Russia Part I: Moscow is here.
Though I could recognize places like Starbucks because of the brand, I decided to spend our flight to St. Petersburg learning all of the Russian characters. It was so fun to start recognizing words that are cognates of English words, like "townhouse" and "smart phone."
I really liked St. Petersburg. It has a lot of pretty canals (many of which were sadly built by labor camp detainees), I like that it has one main street (Nevsky Prospekt), and there are a lot of beautiful buildings.
One night, we met with some of Jeff's friends and went on a boat tour of some canals at midnight. Eventually we waited with a bunch of other boats and were able to watch two bridges open up to let in bigger ships. Paul liked it so much that he went on another boat tour a few nights later.
Another night, Sica, Amy, Paul, and I went to Prokoviev's "Alexander Nevsky" with the Roanoke Symphony. We agreed that the guy who banged on the drum clearly had the best job of anyone there—he only had to get up a few times to really make some noise and get out some stress, and then he could sit and enjoy the music.
We ate at Dve Palochki three times, which had this cool burger menu.
St. Isaac's Cathedral is now a museum of religion and atheism. Going all the way to the top was incredible.
This is what we saw when we looked down on St. Petersburg.
We went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The monks there make bread to raise money, so we followed the signs to buy this loaf. Yum.
The cemetery at the monastery has obviously seen some years of neglect, but it was fascinating to see really old graves.
This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Alexander II was killed at this spot and this church was built to honor him. Interestingly, it's never actually been used as a church, and the architect purposely tried to make the church look like St. Basil's in Moscow.
Amy was really dedicated to taking a good picture for Jeff and Lindsey.
The inside of this church was my favorite. The brightly-colored religious mosaics with blue backgrounds reminded me of Giotto.
Traditional stacking matrushka dolls are matte and they hold things like chickens, pots, and scythes. Amy got some for her kids to paint themselves.
One night, I stayed up the whole night talking to Michael about potential apartments in San Francisco. We had some frustrations trying to get an apartment from our old landlord whose name is Peter, so I took this picture for Michael the next day to make him smile.
Another highlight of St. Petersburg was the State Hermitage Museum. It's at the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great and hosts a great deal of art work from around the world leading up to about Picasso's time. The volunteers at the door told us in English that we couldn't bring in food, and even without the nametags we soon realized the volunteers were Mormon missionaries. They told us they volunteer there once a week.
After a few hours of walking around, we started getting really hungry. Fortunately, Jeff used his Russian schmoozing skills to get an older woman to let him grab some crackers from his bag. Lindsey was determined to see at least five artworks by artists she's heard of, and I think she made it to about eight, so that was fun.
Here's the brood in front of the Hermitage.
We also went to Peterhof, which is Peter the Great's attempt at building palaces better than Versailles. I can't really say if the palaces are better because try as we might, we couldn't figure out how to get tickets to get in. Everywhere we went, we were told to go to a different line, so we finally gave up. At least I can say that I liked the grounds better than the ones in Versailles. Amy was so full of interesting information: she told us that Peter the Great wanted to show off with Peterhof, but he only liked living in his smaller houses.
Paul, Amy, and I went to the Sunday service at the Kazan Cathedral. The singing/chanting was really beautiful and I felt almost a physical feeling that the music was floating up towards God. I had a scarf on and I was trying to act respectfully, but I still felt very conspicuous because I wasn't bowing and making the sign of the cross.
The first time we went to Kazan Cathedral, there was a funeral going on and many tourists were walking around taking pictures. Amy and I talked about how it might be a better idea to only allow tourists in to look at the building during specific times. I wondered why Mormons don't open the temple during certain hours for visitors. I guess most members would think that allowing others in would desecrate the temple, even though it's believed that it's the ordinances that are sacred, not exactly the space.
We toured the prison at the Peter and Paul Fortress, where a lot of political prisoners were held. The grounds outside were lovely, and besides these thrones and some statues, they held the church where the Romanovs and many other royal family members are buried. I've never seen the movie Anastasia, but I was fascinated by the story of the last Romanovs in power. Amy told me that she read about how as the family was held hostage in their own home, the women sewed diamonds into their clothing to take with them in preparation for escaping. Unfortunately, that meant that when they were taken into the basement and shot, it took their assassins a long time to kill them because their clothes were bullet-proof and the killers didn't want to shoot them in the head! Isn't that horrible?
We discovered the crepes at this Teremok place and ate a lot there twice. Paul ate about twenty salads, and Lindsey fell in love with the sweetened and condensed milk crepes. Poor Sica wasn't as enthusiastic about it as the rest of us after she received a crepe with raw salmon in it.
Paul was able to book our hotel through his Google connections, and it had a really great location by Nevsky Prospekt. On our last morning, we discovered that the second person in each room had racked up an additional charge of $30 per day for breakfast (the first breakfast was included). Even though we fought and fought with the concierge about how no one had told us about this charge and we would have eaten elsewhere if we'd known about it, we didn't get anywhere. I'm at least glad that I took a bit of food with me to hold me over each day.
Something else I found funny about our Novotel hotel was that they had several signs about how to save water and electricity and labor by hanging up towels and indicating that we didn't want our sheets changed and such, but every day, Sica and I received a new bar of soap. I would have been perfectly happy with the same bar of soap every day and it seemed paradoxical to keep replacing that but to leave all the other things.
This is the view from Google. The round building on the left is where we stayed. Paul brought us all into Google twice, where we enjoyed chocolate, drinks, ice cream, ping pong, foosball, and pool.
It's funny to me that we were in Russia and chose to chillax at Google. What better place though, right? I know my sore feet appreciated the rest.
I spent some time by myself trying to find one of those lovely, long floral dresses I saw so many women wearing, but the best ones in St. Petersburg were around $300. Eek.
Jeff told me that I had to try one of these street "French Dogs." One lady took my money but then tried to give me something else. Luckily, Jeff interceded and made her give me back my money. Unfortunately, the young woman at the next place was a lot nicer, but my bun was stale and there was barely any sauce inside. Jeff was nice and gave me a bite of his later so I could see what it should really be like. The bun has a hole in the middle that is filled with cheese sauce, mustard, and ketchup before a hot dog is shoved inside.
I loved the gates of the park near the Church of the Savor on Spilled Blood.
Yes, since China, I've accepted the brilliance of wearing a backpack in the front—you can more easily get to your stuff, it forces you to stand straighter, and you don't have to worry about people behind you stealing your stuff.
On our last full day in St. Petersburg, Paul mentioned that he wanted some ice cream since it was so hot, and since I had some rubles I still needed to spend, I decided to get some, too. I asked a woman at an ice cream cart in the park if I could try two flavors to compare, but she wouldn't let me. I had Jeff ask her which of the two flavors was better and got the one she liked. She handed me the cone and then told me the total and my eyes about popped out of my head. It was around $14! I guess I got my own version of the expensive lemonade in Moscow. Amy said she hoped it was the best ice cream I'd ever had.
Overall, our trip was really great. I loved seeing cool new places with my family and I'm really appreciative of everything each person contributed. After Michael and I get settled somewhere, where are we headed next?
25 July 2014
Russia Part II: St. Petersburg
Russia Part I: Moscow is here.