Lost in St. Petersburg. Sort of.


Ok, so going way back to the 8th of September (happy birthday, mom), which is where I left off, it was our second full day in St. Petersburg. September 8th is an important date for the Russians because it’s the 70th anniversary marking the beginning of the siege on Russia by the Germans at the start of the second World War. The war lasted three years, from 1941 to 1945 and in that time thousands and thousands of Russians died from starvation, bombs, and from the front line. Throughout the day we saw bouquets of flowers, ribbons, and other memorabilia that symbolized the country’s (and it’s people) remembrance of hard times.

Our destination for the morning was the Hermitage and the Winter Palace that overlooks the Neva River. Another residence of Catherine and her royal family, the Winter Palace is a gigantic edifice of columns, windows, carved mouldings, and Roman statues ringing the perimeters of the roof. We arrived early, before the crowds, and were guided from one ornate room to another all the while learning about the history of Catherine, Peter the Great, and other members of the royal family. What struck me the most was how carefully made everything was. All the paintings, glasses, vases, silk wall coverings, beds, chairs, etc… were all handmade and hand-carved. It showed the wealth of the family, but also their appreciation for good handicrafts. Today we can go to Walmart or Target and pick up a cheap imitation. Where has our appreciation for the finer things in life gone?

After finishing with the Winter Palace tour we moved on to the Hermitage, which is actually attached to the Palace. The Hermitage is now used as an art gallery and houses thousands of pieces of art and artifacts from around the world. Most impressive, perhaps, is its collection of paintings from famous artists. We slowly made our way through the multitude of rooms, looking at pieces from the likes of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Picasso, Monet, Giovanni, and many others that I can’t remember. I don’t consider myself a particularly big art lover, but this was impressive, especially in the confines of the beautifully renovated Hermitage. My favorite artist? Rembrandt, hands down.

After the Winter Palace, we loaded back onto the busses and headed to a restaurant for lunch. As we were walking down the street, one girl fell behind and I went back to see if she was ok. She said she felt nauseous and needed a minute to recover, so I stayed with here. When she was ready to continue on, we turned the corner and… everyone was gone. We had no idea where they went. So, for the next hour, we walked up and down the streets, knowing they couldn’t have gone far. 148 people for :)$- sake! In the end, we got separated (she stopped to look at a map, I turned a corner, and by the time I went back she was gone). I went to a hotel where the receptionist was very gracious about calling our hotel, getting in touch with someone from Lindblad, having them come over in a car, picking me up, and reuniting me with the rest of the group. I knew where I was and could have found my way back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to miss the afternoon activities which would be taking place right after lunch. I didn’t see Jennifer again until the next morning and apparently she had taken a cab back to the hotel. It was rather ridiculous. And we didn’t get lunch.

Anyway, moving on. For the afternoon we had a city tour around St. Petersburg by bus, stopping off at different site to snap a photo. For the most part I’m not a fan of bus tours, but this was a great way to see the city in a short amount of time. Among other sights, we saw Peter and Paul’s fortress, the Winter Palace from across the river, and the beautiful St. Isaac’s cathedral with a gold dome and numerous handmade tile mosaics gracing the walls.

Then it was back to the hotel for a rest before dinner. I ended up dining with three other women at a rooftop restaurant not far from the hotel called Terraza. We sat outside on wicker chairs with blankets for our legs and a nice view of the gold dome atop St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

It was a nice last evening to our brief, but highly enjoyable visit to St. Petersburg. And tomorrow we would be embarking the National Geographic Explorer!

September 9th
After enjoying the extensive breakfast buffet at The Grand Hotel Europe one last time, we gathered our things and boarded the busses that would take us to the Grand Palace. Another elaborate residence for the royal family, the Grand Palace was just as stunning as our other visits. After our tour through the rooms, we moved outside for a walk around the Palace grounds. Known for its fountains, we passed many pools, waterfalls, and intricately carved fountains. Some were even hidden or triggered by movement – an early century form of entertainment – so several of us got intermittently wet.

To get back into the city of St. Petersburg rather than taking a bus, we took hydrofoil boats across the river. I’m not 100% sure how they work, but somehow the boats are elevated off the water and they move by pushing the water underneath the hollowed out bottom.

We ate lunch at a pub and brewery then it was time to listen to former President Mikhail Gorbachev give a talk (just for us) about the history and future of the USA and Russia. Not knowing much about our history, I found it extremely interesting and I was glad to hear Gorbachev state his side of the story rather than say things that Americans want to hear. There were even a few people vocally expressing their objections, which I thought was rude. The main point that I took away was the fact that after the Cold War the United States declared victory when really (as Gorbachev said) it was a peace-driven negotiation between the two countries to reduce nuclear weapons. This declaration hurt Russia because it made them seem like the bad guys to the rest of the world and the US as the superpower.

Gorbachev had a plane to catch, so he wrapped things up and left us with one last thought. He said “Things have to change in order for world to become a better place.” This means relations between countries, mentality within countries, and the way we perceive and treat our own environment. And that change can’t happen unless we really want it.

We slowly filed out of the auditorium and boarded the busses one final time. We were headed to our home for the next 10 days, the National Geographic Explorer, which will take us to multiple countries along the the Baltic Sea and introduce us to new sights and foreign cultures. Needless to say, I was very excited! It was sad to leave St. Petersburg and Russia because I felt like I had just begun to understand it, but I also couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us.

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