Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Russia: St. Petersburg

Ron and I were definitely looking forward to visiting Russia this contract. We always approach places we look forward to with a little trepidation because after two years of seeing I don’t even know how many different ports, we’ve come to understand that many places that seem amazing end up being a little disappointing. But Russia is not one of those. We were docked in St. Petersburg over night, so we had two full days to explore. The first day in port Ron had IPM so I escorted a tour. Now, those of you who know me or have been following our blog know that I have been on a Russian Literature kick for a few years now. I’m not sure “kick” is the right word anymore. I think Russian lit is a bona-fide favorite at this point. So when I saw that I would be escorting the Pushkin tour to Pushkin-town and Katherine the Great’s Palace, I about lost my mind. Gleefully I donned my coat and scarf, grabbed my umbrella and skipped off into the rain. I hate being clothed and wet at the same time, so finding me with a smile on my face in this weather is rare, but smile I did, all the way to the Palace. I was a little bummed when after questioning several guests on the bus, many of them had no idea who Alexander Pushkin was and most of them didn’t care who he was even if they did know. Read a book people. C’mon! Pushkin isn’t even a tough read. He even wrote children’s books. Let’s go folks. You’re a smart bunch. For the love of God, put the cocktail down and head to the library for once. Sheesh. Ok, that’s out of my system. Even more disappointing was the fact that the tour barely mentioned Pushkin at all. We drove by a couple of statues in his honor but that was the extent of it. Then we walked around in the rain and crowds around the palace before taking a very, very, very crowded tour of the inside. I got a few decent pictures but overall, I wasn’t super impressed with the content of the tour and by the time we got back to the ship I was grumpy, wet, hungry and tired. 

My Pushkin fix for the day

After a good night’s sleep I was ready to head back out to St. Petersburg. I was grateful for the cool, sunshiny day that greeted us since the day prior was such a mess. I got to escort an afternoon tour and ShoreEx was kind enough to let Ron come with on this one as well! We boarded a bus that took us to the city center where we stopped and exited the bus directly in front of a beautiful Russian church that we were told was attended by Vladmir Dostoyevsky! (Ok, I’m totally aware that I am a giant nerd for being excited about this stuff. Feel free to mock me. I can take it.) The building itself is beautiful and distinctively Russian. I also enjoyed taking a few pictures in front of the Dostoyevsky statue across the stress from the church.

 Next we walked down the street and wandered into a farmer’s market. We wandered up and down rows lined with vendor stalls filled with fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, cheeses, baked goods, soaps and crafts. We snagged a traditional Russian nesting doll and an ornament for our Christmas tree. I desperately wanted to take home a container of this amazing looking cheese but couldn’t figure out how I would get it back to the ship and into our refrigerator before it would go bad. 

 Then we took a ride on the Russian subway which is the deepest subway system in the world. Every stop is marked by the soviet reign in the now free country. Though the likenesses of Stalin have been removed from murals and statues, his mark is certainly left behind all over Russia. The subway cars themselves are old and rickety. The lights flicker at every stop. They creak and clatter and shudder and it’s hard to decide if you should be delighted in the nostalgia or terrified by the apparent lack of safety standards.

  We emerged from the subway tunnels and caught up with our bus which then took us to a charming restaurant for a vodka tasting. We tasted vodka infused with horseradish (ick!), cucumber (yum), and cranberry (meh), and while most everyone else tolerate the alcohol pretty well, I almost immediately came down with a headache and the desperate need for water. I cannot hold my liquor anymore. It’s embarrassing. Nevertheless, I’m glad I can say that I tasted Russian Vodka in Russia! 

And one last thing... In Mother Russia, the hat wears you!

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