Because the winters are long and the recession hit hard, St. Petersburg residents take every opportunity to be outside when it’s warm and going for walks is free. In September, my younger aunt, Anya and I went to two local parks. Elagin Island is entirely occupied by a park and Elagin Palace. The island is surrounded by nice neighborhoods and is a summer favorite. You can rent bikes, rollerblades, boats, and paddleboats. There are a couple of small/open air cafes, a little zoo, an archery range, and a pay-toilet. The tip of the island, with two freshly painted white lions, gives you a glimpse of the Bay of Finland.
Park Ekatirhof is different in that it’s become surrounded with a more industrialized neighborhood, which makes it less of a destination in and of itself. It’s fairly large and at its furthest end they even have horses. The park also has a few rides. The gate to the little “amusement park” was open and no one was there, so Anya and I went in. I think it was off-season, although the building for the keeper had the lights on. The rides were a gem, old Soviet era merry-go-rounds, swings, a kids’ rollercoaster, and a mini-course for mini-go-carts.
Seeing things that reminded me of my childhood made me want to relive it a little. So Anya and I got on one of the swings. These aren’t your motor-powered Six Flags swings; here you use the physics principle of taking turns squatting. Since Russians are good at physics, Anya and I got pretty high up in the air—perfect timing for someone to come and start yelling at us to get off the swings immediately. We responded that we had to stop the swing first, which we did.
When we got down the apparent groundskeeper approached us—middle-aged, short, fidgety, with a mouth full of gold caps which he flashed at us during all of his hurried yelling with a detectible and angry accent. Didn’t we know that we weren't supposed to use the rides, that we had to pay for them? We explained that the gate was open and the ticket booth, closed, and there were no signs or rules posted. He yelled that the gate had been closed and that we’d broken in and had to pay for the rides, or that he was going to call the cops. He’d actually closed and locked it while we were on this swings. We said call the cops, show us the price list, give us a receipt and we’ll pay. This went on for about five minutes until he finally unlocked the gate and let us go.
At this point it was almost dark so Anya and I left the park. We talked about it being clear that they guy had messed up, left the rides open, was angry that he’d failed to scare us into giving him cash. But we also admitted that during this, each of us had looked for holes in the fence where we could get out and run.