St. Petersburg, Russia


Wow, where to begin? Well first of all, I’m in Russia. St. Petersburg, to be exact. I arrived yesterday, after flying from Burlington to New York (where I spent my 7 hour layover visiting some friends in the city), then from New York to Paris (no, I didn’t get to see the city, but my luggage spent an extra night there) and finally, Paris to St. Petersburg. Somehow I managed to get a first class ticket, thanks to a very helpful Delta agent, so my flight over was actually very enjoyable. I had my own 12 inch TV screen to watch movies and shows on. I had lots of storage space to stow my bags, leg room galore, my own coat hangar, an overnight kit with a toothbrush, eye cover, comb, and socks. On my seat were a nice thick blanket and soft pillow and complimentary champagne was served upon takeoff. How can I go back to economy class now (which, on this aircraft, was on the lower deck. It was a double-decker plane!)? And the best part was, my seat reclined to a completely vertical position! I could even roll over onto my side! And surprisingly, the food was great!

But reality hit when I stepped off the plane in St. Petersburg. I had to fill out 6, yes 6, forms in order to locate my lost luggage and arrange for the airport to drop it off at my hotel. Then, after clearing customs, which was amazingly quick and easy despite the nightmare I went through to get my visa, I changed some money into Russian rubles, grabbed a taxi, and I was on my way. When I left the airport and caught my first glimpse of Russia from the ground, I felt sort of giddy. I have traveled much of Southeast Asia and Central America and some of Africa, but I haven’t had much experience with Europe. It felt so different!

It was about an hour ride to the center of St. Petersburg where my hotel was, so I sat back, enjoyed the view, and shared sunflower seeds with my taxi driver, who spoke no English. As we got closer, though, I began to see why everyone says St. Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad) is so beautiful. It is, in a very European sense. The architecture is very colonial and the buildings a lined up in a razor straight line along the streets. Each block is a different, but uniformed, style in a rather paradoxical sense. I couldn’t read anything, since it was all in Russian, but cafes and restaurants lined the streets and boats chugged up and down the narrow river that runs through the center of the city. It took me awhile to realize what was missing. Then I realized, there are no trees! At least along the streets and sidewalks. But there are large areas designated as parks and beautiful gardens and these are interspersed frequently throughout the city. The city is still enchanting, though, despite its lack of roadside greenery. All the buildings are painted bright colors (to stave away depression during the 250 days of cloud cover) and it is so immaculate (both in – relative – cleanliness and in city planning) that I didn’t notice at first that everything was concrete. It just looks right!

As we turned a corner and into the semi-circle entryway of The Grand Hotel Europe, I knew I wasn’t staying in an average hotel. In fact, The Grand Hotel Europe is the finest in the city, the choice for celebrities and VIPs around the globe. Somehow I’m not surprised that it’s also the choice for Lindblad’s St. Petersburg sojourn.

I checked into my room in the very fancy lobby and went one flight up to room 244. The room itself is nice, of course, but the beds are spectacular. I wanted to lie down and submerge myself in the pillows and down blanket, but I was too eager to explore
the rest of the hotel and the surrounding vicinity. I also wanted to change my clothes, but since that wasn’t an option, I called housekeeping for a toothbrush and toothpaste and brushed my teeth instead.

The Grand Hotel Europe is enormous, with 5 (or more) restaurants, a chocolate shop and numerous boutiques. I wandered around for a bit, admiring the paintings and feeling slightly underdressed, then headed outside to explore the streets. I’m forever grateful that I got my dad’s sense of direction because the Russian maps made no sense to me. I couldn’t even pronounce the street names. I wandered through a small park with a statue (maybe Lenin?) then followed a winding street toward the golden onion domes that I spied over the top of a nearby building. The rest of the structure came into view shortly and I stood in awe over its splendor and grandiose. It was some sort of church, but every surface was covered in colorful paintings and detailed artwork. The architecture was amazing, with towers ending in gilded onion domes and intricately carved stonework on every window, door, overhang, and corner. After taking about 100 photos, I moved on to an adjoining park and meandered along the gravel pathways toward the river.

By that time, it was getting late, so I retraced my steps and headed back to the hotel, but not before stopping in at a (Russian) bookstore.

Dinner that night was in the banquet hall, where I met some of the other Lindblad travelers (some I knew!) and explained 20 times that yes, I work for Lindblad, but no I’m not working this trip! Then it was bedtime where I finally got to enjoy the ultra-comfortable bed and down blanket.

We have two more full days in St. Petersburg and I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer! Then it’s on to the ship for 10 more days and 7 additional Baltic countries.

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