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Russia, Amazing St. Petersburg, part #3 of… ? April 22, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

I’ve just got a big ‘ol smile on my face today. Don’t ask why. It probably has something to do with spending the last 3 hours with my group of Russia travel buddies, swapping photos and memories. What a super group of people, from all over the globe. Right now in this moment, I feel like one of the luckiest people alive. While I’m so perky lets get through another update before I turn melancholy and write something careless and embarrassing. Here goes.

Theresa and I had a busy and ambitious agenda for day 1 in Russia. Something you should know about me is that I don’t enjoy traveling in big groups, not one bit. Tour groups are for senior citizens and people with hip and knee replacements, not for young and adventurous college students. With Russia I made an exception, and I’m glad I did too. But whenever the opportunity presented itself to break away and get off and exploring on my own – I took it. This morning in St. Petersburg was just that opportunity since the group was planning on “site-seeing” the city by bus for 3 hours. Hmm, lets think here, do I really feel like getting back on the bus after 18+ hours of it yesterday? Obviously not. Since “the group” was only in certain cities for a short amount of time, anything less then good planning would result in missing something important – that was not an option. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was nice and off I went as fast as possible to the Hermitage with Tom and Theresa, two people who apparently share my attitude about travel. On the way, we stopped at the massive and breathtaking Kahzan Cathedral, in the middle of the city on the main street, and we just had to step inside. A simple melody of voices could be heard from somewhere in the back and sent chills down my spine, in a good way. A mass was about to begin.

The ceremony was beautiful and completely foreign to me, I had never witnessed a Russian Orthodox service in my life. People praying to and kissing icons, making the sign of the cross quite often, speaking cryptic Russian lines when directed to by the priest, it was all very eye-opening. The sun was just brilliant as we exited and walked toward Russia’s most famous museum, the Hermitage itself. Because there are no crosswalks in St. Petersburg (true story!) we had to navigate across some major roads, Russian style: move fast and assume that drivers don’t see you (a.k.a. common sense). This place (the Hermitage) is crazy. The only thing I can compare it to is from my experience in the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London, but even those (I believe) are smaller. Its been said that in order to see the Hermitage properly you need many days to explore its halls of exquisite art – we had like 2 hours. Hahaha. Are you ready for a photo extravaganza? Of course you are.

Simply majestic, simply too much. I’m not sure what I liked better, the art or the rooms the art was displayed in, probably the latter. I particularly like that last picture, Tom and Theresa looking very overwhelmed (I was too!) in one of many stunning entryways. It goes without saying I could have spent a much longer time here, but I think the rooms we breezed through gave us a good taste. Next on the list of things to do was the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (kunstkamera) just to the north of the museum, and learning of our plans Tom decided to take off on his own and meet up later. I was really excited about this museum because Peter I “The Great” created it back in the 17th century and opened it as the first ever public museum in Russia. Peter also had a special affinity for medical science and he, with the help of many physicians throughout Russia managed to collect and preserve hundreds of what he called “monsters” – children and animals born with bizarre abnormalities and defects. They wouldn’t let me take any pictures in that room, but believe me some of those examples were far out: conjoined twins (connected by head, stomach, hip, and many variations), two heads, three arms, cyclops, 3 eyes, malformations of hands and feet, and much much more. Sounds gross, but to someone interested in medicine like me these developmental abnormalities were just fascinating and I’m pretty sure Theresa had to pull me away from this room because I could have spent hours there. Next we crossed back over a big bridge…

and decided to break for St. Isaac’s cathedral, which in all honesty shouldn’t be called a church at all because it is now only a museum. Its true, they don’t have services in there anymore, and you have to pay a pricey ticket fee to get in – sort of a shame in the (former) “house of God” but I digress. It was impressive.

We even climbed the 300+ steps to the top of the cathedral and got a great view of the city on a beautiful sunny day. One of the pictures I used in Part I is from the top of St. Isaac’s, see if you can find it. From here we decided to go to the Yusupov Palace because this was the place that the infamous Rasputin was assassinated, and the guidebook said it was worth taking the tour so we headed out there. On the way we ran into a great little cafe and being the spontaneous person I am stopped for, what else? Fika! I’ve really become a Swede it seems.

Ahh, traditional Russian baked goods. See my apple cake like thing on the left? It had like yellow sauce on it that looked like Indian curry, but I swear it was not and was delicious. The people inside were really nice and the price was right, in fact we had such a good time just relaxing and taking a break from all the walking that we noticed we only had a short time left before the palace closed. Uh oh. So my Lonely Planet guide book said a tour started at 5:15 pm, but when we got to the palace not only did they not have the tour but they were about to close in like 5 minutes, giving us no time to see the palace at all. Ghetto!! Lonely Planet I hate you right now, but in all honesty I “could” have called ahead of time to confirm tour times…it seems my planning wasn’t as perfect as I thought. Theresa had a great attitude about my screw up (thx!) and we moved on to the Church of Spilled Blood. It was on this site that Tsar Alexander II was assassinated (more correctly blown up) in 1881 and the church was built to honor him. Wow, thats not 1, not 2, but 3 impressive churches in one day. Busy. Like the rest of the churches we saw this place was rich with icons, murals and gold gold gold.

From here we went back into the center of town and found a great little cafe overlooking the street below. Tom rejoined us and he described all the wonderful things he had seen throughout the day. We ordered French press coffee and some pancakes with poppy seeds (Mohn auf Deutsch).

We really needed to take a rest off of our feet and everyone enjoyed the caffeine pick-me-up. Thats about it for our day in St. Petersburg, from the cafe we walked back to the Hermitage where our bus was waiting and we began our long overnight journey to the capital, Moscow, together. It wasn’t long before we were dreaming sweet dreams of Lenin and revolution…stay tuned.



1. K - April 22, 2007

Amazing photos, I feel as if I was there.

2. Mark - April 23, 2007

Okay, third to last picture is spectacular, and the last one is making me hungry. I’m going home to eat.

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