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  St.Petersburg.The very name brings to mind some of Russia's greatest poets,writers and composers:Pushkin,Dostoevsky,Tchaikovsky.The 19th century was a golden age for St.Petersburg's wealthy classes.It was a world of ballets and balls,of art and literature,of tea and caviar.

  The golden age ended with the advent of World War 1.Working people were growing more and more discontented.In 1917,Communism came,promising peace and prosperity.

  St.Petersburg had become Petrograd in 1914.People wanted a Russian name for their city.Ten years later,the city's name changed again,this time to Leningrad.Then in 1991,Leningraders voted to restore the city's original name.Some people opposed the name change altogether.Others thought it was just too soon.Old,run-down Soviet Leningrad,they said,was not the St.Petersburg of 19th-century literature.

  What,then,is St.Petersburg?In the confusing post-Communist world,no one really knows.The quiet,if Soviet-style,dignity is gone.The Communist sayings are down,and gaudy advertising up.Candy bars and cigarettes are sold from boxy,tasteless kiosks.And clothing?Well,anything goes.Everyone wants to be a little different.But many people do not know the true meaning of freedom.Personal crime has gone up,up,up in the past few years.

  Yet in spite of this,you can still find some of the city's grand past.Stand at the western tip of Vasilievsky Island.To the right is the elegant Winter Palace,former home of the czars.Its light blue sides and white classical columns make it perhaps St.Petersburg's most graceful building.It houses one of the worlds most famous art museums:the Hermitage.Inside,20km of galleries house thousands of works of art.Look over your right shoulder.The massive golden dome of St.Isaac's Cathedral rises above the skyline.You'll see,too,why St.Petersburg is called a "floating city."Standing there,nearly surrounded by water,you can see four of the city's 42islands.

  Cross the bridge and turn behind the Winter Palace.In the middle of the huge Palace Square stands the Alexander Column.It commemorates Russia's victory over Napoleon.The 650-ton granite column is not attached to the base in any way.Its own weight keeps it upright.Hoisted into place in 1832,it has stood there ever since.

  Continue to Nevsky Prospekt,the heart of the old city.Let the crowds hurry by while you take your time.Admire the fine carving on bridges and columns,above doorways and windows.Cross over canals and pass by smaller palaces and other classical structures.Let your eyes drink in the light blues,greens,yellows and pinks.

  Take time to wander among Kazan Cathedral's semi circle of enormous brown columns.Or,if you prefer Russian-style architecture,cross the street and follow the canal a short distance.The Church of the Resurrection occupies the site where Czar Alexander 11was assassinated in 1881.

  Travel outside the city to Petrodvorets Palace for a taste of old imperial grandeur.After a visit to France in the late 17th century,Peter the Great decided to build a palace for himself better than Versailles.His dream never came true in his lifetime.It took almost two centuries to complete the palace and park complex.

  Seldom does any city have the chance to reinvent itself.That chance has now come to St.Petersburg.A few people might hope to return to the glory of the past,but most know that is impossible.They want to preserve the best of past eras and push ahead.You can bet the city won't be old St.Petersburg,but something altogether different.