Thursday, May 26, 2016

St. Petersburg Little Things

There are a lot of people in St. Petersburg and the sidewalks were crowded. Everyone, and I mean everyone, smokes. Since we were out walking most of our time there I got so sick of the smoke! By the end of the trip it was starting to make me sick and I would hold my breath as we walked down the street as much as I could.

A lot of the sidewalks that we were on were made of cobblestone. Of course, since I'm clutziest person in the world this created a serious hazard for me and I was always tripping. One time we were in a crowd and I tripped and I swear my nose was an inch from smashing onto the ground and Mark caught me and pulled me up. I was so embarrassed but also I loved my studly husband a little bit more in that moment. He is always there to catch me.

St. Petersburg stunk sometimes. You would just walk around a corner and the smell would smack you in the face. Especially if there was an open sewer grate.

One night we were craving a hamburger so we walked quite a ways to get one. It was this cute little burger place with a surf theme and they had a t.v. with some old American surfing documentary. The owner came out and explained the menu to us and then talked with us for about fifteen minutes. He told us how he dreams of opening a restaurant in the U.S. but that in the U.S. he will have so much competition but in Russia he has government red tape and restrictions that he has to fight. His burgers were delicious. They had cucumbers on them which sounds really weird but actually good.
I loved how canals run through the streets in St. Petersburg. It's so beautiful. I know that when it's winter that the canals freeze and that when it's warm there are boats. While we were there giant chunks of ice still floated in them.

The Hermitage

We had amazing weather the whole time we were in Russia until a couple days until we left. We knew that it would be cold and might snow but I was not prepared for that kind of cold until we stepped out of the hotel that morning. I wrapped my scarf around my head so that just my eyes showed but the wind whipped me in the face. It made me not want to go outside at all and luckily we just had the Hermitage left to explore.

The Hermitage was Catherine's palace and is now a museum that is supposed to be on par with the Louvre. It's impossible to walk through that amazing palace and not wonder what tales the walls would tell. The entrance is in a gigantic square and the back looks out on the Neva River. The day we went it was so windy that the waves were crashing into the shore. The yellow buildings in the picture below are government buildings and they stand opposite The Hermitage.
There was this peacock clock. At a certain time every day the peacock spreads it's tail and the whole thing moves in different ways. It is very intricate and was made by a famous clock maker.
We saw pieces from prehistoric times to modern. We saw masterpieces by Davinci, Matisse, Picasso and Degas. Degas is a personal favorite of mine, his paintings are so pretty. We saw mummies, urns, and statues.

Mark and I both loved the Rembrandt room We listened to a tour on Mark's phone that helped us understand some of the nuances that make these pieces so moving. Here are our favorites...
The Prodigal Son. We learned that the absence of a setting help us feel the impact of the moment. Standing out in the light we see in particular the Father's hands and how the son's clothes are ragged. The son's face buried in his father's chest show how repentant he is and merciful the Father is.
 We also loved this picture called 'Old Man in Red' because of the feelings it evokes. Again the light draws your eyes to his hands that are old and weathered and have seen work. His eyes are wise and have the understanding that comes with age and experience.
The museum was huge and warm and a perfect way to spend the freezing day.

I told Mark that I wished the kids were with us during the day and that we could be alone at night. It would have been so cool to experience the Red Square, the train, the Hermitage and different food with them. I think that is one reason why I missed them so much, I wanted to share this time with them. For now they will have to gain those experiences through books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Swan Lake

One of the most unique and beautiful places in St. Petersburg is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It's built in the place where Emporer Alexander II was murdered in 1881, hence the name. Sadly, the church was looted and badly damaged in the Revolution of 1917. During that time it stored vegetables and was nicknamed 'Saviour on Potatoes'. It is mostly restored now and it is absolutely breathtaking. The inside is covered entirely of mosaics.
One night we had the amazing opportunity to see Swan Lake. It was absolutely beautiful. Like all the buildings in St. Petersburg the theater was super old. I cannot say enough about how much Mark and I loved both the music and the dancing. When I asked Mark what he remembered about it he said, "tight, stretchy pants".

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nevsky Prospect

Every morning in St. Petersburg we went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. They would make you eggs or crepes and then there was a typical buffet with bread, fruit, yogurt and cereal. There was also a deli meat tray and one tray that had cucumbers and sauerkraut. They have a lot of processed meats and pickled vegetables there.
After breakfast we did Rick Steve's self guided walking tour of the main street, called Nevsky Prospect. It was such a beautiful day and we had so much fun spending the day exploring.
One cool building was the one in the picture below. It's called the Singer House and was built for the Russian branch of the Singer Sewing Co. It's now a bookstore.
It was interesting to see all of the beautiful churches and read about what happened to them during communism. The picture below is of an Eastern Orthodox church (most of them are) that you were allowed to go inside. We were not allowed to take pictures but it was a large, cavernous room that was dark and filled with icons of saints that were gold plated. People were lighting candles and praying. There were a group of women singing and a large group of people that were kneeling, praying I suppose, on the hard cement floor the entire time we were in there. I thought it was touching to see people that were so devoted. I wish that they had the gospel and an understanding of the restoration. This church was turned into a grocery store during communism and symbolically named 'Grocery Store Number One'.
The blue church in the background is an Armenian church and was turned into a swimming pool during communism.
Here is another pretty church. They were everywhere. 
There was probably a big church like this on every other corner.
We bought these roasted nuts from a street vendor. 
I don't know what they were but they were big and I didn't like them.
We ate lunch at a place that made the most delicious meat pies! They were filled with everything you can think of; chicken, fish, beef, fruit, you name it.
 We also had beef stroganoff and it was delicious. The Stroganov's were rich nobles that lived in St. Petersburg back in the 1700's. They are credited with inventing beef stroganoff and the Stroganov Palace is right on Nevsky Prospect.

Monday, May 23, 2016

From Moscow to St. Petersburg

We woke up on our last morning in Moscow and packed up and got ready to go catch the train to St. Petersburg. We stopped by McDonalds for breakfast and it was packed. One thing we noticed in Russia is that McDonalds and Burger King were always slammed. They also put lettuce on their breakfast sandwiches.
It was definitely an adventure catching the train. We were hauling all of our luggage all around, up stairs and through security. Since we couldn't read any of the signs we were just guessing about where to go and where to stand and wait. Once we got on the train though we were totally impressed. They were roomy and comfortable. We were able to order hot lunch and relax. It was a high speed train and the whole trip took about four hours. As we sped by we were able to see some different parts of the country, most of it wooded.
As we headed to St. Petersburg I got home sick. I think it was because it was sort of like the end of one vacation and we were starting a new one. I missed my kids and I wanted to be home with Mark all together again. I had to remind myself that this was once in a lifetime and to adjust my attitude so I could enjoy the rest of our trip! 
Here are some pictures that we took as we were leaving Moscow. These are Soviet-era apartment buildings.
When we got into St. Petersburg we caught a taxi to our hotel The Pushka Inn. The first thing I noticed about St. Petersburg is that they drive absolutely crazy. I was glad that everything was within walking distance there and we didn't have to take any taxis! The second thing I noticed is that it had a more European feel. The streets are lined with old mansions built by the Russian nobility in the 1700's. 
Our hotel was the blue building below.
We unpacked and then went to dinner at a restaurant called the Yat. This was a cute, little restaurant that we actually ate at twice while we were there. It was only one building over from our hotel. I had a chicken salad and Mark had some fish. A lot of the restaurants there were in basements like in the picture of the Yat below.
After dinner we wandered around, checking things out. It definitely had an active night life. People were partying and hanging out everywhere.