Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Petersburg

Whew - we're tired! We've had a great two days in Russia. St. Petersburg is fascinating. It is called the Venice of the north - it is built on the Neva River and dozens of canals. There are massive palaces and other buildings built right up against the water. The palaces and churches are beautiful, very colorful with the onion-shaped structures on top.
 These Russians know how to build palaces. It seems like everyone in every royal family got to have their own, well, actually, two - one for summer and one for winter. We took a panoramic tour of the city on our first morning. It was built to resemble more of a European city, rather than Russian, a little Dutch, a little French, a little Italian. It was sunny and cool. The locals hate the weather here - say that they have nine months of anticipation and three months of disappointment, but we got lucky yesterday. We rode the Metro. They built it like they built their palaces - very ornate, full of gold and marble, more like museums that a subway and each stop looks completely different. Last night we took another tour. We started off with a vocal performance. It was truly breathtaking. Their voices and the Russian songs were beautiful. Shana and I led off the standing ovation - one of our favorite things to do, try it sometime. We then did a little shopping along the canal and then took a river cruise on the Neva River. It is a very wide and sometimes rough due to the wind. The evening was gorgeous. There were Russian singers and dancers on the cruise, along with lots of Champagne and vodka! We are in the White Nights period where the sun really never goes down, sort of like twilight from 1am  - 4am. This morning we awoke to dreary, cold weather. It must have interfered with our ability to communicate because we missed our bus (it wasn't my fault!), so they threw us in a tiny car with an adorable tall, blonde young Russian guy who hauled you know what down the street to catch up to our tour bus. We went to two cities outside of St. Petersburg - Pushkin (named after a writer/poet similar to Shakespeare) and Peterhof.
 Both had unbelievable palaces, gardens and fountains. We were absolutely in awe. There is a tradition here that after a couple gets married they run around town with the wedding party and the photographer to all of the important chapels, palaces and monuments to be photographed.
To avoid doing this in zero degree weather, everybody likes to get married in the summer, so all of the chapels are reserved years in advance (there's a waiting list in case somebody's scheduled day arrives and they no longer have a fiance). So, over the past two days we have seen close to 20 brides and grooms - very festive. The weather was perfect for our last days here (my idea of Russian). We got to use our jackets and umbrellas, but the sun eventually came out while we were in the gardens to give us a fabulous afternoon. We also had a traditional Russian lunch (more vodka and Champagne and beets!) in a quaint cafe in a small town.

Tomorrow we will visit our final city - Tallin, Estonia - then we head home.

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