Walkin ‘Bout The Revolution
With a museum every ten yards in St Petersburg, where do you start?
My tip: the Aurora Cruiser museum. It’s free. You don’t have to put those blue plastic bags over your shoes or check-in your coat with some po-faced concierge. Just walk up the gangplank and enjoy.
The Aurora really is a jolly little ship. Paint it red and yellow and you’d want it in the bath. In fact, it’s surprising it isn’t painted Soviet red and gold, because for years the Aurora was the icon of the Russian Revolution.
According to the souvenir book I bought a few years ago, the Aurora fired the defining shot in 1917 which signalled the storming of the Tsar’s Winter Palace. This earned it a permanent place in the annals of the workers’ glorious struggle.
But souvenir books, along with history, can be rewritten. According to the book I bought last week, Russian sailors would never have done anything so crass as to fire upon a valued architectural monument. Honest. You can make up your own mind on the lower decks, which is treasure trove of old Soviet paintings and contemporary documents.
If you think the Aurora is special, you won’t be alone. It’s one of only three ships built in the 1890s still afloat in Russia. Even its little launch has a working steam engine - the cruiser was refitted in 1986 by ’skilled Leningrad shipworkers’. Prior to that it hadn’t been capable of sailing anywhere since the 1930s. Probably skilled shipworkers were too busy with the workers’ struggle.
This Soviet commemorative plate is another below-the-decks treasure. It appears to celebrate 60 years of Russian women wearing too much eye make-up, though I’ll admit to being short of supporting documentation.
I’d like to dovetail this post with the one I wrote earlier about Russian Tourists. I didn’t see a single foreign visitor on the Aurora this time around. But I noticed again how St Petersburgers are very culture savvy, seamlessly fitting in a museum between shopping and mobile phone calls.