Saturday, June 27, 2015

Take Me To Church

When I travel, there's usually a spiritual element in the works.  I didn't really plan for it in this trip, but I guess at this point, I don't really have to anymore.  Still, Orthodoxy and Catholicism aren't exactly my cup of tea.  I haven't been into that many Orthodox churches, but I remember the Catholic churches I visited in Paris and in Venice on my first go-round, and after the first one or two they kind of blurred together.  Maybe it's the fact that I've never had much of a taste for crucifixes, or the fact that painting the same scenes over and over kind of robs the artists of their creativity and keeps things from being interesting.  Or it could be the fact that they're too close to what I believe myself - so they don't have the exotic appeal of other traditions.

Whatever the case may be, I didn't give too much thought  to the churches I would see, other than St. Basil's, and yet, as it turned out, there was nothing I loved in St. Petersburg more than the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood.  Not only does it have a fantastic name (it was built by Emperor Alexander III as a memorial for his father, who was killed on the site) and a delightfully whimsical exterior, the inside's a knockout as well.  I walked past this thing several times before I went in...not because I didn't want to go in, but because I was savoring it.

I'm not as well-versed in Russian art as I should be.  I'm familiar with icons, and that's about it.  So when I saw the interior of the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood it actually blew me away.  The people were so much more lifelike than I was expecting.  In icons, the saints tend to look more like a symbol than a person.  The mosaics in Spilled Blood - and the entire ceiling and all the walls were covered with them - looked amazingly realistic, considering they are made out of bits of tile.  As a work of art, the smaller depictions of saints were balanced by larger murals, which showed scenes from the life of the Savior, and the artists used patterns as accents and framing motifs, which broke up the space.  And the colors - oh man, they were amazing!  I do love me some color.

I hadn't really intended to visit any other churches in St. Petersburg, but I was wandering past Kazan Cathedral and decided to check it out.  It was free and the sun was finally out, so I appreciated the shelter.
There's a difference between a church that is a museum and one that is not.  The Spilled Blood is now simply a museum.  Kazan Cathedral is not.  The smells of fire and beeswax hovered in the air to meet me at the door.  There were tourists, you can rest assured of that, but there was much more reverence.  And there are places to sit and contemplate the power of God.  It was a nice change.
My first stop in Moscow was the Kremlin, which (amazingly) opened before St. Basil's.  I've seen enough diamonds in my day that I didn't care to spend an extra $14 on the armory, so I just saw Cathedral Square.  Dem onion domes (you might not like onions, but you can't help loving onion domes).  It's possible I've been reading too many of the Dresden Files books in a row.  As I sat in the Assumption Church (and you know I hate to make an ass out of you and umption) I tried to feel the passing of all the people come and gone through here over its history.  It gave me goosebumps.  I also tried to imagine my life without Chinese tourists.  If they hadn't been there, it would have been a much quieter, more reflective visit.

Anyways, so I'm in the cathedrals, and when it's just me I have impulses to check out the acoustics.  I have a decent voice - some have even called it amazing -  although I guess there could be a more appropriate choice than Hozier.  Still, it makes me think about organizing a flash-mob, choir-edition, for our next school trip.

Finally I made my way to St. Basil's (aka Sankt Vasily, which appeals to me because I KNOW a Vasilis!)  Anytime I have thought of Russia, its acid trip onion domes are the image that come to mind.  Sadly, the main chapel was undergoing work and I didn't get to see it, but the smaller chapels and their bits and pieces - the tomb of Vasily among them - were just fine with me.  It is as strange on the inside as it is on the outside - there were passages at elbow-height scattered throughout the chapels on the first floor, and I wasn't sure what they were for.  Air?  Light?
The decorations (frescoes, unless I'm mistaken) on the inside were bright and colorful and patterned to.  As I was exploring the second story a group of male singers performed, and I was right about those acoustics - they're pretty gucci.  However, this is one of those times when I think the sequel was better than the original; the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood was designed with St. Basil's in mind, but I was drawn back to it in a way that its predecessor didn't.  Which is weird, since I really hadn't really known about it before I got to Russia.
Well, that's it for Russia (I think), but I have one more church to talk about.  When I started to plan the final leg of my trip, I told myself that I would only do things here in Venice that I hadn't done before.  I visited a LOT of churches when I was here in 2001, but one that I'd learned about in art history and was really excited about, the Scrovegni Chapel, was under renovation, and we didn't get to see it, so it was definitely on the list this time.

The thing is, the Scrovegni Chapel is in Padua, so it was a little bit of a side journey for me.  Last time I was in Padua we took a boat up the Brenta Canal, visiting Palladio's villas along the way.  I loved that ride, but I took a more straightforward approach this time - six euro and 26 minutes on the train got me to the city of Romeo's exile.  The chapel is not far from the train station, and I remember walking past it on the way to the train station then - I remembered it was set down a little from the sidewalk, and that there was some kind of wall around it - an old Roman arena, as it turned out.  The Scrovegni family built their palazzo (which is long gone) and chapel there.  It was Scrovegni, Jr's work, in order to give a little push in the "right direction" to the soul of Scrovegni, Sr, who was apparently the usurer (money-lender) who inspired Dante to place them in the seventh circle of hell.

I have no pictures of the inside for you; you'll have to visit the website or run a search for them, but they won't do it justice.  The barrel vault is blue, spangled with stars, and there are religious scenes three-deep along both walls.  Here's the thing, though: this is Giotto's masterpiece and it's famous because he does something different.  He makes Mary, the Magdalene, John - all these people, into REAL people.  They're more than just characters in stories.  You can see the anguish and even the tracks of tears on the faces of the women whose children were slaughtered by Herod's troops as Christ and his parents escaped to Egypt.  Before Giotto (and even to a lesser extent after), religious art was lifeless, merely symbolic.  He made the stories relateable.  Standing in that room, experiencing it firsthand, was well-worth a little side trip.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back to the Start

I can't even begin to name all the ways that my first trip overseas made me who I am, but nevertheless, studying abroad, even for only the month it was, had a huge impact on young, (relatively) innocent me.  Today I've come full circle, made it back to the beginning, and so I thought I'd write about it.  Venice was my first, unless you count Canada, which none of us do (sorry, Engrish), and even if we did, I didn't choose it.  In the fall of my fourth year of college I took printmaking and my professor, Subler, talked about a program that the University of Iowa did in the years of the Venetian Biennale (those would be odd-numbered ones), and I knew I had to do it.  I hadn't been obsessed with Venice the way I once was with Paris, but the thought wouldn't leave my head.  I HAD to do this.  That's how my dad ended up driving me to the Kansas City airport early in July 2001, slipping me a $100 bill when I was ready to go through security, "For emergencies" (he does that), and turning me loose on an unsuspecting world.

Well.  Not quite yet.  It takes a little more than an hour to fly from KC to Chicago, where I spent the night before my first trans-Atlantic flight, and maybe that long to get from Midway to O'Hare, which a number of people were very helpful in helping me to manage.  It's hard for me to believe this now, fourteen years later, but when I tried to figure out how to take the L between the two airports that day, I was made nervous by a single, simple transfer.  I've come a long way, baby.

Back in the day you could get some kickass deals on hotels with the right site - although I can't remember which one off the top of my head - and I stayed in the O'Hare Hilton for $35 bucks that night.  I got checked in and got my luggage to my room, sat on my bed, and basically burst into tears.  I should tell you (if you don't already know) that I cry at the drop of a hat, but even so travel's a big old ball of emotions, and fear and sadness factor into it at points.  You put yourself in a giant tin can and hurtle across distances that were imposing, less than a hundred years ago, and in the (relative) blink of an eye, you're a third of the way around the planet.  You've taken a machete to the jungle and cut it back.  "The world is not just books and maps, it's out there," at once much bigger than you could have imagined and much smaller than it used to be, because now you're in it.  That's cause to mourn, as well as to be a little bit afraid, because you don't know what's going to happen out there, and how it will change you, and when you get back, you won't be the same person you were before.  You can't say if you'll be changed for the better, but you will be changed for good.  Or at least you will if you do it right.

So I cried in the room and went to sleep early and managed to pull myself together for my first international flight from Terminal 5, where I met up with the crew from KC as well as the students from the U of I and wherever else we came from.  We had a layover, in Belgium, I think, and although I remember feeling like it took forever (7 hours was a lot of time for me then - now I think it's a short flight!) we eventually made it to Marco Polo airport, where we collected our luggage and were herded outside to get a water taxi to Campo San Maurizio.  I leaned over to look at the water, and promptly had my sunglasses fall in the drink, but hell, sunglasses are overrated.

We were whisked off to Campo San Maurizio, where the 20 students participating in the program were staying in two apartments.  It may have been crowded, but honestly I don't remember thinking so at the time.  During the days we were in the studio or scattered, doing stuff, and in the evenings the veterans of the group taught us newbies the game that would make a card shark out of me...Canasta!  Some of my flatmates cooked, but most of the time I was out eating pizza and gelato, and believe it or not, I lost 5 pounds that month.  Lots of bridges, 'nuff said.

The month was daily routines punctuated by activities.  The routines were my morning walk through campos still waking up, stopping to buy a croissant - some days crema, others cioccolata - at the bakery up the calle from the studio and a bottle of aranciata, before starting my artistic endeavors for the day (which did not amount to much - fiddling around in my sketchbook for the most part).  The activities ranged from the Biennale to a puppetmaker's workshop, a maskmaker's workshop to trips up the Brenta canal and to Padua.  There were the strains of the Brandenburg concerto (charming the first day or so, but they got annoying pretty quickly) from the guitarist who busked next to the well in our campo, afternoons on the beach at Lido, the night Piazza San Marco flooded and a couple of my classmates and I went to splash in water sparkling from the Plessi installation set up in the windows of the Museo Correr.  There was taking the vaporetto out to Murano and Burano and the Cimitiere, and the bus up to Mestre where I went to church a couple of Sundays.  And in the end there was my first art show, staged for one night only in the entry to our flat, just off the campo, for which one of the KC crew made tzatziki, which I'd never had but fell in love with that night.

It was over too fast, and while at the end of the month I was ready to go home, the magic of that month lingered.  Walking along the same routes each day convinced me that slow travel was the only way to go.  The lady I bought my croissants from knew me, knew I would be there every morning and what I would get.  I had a place I fit, and that set the tone for my future expat life.  As a high schooler, I was really disappointed that I didn't get to do the "grand tour" thing with a band group like my friend did, but who knows?  If I had, I might not have ended up coming at the world the way I have.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Moveable Feast

It took me a while to figure out why my friend Meen sent me a postcard of subway stations when she visited Moscow.  The tiny little stamp-sized photos didn't really do the actual places justice, and with the exception of Gyeongbokgung Station in Seoul (which used to have displays of children's art which delighted me each week on my way to church), the metro has always been a very utilitarian aesthetic experience.  Close space, lit well enough to see, well-marked, but not works of art.  It was only when I began my due diligence for this trip that I figured it out.

Art museums are the vaunted halls of the learned (say that right, please...learn-ed), and there are lots of people, at least in the States, who don't get anything out of them.  They feel uncomfortable there, because we've made them sacred temples...don't talk too loud, don't walk too fast, show reverence to the gods of Elementia and Principalis, and their prophets, daVinci and Van Gogh.  Call me cynical, but I don't see this getting better anytime soon, because we've also managed to fuck up education - and don't even get me started...I'm an art teacher.
The Russians...actually, let's call a spade a spade...the Soviets have entirely different ideas about who art belongs to.  The commie bastards might have fucked up a lot of other things, but their hearts were sort of in the right place.  The people were the ones to put up on a pedestal.  Art should be accessible to all.  Their metro system is designed to reflect this.

After hitting the Kremlin and Red Square, I decided to kill some time on my first day by riding the rails aimlessly, to see what I could find.  I started at Okhotny Riad on the red line, it being the closest to the Kremlin, and went one stop.  I got out, took a look around at Lubyanka Station, and walked to the transfer on the pink line, Kuznetsky Most.  I went another station down the line, to Pushkinskaya, and then walked to its transfer, Chekhovskaya on the grey line.  This time I got daring and decided to go for TWO stops, to Mendeleyevskaya.  Once again, I got off and walked to the transfer station.

Some of the stations I'd been through thus far had opulence reminiscent of the Winter Palace.  There were chandeliers and vaulted ceilings and art deco details.  But I hadn't been blown away until I got to my next transfer, Novoslobodskaya.

Jackpot.  Novoslobodskaya (yeah, the names are a handful, aren't they?) was everything I didn't realize I needed in a subway station.  There was stained glass.  There was a mosaic.  There were gold moldings adding a subtle emphasis to the arches.

I have to admit I found it a little hypocritical, this enshrinement of art for the people, particularly when I noticed authors or artists in the sculptures and stained glass.  Communism and intellectualism aren't exactly friends (if you don't know your history) and although my understanding of that period of human history is not as strong as I would like it to be, I have a feeling that if its leaders had taken better care of their intelligentsia, communism wouldn't have failed quite as direly as it did.  The fact that these professions are depicted at all is a bit surprising to me, since a lot of the art seems pretty propagandistic (if that's not a word, I'm making it one), with the working people...with their children, and their dogs, and their chickens, and their jackhammers, and their guns...showing up a lot.  But I guess it's the thought that counts.

That satisfied most of my interest in the metro system, but there was one more thing I wanted to check out: the Aquarelle train.
In 2007 (Moscow's Year of the Child), the Aquarelle (aka, Watercolor) train came onto the tracks.  It's not just a train - it's an art museum on wheels.  Or at least, that's the idea behind it.  The windows on one side of each car have been blocked out and those panels have framed works of art hanging on them.  In theory, it's a great idea, and I've got to admit, I've been thinking ever since I saw it about how this might look if - theoretically - I could get in touch with one of the bus companies in UB and showcase prints of student work on the bus!  But it didn't really seem to work that well in the Moscow metro.  See, those paintings take up sitting room, and so there were people (some of whom had the sort of - earthy fragrance - not normally associated with fine art) standing in front of them, which sort of took away from the art gallery experience.  Then there's the fact that the doors between cars were locked, so you couldn't move from car to car the way you can on the Seoul Metro, which kind of hindered you from SEEING ALL THE ART!

I spent about 50 minutes waiting for that train this afternoon.  Under other circumstances, I might be a little bitter about wasting my time, but hell, I'm on vacation, and I'd already seen my big 2 things AND found the Krispy Kreme (mmmmm, donuts!)  As an added bonus, the station that I spent all that time waiting in was Ploschad Revolyutsii, and even though it definitely didn't take 50 minutes to check out all the sculptures in the station, I never got tired of watching people interact with them.  Since they were bronze, you could tell where people had touched the sculptures, as the oil in their hands wore off the patina from the metal.  The dogs in the sculptures got the most love, and just about everyone who walked past them patted the dog's nose.  Some of them just reached out in passing, but others actually set down their parcels to take a moment to pet him.

I'm not much of a dog person, but even I thought that was sweet.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Longest Day of the Year

 I would make a terrible princess.  I was born several centuries too late, so it's a moot point, but I can trace my ancestry to Edward III, and from him basically to most of the royal families in Europe, so I'm calling it a near miss.  I could have been a princess, and I would have done a shitty job of it.  I can pull off poise when I want to, and occasionally I can manage diplomacy (veeeeery occasionally), but I'm stubborn as hell and over the years I've come up with a shortage of fucks.  Don't like my cleavage?  Think it's horrible that I would invite my newly graduated students who have been slaving away for me several months to lunch in my apartment???  Sorry, I'm all out of fucks to give...I used them up on things that matter.  Like doing my damn job, or women's rights.

However, I DO have a taste for some of the finer things in life.  Good food, music, art, traveling...I could do with a princess' income, or her digs.  So I braved the swarms of tourists to visit the Winter Palace yesterday.
The Winter Palace (officially the Hermitage, but I'm a wannabe princess today, not an art teacher) was the home of the Russian emperors and their family.  Since 1917, it's been a museum, and although it did undergo some..."renovations"...during Soviet rule, it's been restored for the most part.  Some of the rooms were absolutely breathtaking.  I think the library was my favorite, although the smoking room made me regret my lifestyle for a while - there are times when (perhaps) I want a house, so maybe I could dress it up with all the treasures I've collected during my years abroad.  Orientalist-style smoking room?  Bitch, please - you should see my belly dance studio.
Okay, so I lied about not being an art teacher today.  The building itself was ostentatious, but the art collection was killer, too.  Look at this - it's a freaking room of Rubens!  Every painting in the room was by Rubens, with the exception of a few by his school.  When I went to the Louvre, they had a roomful of Rubens as well, ones that Marie de Medici commissioned for her husband, the king of France (which one?  I don't care.  Look it up yourself if you care that much).  When I saw those paintings, I may have cursed Marie a bit...why couldn't she have told Rubens to throw a few naked men in there for good measure?  This room of Rubens answered that question for me.  The central figure in the painting on the right?  That's not one of Rubens' trademark voluptuous women; it's Bacchus.  And voluptuous just doesn't look that great on a man.
I'm a little ashamed, but I didn't see the whole Hermitage.  I should be able to spend more than three hours in a palace/art museum, but my feet were swollen with museumitis, and the crowds - egad, the crowds!  There were just too damn many people there (for the record, if you're going to do this, I think afternoon is better...there was no pushy-shovey line to get in when I left around 2, and at least some of the tourists were on their way out by then.  Definitely buy your ticket in advance if you go in the morning).  I did some more wandery around-ish stuff, including hitting Starbucks and going to pick up my tickets for the ballet that night.  Extra super special performances at the Mariinsky Theater are part of the White Nights lineup and since I LOVE the ballet I had to go.  Well, I say I love the ballet.  I've been re-evaluating that statement since last night.  I think what I actually love is passionate dancing and men with nice muscles wearing tights.  The dancers last night were spectacular, and I liked the stage design and the costumes, but Jewels (the show I watched) was a little meh.  I actually had to work to keep myself awake (admittedly I was a little jetlagged, but still), and I found myself thinking about how much more I would enjoy it if they were all belly dancers, so I guess you shouldn't be surprised that I left at the second intermission.
Part of the reason why I left was the fact that it was Scarlet Sails night.  Initially I heard that Scarlet Sails - which is a St. Petersburg thing - took place in May, but when I started walking around town I saw signage for it that said it was taking place last night, so I was SUPER excited.  I walked along the Neva embankment under the twilit sky, and got to Palace bridge around 10 o'clock.  I actually wanted to go further up the river, but the police had blocked the street, so I found a place as close to the side of the bridge as I could and waited.  And waited.  And because I'd been on my feet ALL DAY, they hurt, so I found a place to sit down and pulled out my Nook.  Which wasn't working.  Somehow, between getting to the ballet and sitting down on the bridge, my e-reader had unregistered itself, right where Harry Dresden was about to confront the ENTIRE White Court of vampires.  WHAT THE HECK, NOOK???  So I sat and waited some more, albeit with less patience than I would if I were reading.  At which point it started raining.  It was chilly - did I mention the fact that I was wearing sandals and a skirt?  That factors into this fiasco, thanks to the ballet - so I put on my hoodie, but finally around 11:30 I was fed up and said, "##%# this *&$@@!, you *@&!" and left the bridge.  But my night was far from over.  Thanks to the barricades, I couldn't head back to Irina's the way I had been going (which involved a lot of walking but I didn't think I'd be able to get a taxi) and because I was cold and wet and alone and my feet hurt when I finally DID come across a taxi on the other side of St. Isaac's, I let him talk me into paying about $20 to take me home.  And it was the best $20 I've spent yet.

Friday, June 19, 2015

White Nights, White Days

I woke up at 3 this morning, and yesterday.  I never used to be a morning person, but after 10 years of teaching I've come to the point where I no longer want to kill people for speaking before 9 a.m.  These days I tend to wake with the sun, which could be problematic when the sun decides to be an insomniac.  At three, the sky was light.  Do you really, really get that?  The amount of light in the sky was approximately the same as when I go out to walk at 5:40 in UB.  I'd been sleeping for 6 hours by then, and so I thought, "What the hell!" and took my shower.  I really, really wanted to go out and do crazy things in the streets, because it was THREE AM AND IT WAS FREAKING LIGHT OUT!  In fact, I looked up St. Petersburg's erotica museum, MusEros, since that was in my plans for yesterday, and having figured out that it was open 24 hours, I considered getting up and going then, because why not?  (Well, there's the fact that going to an erotica museum in the middle of the night, no matter how light it is out, seems sketchy.  Going in the middle of the day just lends a scholarly veneer of respectability to the pursuit.  That's why not).
Just one of the displays at MusEros...
I didn't actually make it to MusEros until about noon on my second white day.  It's been overcast since I arrived, so it's been hell - can't tell the time or the direction.  I stumbled out of a street onto the Neva yesterday...I had no idea I was going north!  I'd intended to make yesterday my museum day, but after taking a ridiculously circuitous route to get to the Hermitage on the metro, only to look at the lines I went, "AW HELLS NO," and wandered off to find one of the ubiquitous Subway restaurants, then continued on my way down Nevsky Prospect to my fourth erotica museum.  Most of the labels weren't in English, but as my mom has said, "If you've seen one erotica museum, you've seen them all."  Okay, my mom actually offered that opinion about art museums, but there might be some truth in it wasn't that different from the Musee d'Erotisme in Paris or New York's Museum of Sex.  In fact, as strange as it is for me to admit this, I think the Chinese did it best with the museum in Tongli.  Weird.

Also weird is the unsettling familiarity of being here.  Maybe I've been in Asia too long, but not only can I walk down the streets of St. Petersburg without getting stared at like a pink-spotted giraffe, but people actually try to speak to me in Russian.  I can't even begin to tell you how strange that is.  The first time I was told I looked Russian was in the Middle East, and rather than wondering if it was true (because I assumed it wasn't...let's face it, all us white people look the same), I questioned whether it was a compliment or an insult.  Now, I'm not sure.  Additionally, I am neither taller than everyone or fatter than everyone, and it is refreshing not to be laughed at or smacked on the ass.
The French never mistook me for one of their own (although genetically I'm closer and at least there I speak more than the handful of phrases acquired from Socrates), but I'm blaming at least part of my quasi deja vu on them.  Everywhere I look I see art nouveau embellishments, and although I'm not exactly great at picking up on architectural stuff, I can see places where the builders of the city have copped some Parisian style.
Shitty feet aside, I'm enjoying my wandering.  After coming out of the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood last night (more about that to come), I walked along the canal past countless stalls selling souvenirs.  In front of one building two sisters played duets on the violin and viola, and I stopped to listen, regretting the fact that I never got to travel with Lit, because she would have danced with me if she'd been there (just like we danced once upon a dream).  After my promenade on the Neva quay I steered my steps toward Irina's, through Mars Field.  Mars Field has an illustrious history as a park and military grounds, but what drew me there was the fact that you can smell the lilacs planted on it from two blocks away.  I spent a spring living in my uncle's spare bedroom waking up to the smell of sun-warmed lilacs every morning, and it's left an impression on me.  I walked across the grounds at Mars Field high on the scent, stopping here and there to just inhale, and was happy to be in St. Petersburg.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Great Success!

It's my first evening in St. Petersburg, and my feet are killing me.  I've been walking a couple of miles each morning for the last several weeks, which has been nice because I've been able to reclaim my territory for the first time in two years and my feet have actually not been punishing me for it, but today that was not the case.  I hobbled my way back to my airBnB homestay thing (I'll let you know how that goes round about the time I get back to Mongolia) and have been off my feet pretty much ever since.
It took leaving Irina's (my hostess with the mostest) for me to really start getting excited about St. Petersburg.  Getting here was pretty straightforward...I took a shuttle from the airport to the metro, and the metro to a few blocks from Irina's, which I did not quite make it to, but I managed to find an unsecured wifi network and was able to call her on Skype from around the corner, so I made it in the end.  She showed me around the flat and explained that they would be gone the next couple of days (which makes me feel like I'm in high school and need to take advantage of the, hey, if anyone can make it to Russia in the next couple of days - PAR-TAYYYYY!) then turned me loose.

One of the things I managed to learn about in my extremely limited amount of research leading up to this part of the trip is the smallest statue in St. Petersburg, a little bird called Chizhyk-Pyzhik.  I found the story of it charming and decided my first wander out into the great Imperial City would aim to find him.

Chizhik-Pyzhik, where have you been?
Drank vodka on the Fontanka.
Took a shot, took another -
Got dizzy.

The little bird comes from the poem above, which isn't actually about birds, but is rather about law students, who attended the Imperial School of Jurisprudence when it was just across the Fontanka (that would be the river) and used to wear green and yellow uniforms, resembling the bird they were nicknamed for.
I was a little worried about being able to find him...I didn't find really great directions, other than that he was by the First Engineer Bridge.  I looked up the bridge and headed in that direction when I left Irina's.

I should have been keeping my eyes peeled, but before I could even realize that I'd made it to the bridge, I saw the Church of the Savior on the Blood in the distance, and in the ensuing excitement to get my camera out I very nearly dropped my wallet into the Fontanka (no, I wasn't drinking vodka, although sometimes I wish I could use being under the influence as an explanation for the stupid things I've done).  I'd crossed the bridge and had just had time to think, "Hey, I wonder if this is the river I'm looking for," when I heard a series of clinks, and looked up to see people dropping coins onto the pedestal.

Chizhyk-Pyzhik has only been in situ since 1994 (and not continuously...apparently he's been stolen to melt down several times and now they keep back-up casts on hand).  During that time a tradition has arisen that you try to land a coin on the plinth on which Chizhyk-Pyzhik sits for good luck.

Thanks to the fact that Russian coinage annoys the crap out of me (WHY are the sizes so disparate???) I'd managed to accumulate quite a lot of it and was ready to win myself some luck no matter how long it took!  Aaaand, then I got it in my third or fourth attempt.  That 10 ruble coin on the lower right corner of the picture next door here is mine.  Apparently I have good luck coming my way now.

I went onward and wandered into the center, but it was just that - me wandering.  I have the next three days to see everything in depth at my own pace.  However, I was glad that I got to start the trip on a good note.

(Epilogue: So I was actually falling asleep writing the last couple of paragraphs...jetlag caught up to me around 9 pm.  Sorry about the typos, I've fixed them now).