St. Petersburg, Russia – Part 2

Tony and I woke up very early on day 2 in Russia for our on-shore excursion.  One of the things we didn’t realize about St. Petersburg is how incredibly spread out the city is.  We wanted to view both of the main palaces, and they were on completely opposite ends of the city.

We started with the palace of Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great.  Where the Russian ballet theater was lacking in opulence, Catherine’s palace certainly made up for it.  Even walking upon it was an experience.  It was so incredibly beautiful, with its bright blue walls lined with white and gold trim.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine was the second wife of Peter the Great.  Originally named Marta, she was allegedly a beautiful laundress that Peter fell in love with.  She and Peter had 12 children, but only two of them survived – Anna and Elizabeth.

Inside the palace, we were required to check any bags or coats, and were made to wear shoe coverings.  Throughout the tour, we were allowed to take pictures.  Tony and I snapped away in every room except one – the Amber room.  This was the only room we were not allowed to take photos.

I have to pause to cover off on the most amazing thing about Catherine’s and Peter’s palaces – they were almost completed reconstructed after WWII.  Most of both palaces were damaged after extensive bombings by the German military.  That fact alone made everything we saw even more amazing, because the restoration effort took so much time and care to get every detail correct.  The Amber Room alone took 20 years and $12 million dollars to properly restore.

img_4161

img_4164

img_4165

img_4167

img_4168

img_4174

img_4175

img_4180

img_4196

The gold gilding that could found in every room was magnificent.  Everything felt so special and superior, and I would expect nothing less for the Empress of Russia.  I tried to imagine attending balls or dinner parties in such a place.  What did the ladies wear?  What type of music did they listen to?  And what did they eat?

After our visit of Catherine’s Palace, we continued through Catherine Park off to where the kitchens used to reside.  This is where we ended up enjoying a very Russian meal, topped off with a shot of vodka.  I of course didn’t partake, but when in Russia, a shot of vodka at lunch seems like a great idea to me!

img_4214

The bus ride to Peter’s Palace, or Peterhof, took about an hour.  The sun had started to peek its head out from behind the clouds, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  We weren’t able to take photos inside of Peterhof, but that was fine by me – the beauty was on the outside.

img_4246

img_4251

img_4255

img_4257

Peterhof

My mom said this is her favorite photo 🙂

img_4286

img_4290

I hadn’t yet seen enough gold at Catherine’s Palace, so thankfully, Peterhof took care of that for me.  🙂  The palace is called the “Versailles of Russia” and overlooks the Gulf of Finland.  We were almost able to see our next port stop from the fountains of Peterhof.  The fountains themselves were also pumping via natural pressure vs. electronic which made them that much more impressive.

Given the travel time and the distance between the two palaces, by the time we finished with Peterhof, it was time to head back to the ship.  I didn’t get to see nearly as much of St. Petersburg as I wanted, but my love for the city and the country of Russia was only made more powerful by this visit.  Tony and I fully intend on taking our little baby back to Russia.  There is still so much to see and explore, and I already know the baby likes Russian food.  🙂

The Missus’ Picks:

As I’ve said many a time, Russia is a fantastic place and one of my favorite countries to visit.  If planning a trip specifically to St. Petersburg, I suggest at least 4-5 days.  The city is very large and spread out and if you want to take in a ballet, plus the palaces and a canal cruise, you will need that much time.  My top picks include:

  • Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – even though I didn’t get to see it, this is built in a similar style as St. Basil’s
  • Peterhof and Catherine Palaces
  • The Russian Ballet – try to see Swan Lake if possible and any theater is acceptable
  • Canal Cruise
  • If you visit in the fall/winter, eat beef stroganoff and sample the vodka…and caviar if you’re brave
  • If you visit in the spring/summer, try kvass – you can find it on many street corners for cheap

Until next time….

St. Petersburg, Russia – Part 1

As I have shared in previous blogs, Russia is something else.  It is something incredible, decadent, gritty and inexplicable, all at the same time.  Russia is one of my favorites in terms of travel locations, but this visit via our cruise was a bit more colorful than normal.

Back in early August, I had to visit Russia for work, so when applying for my visa, I made sure to ask for multiple entry and a longer time period for access.  Since I don’t speak or read Russian, when my passport was returned, I saw the date extension and assumed everything was in order.  Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way that assuming makes an “ass” out of “u + me”.  But in this case, the ass was really just me.

Tony and I leisurely got off the ship, ready to explore this magnificent place.  When it was our turn at the customs counter, I plopped down my passport confidently.  The lady kept looking and looking at my passport, picking up her phone, and then asking for our “excursion pass” in broken English.  I just kept pointing back to the dates of my visa, confused.  Before I knew it, another lady appeared, pointing to the most random corner of my visa stating it was only good for one entry.

“You already in Russia, yes?” the second lady asked.

“Yeah, but the visa is still good.  See the dates?”

She looked at me like I was a complete idiot, and called a third guy over who’s English was better.  The poor guy was used to dealing with ignorant tourists, but I was a different species all together.  I had already started getting heated with the second woman, and Tony kept looking at me and squeezing my arm to calm me down.   I tried to keep my internal fire in check, but I had to let them know how mad I was at their rejection before I let Tony lead me back to the ship.  I huffed and puffed my way back to our room, with Tony trailing behind helplessly.

“You can’t get heated like that, Cor,” he said.  “They will put you in prison for no reason and hold you until they feel like it”.

I rolled my eyes.  “They’re not going to put a pregnant woman in jail!”

My pride was hurt, I was embarrassed, and I was upset I wasn’t going to be able to explore further with Tony.  I told him to take advantage of his visa, which worked.  I was extremely bummed out and shocked at the unexpected turn of events.

There was hope, however.  The cruise on-shore excursions were the work around to having a Russian visa.  We had already committed to the ballet that evening, and I quickly booked us for the palace excursion the following day.  I would see St. Petersburg, damnit….one way or another.

And so that evening, once Tony had returned and my shame had subsided, we gussied ourselves up for the Russian ballet.

The ballet was hosted at Theater Russian Ballet.  A bus was organized outside the port stop and we were handed our tickets as we boarded.  We had a few minutes to spare and stopped outside of St. Isaac’s Cathedral for some great photos.
St. Isaac Cathedral

St. Isaac Cathedral

St. Isaac Cathedral

We soon arrived at the theater and made our way in.  We were there to see Swan Lake, which is as Russian a ballet as you could get.  I must admit, for being in St. Petersburg and seeing a ballet, I was underwhelmed at the theater itself.  It seemed old and poorly maintained.  It certainly wasn’t terrible, but I had this vision of going to see the ballet in Russia that involved gold covered banisters and crystal chandeliers.  Shuffling into our seats, it all felt very high-school-musical….but then the ballet actually began.

Russian Ballet

The mediocre-ness of the theater melted away instantly and I honestly felt transported to a castle ballroom.  The costumes, the music, the quality of the dancers – this is where the opulence and decadence of the Russian ballet was hiding.  I could not take my eyes off of their feet, legs, jumps and twirls.  I didn’t want to blink for fear of missing even a second of what was before me.

A few of the elements that absolutely blew me away:

  • How easy they made it all look
  • How long the main “swan” could stand and twirl and dance on her tip toes
  • How stunning and shining the costumes were
  • How much both the music and the dancing told the story and gripped at my emotions

I left the theater on a cloud, almost skipping on my own tippie toes.  I immediately vowed that our baby would take ballet dancing classes.  If this is what St. Petersburg had to offer after a morning of visa rejection, I couldn’t wait for what was in store the following day…..

St. Petersburg

From Russia, With Love – Part 3 – Moscow

My Russia trip ended in Moscow, back to where my original introduction to Russia had begun last year. There is no place like Moscow. It is an incredibly busy and bustling metropolitan city with some of the most gorgeous structures I have ever laid my eyes on.

It was a different experience to be back here in the heart of summer vs. the tail end of winter.  There was much more sunshine and greenery to be found, which only made the buildings look that much more beautiful.

There were two things I did this time that I did not get to experience in my previous visit. One was to visit Café Pushkin for a traditional Russian dinner, and the other was to go inside of St. Basil’s cathedral.  Is Cafe Pushkin touristy?  Absolutely – but the food is to die for, as is the atmosphere.  It appears to be designed in the style of either an old Russian library or mansion.  Dark wood covers most surfaces, from floor to ceiling.  It is the perfect setting for a hot chocolate on a snowy winter day, but even in summer I found it quite enjoyable.  I made sure to indulge in all Russian specialities, such as beef stroganoff, dumplings, mushrooms, etc.  But no herring for me, blech.  My husband’s Polish family has sadly put me off from herring for life.

Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

The other thing I did was visit the inside of St. Basil’s.  Last time, I took about a million photos of St. Basil’s, but the actual church was closed for visitors.  This time, I paid my 300 rubles and hopped inside.  My mouth immediately fell wide open in awe.  I have been extremely blessed in my past travels.  There are many gorgeous churches and temples I have had the pleasure of visiting.  But aside from the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, this was up there as one of the most spectacular I’ve ever laid eyes on.  I couldn’t believe the gorgeous ornate detail and color.  It made being in church extremely enjoyable visually.  If ever you find yourself in Moscow, you MUST go inside St. Basil’s.

St. Basils

St. Basils

St. Basils

Aside from that, I continued a leisurely walk around the Red Square, snapping my photos as the sun started to slowly set over Moscow.  I am so in love with this city and this country.  I find it to be incredibly interesting and different and yet at the same time, absolutely relatable and familiar.

St. Basils

St. Basil

From inside St. Basils

Red Square

Summertime in Moscow

DSC_5371

DSC_5376

DSC_5332

DSC_5335

My husband and I will find ourselves in St. Petersburg at the end of this month and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to go back to Russia so soon already.

Until next time, travelers….