This story ran on page A13 of the
Boston Globe on May 27, 2001, and in Minneapolis Star Tribune on
July 1, 2001.
A walk atop the Russian wild side
Hitting the roof: Some new highs in an old city
By David Filipov, Globe Staff, 5/27/2001
With a carefree motion that belied the peril of
a misstep, Peter Kozyrev scampered up a steep, rusted ladder, then
onto the rooftop. Oblivious to the dropoff to the courtyard below,
he walked lightly across a short stretch of metal roof to an abandoned
turret, and beckoned his guests to follow him, out of view from
the windows of the top-floor apartments.
This is urban mountaineering, the curious brand
of tourism that Kozyrev has devised to show off the marvels of St.
Petersburg from a unique, breathtaking, offbeat, perspective. This
is also trespassing, which is why Kozyrev's rooftop excursions come
with a caution: The guide frequently tells you to keep quiet and
stay out of sight.
''Stay behind this wall here,'' Kozyrev instructed. ''There are
lots of people looking out the windows, and you don't want anyone
to see you.''
From this clandestine vantage point, Kozyrev pointed
out a vista that would be spectacular in any other city. To the
east loomed the walls of the St. Peter and Paul Fortress. To the
south, over the roofs of Art-Deco apartment buildings, rose the
gilded onion domes of St. Andrew's Cathedral, and much farther off,
the massive shape of St. Isaac's. To the north, a Greek temple sat
incongruously atop a 19th-century office building, as if someone
had transported a piece of the Acropolis to the spot.
The tours are made possible by the coincidence
of several architectural quirks of central St. Petersburg. Unlike
other Russian cities' quarters, St. Petersburg's older neighborhoods
are well-maintained and unspoiled by modernity. The city's compact
18th-century layout, with buildings close together because Peter
the Great, the city's founder, liked it that way, has been preserved.
And unlike many European cities, the roofs are metal and covered
with railings and walkways, so that city workers can go up and clean
off the snow that builds up in winter.
Also unlike cities in Western Europe, where most
buildings are privately owned, entrances to apartment buildings
in St. Petersburg are often unlocked. Only after mysterious apartment
blasts killed nearly 300 people across Russia in 1999 did authorities
start to close entrances and access to attics.
And then there is Kozyrev, a 28-year-old freelance
journalist and a self-described advocate of alternative tourism.
An avid backpacker, Kozyrev devised the rooftop tours to show off
his city to tourists on a budget.
''This is not possible in Paris or Rome,'' he said
with no small portion of pride. ''There, people lock the doors.
Here, that will not happen until people get some money and some
sense of privacy.''
Peter's Rooftop Tours, as Kozyrev calls his business,
offers an interesting perspective on the problem of privacy.
Even though there is no way to say ''privacy'' in Russian, people
here would like to enjoy a little now and then. But what kind of
privacy can there be in a city of 4 million people, where most buildings,
and nearly all the land, is municipal property?
The rooftops provide one answer. Young people have
always congregated there. St. Petersburg has no skyscrapers or hills,
so if you can get up high enough, you can see the whole city. But
no one on the ground can see you, unless they look for you.
Russian police occasionally do just that. Midnight
raids on drug users and illegal attic dwellers are common, so Kozyrev
tries to do his tours by day. Even so, he occasionally disturbs
residents. On one occasion, residents tried to trap Kozyrev and
his tourist in an attic.
''We found another way out,'' Kozyrev said, shrugging.
''There's always another way out.''
Once, a man wielding a rifle told him to get lost. He did.
To avoid such encounters, Kozyrev asks his clients
to try to avoid bumping into things too loudly as they blunder through
dark, cluttered attics on the way to the rooftops.
Even those precautions cannot prevent occasional
meetings with nude sunbathers looking for a little privacy of their
St. Petersburg is very beautiful in the rain, but
raindrops and rooftops do not mix. This particular tour ended quickly,
with no encounters with the topless or the trigger-happy.
Later, on the street, Kozyrev looked up longingly
at a tower he had yet to conquer.
''Finding a new roof, figuring out how to get up
there, this is the height of the art,'' he said, gazing up. ''Then
once you're up there, it's all worth it.''
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.