Monday, June 22, 2009

St. Petersburg Russia

A major reason we chose our Baltic Cruise on Regatta was the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg Russia, home of the Hermitage Museum. Ironically, it turned out to be the only disappointing part of our trip.

The rainy and cool weather didn't help during our three days there. Standing in line in the rain has never appealed to us, even though we live in an area prone to precipitation.

Several larger cruise ships were also disgorging their passengers into the city, and a major economic forum was taking place, leading to street closures and even further confusion.

The larger issue is the lingering reminders of the Soviet system that still permeate society: dingy buildings and inadequate infra-structure, shoddy service, and a multitude of sullen bureaucrats at all levels whose needs come before those of anybody else.

Our DenRus guide, Anna, claimed that modern Russia combines the worst aspects of capitalism and communism, and long before our three days were up, we understood what she meant.

Brian ran across this article in the English-language St. Petersburg Times which argues that the three major reasons for Russia's ongoing economic problems are:

1. the over-reliance on natural resource extraction as opposed to manufacturing;
2. the woefully low productivity of workers;
3. the excessively high number of people employed in security services.

We gazed from our balcony at the small army of officials readying themselves either to board our ship and check our credentials, or just to stand around, like the hundreds of other uniformed individuals we saw over the next three days.

Anna cheerfully pointed out to us the mountainous piles of trash as drove through through the huge port on our way toward checkpoints and St. Petersburg itself.

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