St. Petersburg, May 2005

No. 4 Tchaikovsky Street, our home in St. Petersburg, is a vast apartment building. Its warm caramel facade hides a faded glory replete with wrought iron balusters and a crackled paint front door. It looks like the set for a Harpers photo shoot. On the arrival it also provides our first training session - climbing with the luggage the 102 stairs to reach our apartment on the 5th floor. By the end of the first day we all learn not to forget anything behind before going out.

Meeting our coaches for the first time, as with the previous visit from Salle Gadaski, is a slightly unnerving affair. Rosa, Spartak's Director, greets us and wishes success with our training. Our coaches - Dima, Lora, Eugene, Alexei, Julia, Svetlana and two Andrei's. We recall the fearsome reputation the club has for producing the champion fencers against whom we are scheduled to fight…

Soon we fall into a regular pattern of individual lessons in the morning and free fencing in the evening, with sightseeing sandwiched between. Conversations between coaches and students progress steadily along with our fencing as "Neit" gradually begins to be replaced with "Good". Our coaches are all kind enough to remark on the improvements we are making, however the phrase "You understand?" combined with a quizzical look directed at a British fencer from behind a Russian mask will stay with a number of us for a while.

The trip to St Petersburg extended beyond fencing. This beautiful city quietly lulls its visitors into hours of wandering around the palace lined avenues and canal-side streets. A walking tour takes us along the Fontanka River, strolling past the Mikhailovsky gardens which are sadly "closed for theoretical reasons", exploring the gruesome sounding but overwhelmingly beautiful Church of the Spilled Blood and then St Isaacs Cathedral.

Any pretence of "serious training" has gone out of the window by Thursday and the residents of No.4 are planning a party. Paddy, Howard and Lee shift furniture and decorate the room under the expert guidance of Sarah, Kari-Anne and I cook and Lee arranges music and becomes official photographer for the evening................(a bit missing here)...

As a direct result Friday morning's lesson becomes nothing more than a vodka-blurred attempt at pointing an Epee in approximately the direction of my coach Andrei.

Friday and Julia decides we need to "party". It turns out that for Russians the phrase "we party" specifically includes dancing and the consumption of a large volume and combination of cocktails. Somewhere on the wrong side of the Neva to the apartment we are still dancing and drinking long past dawn. As we head home over one of the many bridges, the opening and closing times of which remain a mystery to all non- residents of the city, we are treated to the beauty of St Petersburg skyline at dawn. The Peter & Paul Fortress is backlit in the red and gold of sunrise, its spire glittering in the low morning sun and as we speed past the Winter Palace in a terrifying taxi ride, we are inspired to toast this beauty further with just a little more vodka.

There are too many highlights to mention here, however the generosity of our hosts at Spartak will surely be top of the list for us all. In a week that passed far too quickly the city showed us some of its intricate and beguiling character ranging from Giselle to a Georgian banquet, saunas to sunrise, the Winter Palace to White Nights.


Thanks to Lee for the photos!

(Lee's website is here)

Cathedral on Blood

It was all very, very artistic...

Russian ballerinas

...beautiful Russian ballerinas...

Russian horses

gentle Russian horses...

British girls and Russian boy

hot Russian men...

corps a corps

we fenced a lot!


...and took pictures...

Russian sauna

Yes, some bits were scary!..


but we made it anyway!

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