"Yesterday, one of the scientists here took me to the Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s in a huge building right in the middle of the Neva and which looks like a whole city on it own. There are arches joining it to the river banks, and from the windows you can see an enormous fountain which protects the coastal part of Petersburg from flooding. A nearby island, which in ancient times was called Vasilevskiy Island is also part of the Cabinet. It has an indoor garden with trees and bushes, and there are animals walking around freely there – although they’re behind bars they have plenty of space to roam. It’s an absolute work of art! It is entirely build on arches which are constantly heated by warm air – so only a few steps separate the tropical and temperate climate zones. The garden is like a miniature version of the entire planet, so walking round it is like a journey round the world. The creatures of each country are exhibited in the corresponding places, and the whole thing is laid out just like a globe. Above the garden, in the centre of the Cabinet building on the Neva itself, is a gigantic heated pool. There you can see rare species of fish and amphibians. On both sides are halls with the natural kingdoms of dry land – flora and fauna all displayed in chronological order starting with the creatures from before the flood up to the present day. Even a quick look round it all made me realise how Russian scientists manage to become so extraordinarily knowledgeable. It’s sufficient to make a thorough tour of the Cabinet, and without reading any books, you can receive the training of a well-informed naturalist. The collection of animals is truly wonderful. So many species have disappeared or changed completely! I was especially taken with the very rare exhibit of a giant horse, which still had its wool. It is very similar to those little horses which ladies like to keep with their bedroom dogs – but the ancient horse was an incredible size. I could hardly reach up to its
"The Year 4338: Petersburg Letters"