Thursday, September 16, 2010

Russia Day Five

Subtitled: Any friend of sour cream is a friend of mine, all palaced out and boosting the economy

Last night after I wrote I went out to take more night photos. I still wasn’t terribly hungry but on the way back I stopped at Teremok (Russian take-away food) and had a bliny with cream cheese and pineapple. Oh it hit the spot. And with a Diet Pepsi, it was about $2.80! Seriously that’s way better than a McDonald’s dollar deal! But I have noticed this country is very fond of both sour cream and cream cheese. Borsch? Mix in a few heaping tablespoons of sour cream and stir it in till it is smooth and creamy. Cream cheese in any and all dessert blinis and tarts and pies appears to be the rule. I'm good with that, I’m on the vacation diet so this is all permissible, of course.

Today we were up and out by 9:15 to take the hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland to Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer village. Katya and Sergei picked me up and this would be the last day of our threesome. Katya brought me red caviar and Russian chocolate as a gift to enjoy later on, which I thought was really sweet.

The hydrofoil trip took about 30 minutes and was pretty smooth. It started out warm and sunny in St. Petersburg but we ran into some heavy clouds and cooler temps when we arrived on the dock in Peterhof. We were just in time for the daily “turning on of the fountains” which, literally starts from a trickle, and as the music to the anthem for Leningrad picks up steam, the water bursts forth from all the gilded fountains all around the park (hundreds of them, it seems!) I caught the whole thing on FlipVideo, which I’ll post when I get home.

Katya gave me a tour of the interior of the palace, again in our surgeon’s booties to protect the floors, which given how mucky it was outside, is probably a good idea. This was another palace that was pretty seriously damaged in the war and also extensively restored. The photos of it really tell the story. Restoration is actually still ongoing, and Katya said if I were to return in 10, 15, 20 years I may see more rooms still that have been restored.

Peterhof was gorgeous inside, but I was fully won over by Catherine’s Palace yesterday and to be honest, was a bit overloaded on palaces. The only thing I can equate it to is too much candy corn. As good as it is, there’s a limit.

We walked around half of the grounds (it’s something like 100 hectares, and we only covered one side) and walked down to “Mon Plaisir” which was this little “cottage” with glass walls that Peter had right on the edge of the harbor where he could look back to St. Petersburg and across to land that used to be Finland before Lenin took it back. The location was just perfect and the crisply manicured gardens around it were beautiful. This was one of the sunnier parts of the day so it was really enjoyable.

While I give Catherine’s Palace the edge on the building itself and the interior, you can’t beat the fountains and really well landscaped gardens at Peterhof. They just have to be seen.

We spent just about an hour talking and walking through the gardens. It was more like hanging with a friend. She’d tell me about books she’d read and was particularly knowledgeable about Catherine the Great’s diaries, which sound really amusing. But we also shared stories about friends and family, relationships, work, school. Again, I came away with a feeling that someone was just like me here. I’m really starting to believe that fate had our lives intersect, because meeting her really added to an already incredible experience.

One most excellent thing that I haven’t mentioned about having a private guide is that she cuts to the front of just about every line. Everywhere we’ve been, there have been lines and she just goes to the front, flashes her guide pass, and in we go. That, my friends, is exceptional service, I have to say.

We ate lunch in the palace café. I had a ham and cheese pastry and a cup of coffee. We phoned Sergei to pick us up and headed back to St. P.

Our last stop was at the Church on Spilled Blood, which I’d already seen from the outside but waited to see the interior with a guide. Katya had told me that the church was never actually used as a church. Between religion being discouraged for so long and the church being used as vegetable storage during the siege, I didn’t have very high expectations for the interior. Was I ever wrong. The interior is exceptional. I cannot come up with enough superlatives to really describe it. Imagine every inch, from floor to ceiling and back again, covered with colorful mosaics that look like frescoes. I was just completely blown away. Somehow this building was saved in the siege and not destroyed. It took some damage but nothing that wasn’t quickly fixed (comparatively speaking). That is so fortunate though, because I doubt they would have made repairing this such a high priority because of how much work that might have been. I just could not believe my eyes. It really was exquisite.

Officially that was the end of my tour services, but I had mentioned to Katya that I was looking for something special for my Dad and had had some trouble finding good quality and cost. She had just the fix for that, and we made Sergei drive through rush hour traffic to Gostiny Dvor, which is a mall downtown. We also made him circle the building until we found, discussed and thoroughly vetted the decision to buy said object (Dad’s reading now so I can’t say what it is!) Sergei’s a champ though and he took it in stride.

So the three of us said our farewells. We exchanged emails (not Hott Sergei, unfortunately) and hugs. I gave Katya an amber pendant (as we'd joked about the number of them I'd already bought this week) and a card and let her know she is always welcome with me in Manchester. I only hope someday she is able to take me up on that.

I did head back out for still more shopping. You may notice the Russian economy has experienced an upswing this week. The results of it are all in my previously half-empty suitcase. Seriously, I didn’t feel as though I have bought much but now that it’s all jammed in there, I’m thinking I’ll be curbing this habit in Moscow. Yikes.

I ate at Bliny Domik on Kolokonaya Ulitsa, quite near my hotel. I had borsch (with sour cream of course!) and the main course was meat dumplings with baked potatoes in a wrought iron skillet topped with sliced tomatoes. If you like hearty hot meals that fill you up (think: great winter supper!) then this is for you. It was great. I think all told it was 24 dollars! I also stopped at a coffee shop for a pastry before I headed back here to pack.

No idea what I’ll do for a couple hours in the morning before it’s time to head to the train. Maybe the Dostoyevsky Museum…not sure, certainly not more shopping! I’ve just finished Katya’s chocolate….sigh! This vacation thing is very cool.

On to Moscow tomorrow. I'm not sure what the internet connection is like in the next hotel. If it is seriously expensive, I'll try to just blog and upload photos but not respond to emails till I get home.

Do svidanya!

No comments: