Katya Galitzine travelled to the former USSR in 1989 to learn Russian and study sculpture. St Petersburg became her home for 10 tumultuous years of political change. Katya is descended from Catherine the Great and set up The Prince George Galitzine Memorial Library in 1994 in memory of her father. It is now the only Anglo-Russian library in St Petersburg, a thriving cultural centre in her grandmother’s house. She is also hosting our group tour to Russia
We asked Katya to share her thoughts on who has inspired her, her best travel advice and more…
1. What is your earliest or childhood ambition?
To be a nurse, I liked the uniform, hated the blood aspect, so not much future there. I had met Florence Nightingale’s grandson when I was about 5 and that made a big impression on me.
2. What motivates you to do what you do?
Truth and laughter.
3. Who has inspired you to do what you do?
Strangely I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of very famous, successful people who have achieved great things in their lives; some of whom I was inspired by, but then I got to know them and realised that everyone is human and we all have failings. So I think my greatest inspiration is my son, even before he existed. I wanted to do things so my children/child could be proud of me. Of course, reality is, he is not interested in my past and all the things I have done in my life at all. I’m just his Mum – but it brings me great joy to know I that I have a fund of stories to tell him, when he eventually wants to listen.
4. If your 20-year-old self could see you now what would she think?
I would be most surprised at myself and my present life and most probably think what a bore I have become, but glad that I am happy.
5. in what place are you happiest?
In St Petersburg, no doubt about it – but I also really like airports and the anticipation of flying somewhere new.
6. What ambitions do you still have?
Never having been very ambitious, I have dreams instead: to see pandas in the wild, to climb Mount Kinabalu or look inside a volcano. Back home to direct a contemporary Macbeth set in modern-day Russia and write more books.
7. Ambition or talent: which matters more?
I studied sculpture for 6 years with a grandmaster, Mikhail Anikushin – the People’s Sculptor of the Soviet Union and he drummed it into me that being an artist is 10% talent and 90% hard work. These days people with ‘ambition’ tend to work hard, so I suppose my practical answer is ‘ambition’ – but I think ‘talent’ is more thrilling!
8. How often do you travel?
I tend to visit St Petersburg every other month, where I manage The Galitzine Memorial Library. A project I set up with my Mother in memory of my father, George. We are now in our 3rd decade and continue our undertaking to provide books about Russia that were printed abroad, our main field of interest has become the lost generation of Russians who were forced to emigrate during the 75 years of communism. We are a registered charity (No 1015036) and rely on donations from people interested in supporting our worthwhile cause.
9. Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Yes and No. Due to everything I am involved in, I spend a lot of time travelling and Russia is very polluted, but due to the economics of the nation and its size, very little has been done to correct it. On the flip side, due to a poorer population, most people in the cities do not have cars, do not eat meat every day, they recycle clothes and household goods and all their newspapers, cardboard and bottles, a throwback from Soviet days. Plastic containers have only appeared in Russia in the last 25 years and they now litter the sides of roads and rubbish dumps; every time I see one, it reminds me how comparatively new capitalism is to Russia and how fast they have adopted it and all its bad habits.
I remember visiting Lake Baikal about 10 years ago at the end of the summer and seeing mounds of rubbish piled up against this beautiful clear lake, it was quite shocking; the guide who was with us, blithely told me not to worry – because Greenpeace volunteers come at the end of the season and clear it up for them!
I think ‘Time’ these days is the enemy of the environment; we are all in such a rush to get everywhere and do so much, that we have to get places quicker and that always uses more fuel; as people in the modern world, we all want to achieve more, advance more – whether it is greed or ambition or just so many more opportunities on offer, it uses up natural resources much quicker than they are produced – so I am all for supporting trips that help eco-systems and think more should be done to support reforestation, such as Steppes Travel do or British Airways.
I notice that the next generation, is brought up much more aware of their carbon footprint than we were and this gives me great hope. I also try to teach my son how precious this world is and how the fact that the planet is round is important; what goes around comes around, or better still the immortal words of Lou Reed, “You’ve got to reap just what you sow”.
10. The one essential you travel with?
If only there was just one! I envy those who travel light. Contact lenses – so that I can see, that is essential. Otherwise, I like to have one of my exercise books and a pencil. I am just learning that an iPhone has a programme called ‘Notes.’
11. Your best piece of travel advice?
In my twenties I met an artist/film director called Jean Negulesco – he told me the secret to happiness is to always have enough money to make a journey. It does not matter whether it’s a trans-Atlantic air flight or a short train journey at home. I have tried to keep to that premise and found it to be true. If you have a journey to prepare for or look forward to, everyday life becomes thrilling again.
12. What advice would you give to young ladies wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Avoid the quagmire! ( That’s a legal term, by the way).
13. If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would change?
It’s not over yet…