Monday, April 29, 2013

old friends from the new world

So I'm going to try and keep things on a roll here and write a few more posts in quick succession.

This past weekend we had our first visitors from the US. Our good friends Heather and Drew. Daria had known Heather since high-school and I've known them both since the early days of college. They flew in at about 3.30am on Thursday morning so Daria and I took the metro and bus to the airport before they closed for the night and waited at the airport where interestingly a student of mine was waiting to pick up his mother and rather shocked me. Daria didn't know him and he came up out of the corner of my eye and slightly spooked me as he came to say hello. It was late enough the black shadow behind me seemed more like a bum asking for money until I looked up at the face who was speaking to me. The taxi dropped us all off at Heather and Drew's hotel, which happened to be next door to my work, and then Daria and I walked home getting home a little after 5am. I started to feel the effects of sleep deprivation about the last 15 minutes home as the adrenaline wore off. I'm sure I looked drunk, but it was really staying awake about 22 hours after already having a short-slept week.

I won't type everything we did (that should be their blog more if they have one), but we hit the famous sights like Kazanskiy Sobor, St. Isaac's (I had forgotten how great the view is from the walk around the dome - best view of the city - miles in every direction), Peter and Paul Fortress, Mars Field, the main bridges, Hermitage Museum, Peterhof (summer palace), Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood (museum more than a church, but a must see of SPB), and Marinskiy Theatre where we saw the opera Faust. It was H and D's first opera, but it seemed as though they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Some interesting things about the trip: Thursday was incredibly windy showing true SPB hospitality and Friday and Saturday welcomed them with blue skies in the morning and spring rains in the afternoon, but it did not hold us back. According to the guide book Hitler was so confident that he would take Leningrad (SPB) that he printed in advance invitations to hold his celebration at the Hotel Astoria in St. Isaac's Square. Well he didn't take the city, the Siege lasted about 3 years and earned SPB the title "Hero City" (seriously didn't he learn from Napoleon that you can't invade Russia, the winters are too brutal) , but the invitation is now held in a private collection so we couldn't view it.

The first signs of spring have shown themselves as some buds (about the size of a grain of rice) appeared and they were able to view them in Mars Field (I was at work for this excursion, but I saw buds across the street from us Sunday morning walking Karma before they left).

We ate some killer food along the way, mostly traditional Russian food found in Russian fast-food stops, hehe, but some highlights were: amazing pumpkin and almond soup (for the guys) and broccoli with brie (Daria and Heather); of course only the best of Russian pies, multiple places for some good Russian beer (Baltika brew house which apparently brews beers only there and not sold in stores - need to go back; and also SPB pub), an introduction to mead, can't escape the pyshki (fried donut things) and Daria's favorite dessert kartoshka.

Although the official opening ceremony of the fountains at Peterhof isn't for a few more weeks I guess they turned them on (probably to test them out for frozen pipes and the like) so while scaffolding covered the entire building for repairs, they were able to see the incredible fountains. And if you were going to visit the Emperor/Empress at Peterhof you best be warned of their power. Not only was the waiting room covered in paintings from a great battle Catherine II had won against Turkey displaying their power, but the artist had never seen a burning ship so one was commissioned to be burned just so that he could paint. Seriously????? We have enough wealth and power we can burn a ship because we want it painted????

Faust is quite a beautiful opera written by the French composer Gounod and debuted in 1859. Of course it is based on the German legend popularized by Marlowe in 1604 in England and 200 years later by Goethe in Germany. The opera itself was written in French, but Russian subtitles were on a screen above the stage. Although I can read French well-enough and I would probably do somewhat fine after a few days in France (it might take a while to recall certain things), I could only understand a handful of words that were sung. However, I was able to read quite a bit of the Russian ticker across the subtitle screen and I felt quite good about that.

I will also admit that I felt good that I was able to help Drew buy his Matryoshka doll (he had been hunting around for one that fit his desires) as Heather and Daria were at the hotel changing for the opera. I made a few mistakes, but spoke only Russian to the woman helping us and this was a big accomplishment for me. Drew got a beautiful doll too with each of the 7 dolls having a different scene of traditional Russia painted on it. Heather's quintessential Russian souvenir was a scarf, which given the variety of beautiful scarves here made it a difficult choice of which one to buy.

I'll say it was fantastic to see them. I haven't really longed for American communication, probably because I work with enough Americans, but it was great to see old friends and what a good pair of old friends to have here. As great as skype and like are, the internet does not replace real visitation with friends and family. I look forward to seeing the fam in a couple months.

For some pictures, I'll have to bug H and D about getting some from their camera b/c we didn't really take much as they were the shutterbugs. Not that we can't get photos from them, but that may still have been a mistake on our part.
Daria's .5 liter cup of coffee as we wait for the plane to arrive. At first I was shocked at how expensive the coffee was. Then I realized why.

Her coffee and my tea (still a giant cup for me and actually my teapot to refill was also .5 liters).

Myself, Heather, and Drew (with Daria behind the camera) at the famous horse statue of Peter I on the river embankment with St. Isaac's in the background.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Daria is ready for liftoff. (Outside a souvenir shop on Nevskiy Prospekt.

Drew and his first shot of Russian vodka in Russia. (promo ad for Russian Standard Vodka while drinking tea and having desert to wind down the day).

Heather and I are discussing how many people can fit in дворцовая площадь (Palace Square). We compared with the Big House at Michigan and are guessing at least 80,000 people can be in the Square. On the left is the archway to enter, on the right is the Hermitage (both off camera). Alexander Column is the world's tallest freestanding structure at 47.5 meters held entirely in place by gravity.

At Peterhof, the fountains work and the small columns in the back center are the entrance to the grounds. Behind me is the Summer Palace.

Daria and I with the statue of Sampson because when else will we get a picture with so few tourists around.

So while the ice has left the river in the city, a few small bergs continued to float in the canal at Peterhof. Heather got a video of one moving under the bridge in the background before it exists to the Gulf of Finland.

Three muskateers, Drew, Daria, and Heather.

A view of the Palace from the bridge that exists to the Gulf.

And who doesn't love a fountain of a pug chasing ducks (one dog, 5 ducks).

And a view from the Palace over the fountains and down the canal to the Gulf (opposite from 2 pictures  above).

Part of the gate that surrounds the Summer Palace grounds.

A neat looking house in the city of Peterhof.

And wrap it up with the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in the city of Peterhof.

Drew has much better pictures from the trip around the city.

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