russia. Whereas, therefore, according to our reckoning, it was the twentyfifth of July, we heard the thirteenth morning of the month announced from the reading-desk, and instead of having reached, as was the case in England, the fifth Sunday after Trinity, we found ourselves here thrust back to Trinity Sunday.
There cannot, I think, be a greater difference between two capitals, each splendid of its kind, than between London and St. Petersburg, and the contrast is especially striking when one is transported by sea, as we have been, in the short space of a week, from the banks of the Thames to those of the Neva. Every thing here looks fresh and new; and the lightcoloured stucco f of the houses, the air free from smoke, and the bright, clear stream of the river, which is just about the same width as the Thames, all contribute to give this city an outward character widely different from that of our own metropolis. In the population of the streets the distinction is not
* In addition to their church establishment, the Factory have an excellent library, and I am most happy in this opportunity of expressing my thanks and acknowledgments to the gentlemen to whom it belongs, for the liberal manner in which English visitors at Petersburg are allowed the use of their books.
+ The law requires that every new building in Petersburg shall be stuccoed in three years, at the furthest, from its completion.