Tuesday, October 29, 2013

my very late start to life in the LA area

So, I promised my former students that I would write about life in the LA area, and I am ashamed to say that I have yet to do so despite the fact that I have lived here for almost 3 months. I am also not changing the name of my blog, even though it is no longer "the Adventures of a Tahoe Native in the Motherland." Or is it? Well, it's certainly not De Karelia (that is about Karelia or even the non-Karelia parts of Russia), and while normally Motherland applies to Russia, one might say that I am still in the Motherland because it is MY motherland, and actually with a stronger double entendre, it's actually my mother's land. Yes, that is right, I am living in the house that my mother grew up in. My grandparents moved into this house in 1957 when my mother was 8 years old and while the town has changed a lot (seriously too much to describe for my purpose here, but it's almost the change of a small village to a full suburban community, from small roads to highways, and from a small market to large chain grocery stores. Oh, and the addition of lots of schools, churches, shops, etc), so despite the changes over 56 years, this is the land that my mother grew up in. Oh, and I'm keeping tahodoga because that is also still appropriate.

That said, I am writing about 3 months worth of material into one blog post. That is not to say that this will be the end of my writing of my starting time here, since I may return to some subjects and events, but I will cover the basics in this single post.

When we first arrived, Daria and I still only had the things we brought from Russia, with non of our belongings that we had left behind and we had to buy at least basic provisions for the animals and ourselves, but fortunately we moved into my grandma's house. Daria left immediately after arriving here (2 days) to go to Hawaii for a psychology conference, and I was left to try and settle in, set up internet (because that had never been installed here), and unpack. In a similar situation to Russia, we had to preserve the way of some things, but were allowed to change some other things to fit our needs. We are living in one room, one that one belonged to 2 of my uncles when they grew up here, but have free roaming over the house. I have actually taken pictures (about 6 weeks ago) specifically for a blog post, but have not done it yet, so you'll all see the house later when I do a picture posting.

We also had to buy a car, so during Daria's time in Hawaii I searched for a car and when she returned we test-drove a couple models and bought ourselves a Toyota Prius C. 2 days after we bought the car we drove up to my parents' house in Minden, Nevada (about 8 hours away, 430 miles or 692 kilometers). While there we attended a friend's wedding, and then unpacked a lot of things to decide what we would need, re-pack the rest to store for another year, and then we packed both my parents' car and our car and the 4 of us drove back to Agoura Hills, CA (where we live, you can look it up on maps.google.com but it won't let me link to it), near Los Angeles. My parents stayed a few days to help clean parts of the house and help us unpack our things.

Daria started her internship in the middle of August (I don't remember the date at the moment), while I still continue to look for full-time employment. I do have a job teaching speech and debate to middle schoolers for a couple hours a week, but I have not started it yet, nor is it very much. I am also trying to substitute teach in the schools as I seek other opportunities, but there are lots of frustrations and things that are in my way of getting a job that I do not feel I want to discuss in this post. Perhaps I will in another, or perhaps I won't. I don't know.

Anyway, Daria drives to central LA for work about 90 minutes each way, mostly in traffic, and it's in a car. This is why good public transportation is nice. I could read and walk and do things while I commuted to work (and my commute in SPB was only 40-45 minutes, but still). Daria listens to the radio and sometimes audio books, but it's still not the same.

When I am not spending my time trying to find a job or do job-related things, I help out my grandmother, who is 87 years old, by doing work in the yard (trimming trees, mowing the lawn, watering the grass, raking up leaves, etc), sometimes running errands for her to the post office or the grocery store, sometimes driving her to play cards with other retired women in the community (or to join some seniors on a bus trip for to Las Vegas -3 days- about a month ago), cooking some of the food, and other various activities. And sometimes I just sit and talk with her about things in the news, her life, or some philosophical questions.

I will say that at the beginning she and I actually had quite a few arguments. It wasn't always a nice, rosy day (for you Russians rosy in this sense means 'good;' we also use 'peachy'). At the beginning we argued at least 5 times a week about trivial things, such as: I don't know how to do dishes (even though I've washed dishes since I was 8 or 9, just not the manner that she likes them done), or I'm moving books/boxes and she wants them in a certain place, or I can't put food in the fridge correctly. For the most part the arguments were us adjusting to a new space and her adjusting to having people in the house again (it has been 6 years since my grandpa died, and even then it was still done according to her way for many decades before that). A big argument also came when we tried to get the internet installed, which we did, but it was difficult because my grandmother does not like technology. She has never had a TV. But now, we argue very rarely as we've all gotten more used to each other, and in fact we often have quite pleasant conversations about a variety of topics.

As for things that we've done, well, Daria and I went to the beach quite a bit on the weekends when it was still warm out (I think 7 or 8 weekends, but I don't honestly remember). And we did normal beachy things like sunbathe, swim, bodyboard, and play common SoCal beach sports like one with a ball that I do not know the name, but we each have a paddle and we hit a ball back and forth. And honestly it's still fairly warm, certainly compared to Russia, but not always beach weather (although I think yesterday was). We also went to see a concert of some favorite punk bands like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise, and a few others (Sergei, if you read this, I'm still sad that I did not see Offspring with you in SPB, but I saw them and I thought of you). We have gone to the boardwalk in Santa Monica and rode a Ferris Wheel (my Tuesday/Thursday Int and then Upper Int class better remember what I told them about the Ferris Wheel on this one), the LA County Fair where we saw and petted lots of animals like cows, sheep, goats, pigs (and a piglet race which was both fun and extremely cute) and Daria milked a goat. My best friend Greg came down from Davis, CA in August and he and I went beer tasting at one of our favorite breweries and then went to a concert for Queens of the Stone Age. About 8 days ago, Daria and I met with some friends for Oktoberfest and enjoyed some wonderful German food and beer, and of course we enjoyed spending time with old friends. I think that covers the big events. And I will admit that on most Saturdays I watch college football, especially the University of Michigan (my alma mater) games, one of which we also met up with some old friends (high school for Daria and college for me). The last big event was about 3 weeks ago, where I went back up to my parents for a Church Convention (as I am active in the Episcopal Church - the American branch of the Church of England) in Nevada.

Speaking of Church things, I have also been participating in a 6 week program on Tuesday evenings (3 done, 3 more) for young adults in the Church that has been fantastic. And I started a program at my local church called Theology on Tap (I stole the name from others) where we meet once a month in a bar and discuss theological issues. Our first meeting was this past Wednesday and it was a lot of fun (but hey, my former students should know that I like to have good discussions in a bar). 

As to some emotional things about being here, well I only have a few to touch on. Overall I truly and honestly miss Russia. I miss the people, the culture, the atmosphere, and the weather. I will admit, southern California is better than I had expected, and the autumn is actually turning out ok (I fed Karma  in the middle of this post and went outside for a bit and it actually smelled like autumn which was nice), but I still actually prefer SPB to here. The beer is better here, and while expensive, the good stuff is still cheaper than there; and the Mexican food is better here (oh it is soooooooo delicious). I guess, there are just differences, and I must get used to that. And both places have their positives and their negatives. And perhaps because I had a job there, and I'm still looking for one here, that affects me. But to finish the emotions, yes, SoCal is better than I had anticipated. I do like it better than I thought, and there's lots of things to appreciate. I have done a lot of things, and can enjoy nature, go hiking, go swimming, and see old friends. But I miss SPB too. I'm torn. I will say that today I'm more on the missing Russia side too, so that might affect my post. I saw too many things over the weekend/today on facebook that made me miss Russia.

For those who do not have facebook, today is also the day that Daria successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, so thank you to those who helped with the study, and thanks to those who did not help, but are still awesome because we love you all. It's also kinda fun because 43 years ago on this day, my dad was ordained a priest (that's more for me when I re-read than for you).

Well, I think that's all for now, but now that I've broken what was holding me back from writing, I hope to write more and to write it soon. I miss you all. 

the family in moscow

Notice written on Oct. 28th: I believe this post is unfinished. When I go back to read them I may make additional statements in a new post to finish this. But I don't know because I haven't read it yet.

The family in Moscow:

We arrived relatively early in Moscow on Tuesday the 16th, I believe around 7 or 7.30. On Monday night some of us had coffee or tea and unlike other experiences of us going to the carriage conductor and purchasing it, he offered as we were sitting in the compartment and brought it to us. He hesitated as he left and we wondered whether or not his hesitation was caused by waiting for a tip or not (we didn’t know if we should tip or not), but he left quickly enough that we couldn’t react. In the morning again offered some coffee and tea, but as I was waiting in line for the bathroom, I noticed that the sign next to the kitchenette did in fact state it was for sale. He wasn’t waiting for a tip, but for the payment. He again brought us our drinks, which was nice unlike the Karelia trip where we had to walk back and forth, but we also paid him for both the previous night’s drinks and the morning’s drinks. Another difference between the two trips is that we had nighttime snacks and then breakfast boxes.

Construction has changed the train station from when I was there last August and the entrance to the metro was in a different place, but we quickly found our way, and the police were actually quite helpful in answering my question even though last summer I had been told that they different than American police and don’t often help people with questions of that sort. When I ordered the metro tokens/pass (it’s all on a paper card now) they put them all on the one card and I panicked a little thinking that the card won’t work multiple times for entrance (in SPB I can’t do multiple charges on my single person card). Fortunately we were able to all use the one card, although I had to be urged to ask someone if that was possible.

More adventures came as we exited the metro and couldn’t find the hotel, which was supposed to be right near the metro. We walked into one hotel and asked and they told us it was the giant building that looked similar right across the street (probably once one hotel in two buildings, but was now two different hotels), but lacked the signage on front to tell us so. Once we established the location it’s quite easy to figure out where to go, but if you have 10 or more floors in your hotel, it would be good to have a sign out front. The hotel itself was comfortable and pleasant (and I even stayed for free because we only registered the 4 of them and I slept on the floor on a bed made of blankets). Some of us took some morning naps. Yes, we wanted to see the city, but I think everyone was tired, them after a long time travelling, me after burning the candle at both ends, and all of us for staying up late playing cards on the train.

Fast forward through the morning and into the afternoon. We went to the Kosmonaut Museum (Air and Space, whatever you want to call it). It was really neat to see Belka and Strelka (the actual dogs thanks to the technology of taxidermy), some replicas of satellites and other various vessels, even on a scale of 1:1, and some of the original suits worn by some of the original cosmonauts. And that was just the first room. Ok, upon entering the room I honestly thought that was everything and it was quite cool, but who knew how big this place was and how deep underground it went. By now, it definitely is more than just the USSR/Russian Cosmonauts because they had a lot on the international front of air and space exploration. There was: an entire wall and room for the female astronauts and cosmonauts, suits from different people and different time periods; an exhibit on every country who has sent a person to space, when that happened, etc (and for first satellite, first this, or first that . . .); a gift from President Nixon to the USSR about the USSR’s accomplishments, an awesome video about different parts of the history of space exploration; different modules and rockets used and what their purposes were; just totally awesome. I don’t think I would have chosen to go there on my own, but I’m quite glad I went, and now I highly recommend it for anyone who goes to Moscow. As for the video, so my mom ended up seeing it, and it’s not on a regular schedule so I ended up asking if they would show it as we were getting ready to leave. Because I asked, after the technicians agreed, the C (museum) ushered other people into the theatre and we had a large group able to watch the film.

We went from the Air and Space Museum to Moscow State University, one of the largest single building universities in the world. It inhabits one of Stalin’s gigantic structures and Matt was just absolutely in love with the building. We tried to go in, but the guards wouldn’t let us through without proper documents and he had a friendly laugh as he told us no. The building is just absolutely magnificent and the view from the ground (on top of a hill) has a gorgeous view of Moscow. I’m sure if you get to one of the higher floors in the building it just gets better and better. I also laughed to myself during this time as I recalled one of my Russian lessons that talked about the university and the hill and the breathtaking view of the city. I was able to experience it that afternoon and it is absolutely wonderful.

We each got dinner at different kiosk stands near there, walked back to the metro (one stop up from where we exited), which is under the bridge that the cars drive on, but over the river. Remarkable. We had a little trouble finding our way down the hill to the entrance though, asked a couple in a car, and they had no idea, but he tried to find it on his iphone to no avail. Eventually we got there and we did have a pleasant stroll through the park on the way. We also saw the first example I’ve seen in Russia of divided waste bins (one for paper, one for bottles/cans, one for trash, and one for green waste). I don’t know how well used they are, but they were there in the park.

Not a bad day, for day one in Moscow.

Wednesday, the 17th.

the return from Karelia and more SPB

The return from Karelia and more of St. Petersburg:

Written July 29th.

Our train arrived too late in the evening to do much other than get a quick bite to eat and re-check everyone into the hotel. The hotel changed the room/s from where the family stayed the first few nights and this caused a few problems. Not the changing of the room so much as the new room itself. What had been two full rooms connected with a door and sharing one bathroom (not exactly ideal for 4 adults to begin with, but the rooms were spacious and I think other than the shared bath, were nice), now became a “bedroom” with a “living room” which had a couch that unfolded into a not so comfortable bed (and both rooms much smaller than the previous set), another shared, smaller bathroom, and AC that didn’t work, but you couldn’t open the window either because it was located above the noisy street instead of the previous room’s “quiet street.” The family dealt with it for one night only because it was so late, but reasonably demanded a change for the last night in SPB. The room might have been acceptable for a single family of 4 with two parents and two small children who were only visiting SPB and therefore weren’t lugging around large suitcases from all over Europe. It was not acceptable, and reasonably so, for 4 fully grown adults, especially for a cross-continental trip. The last night, they had two completely separate rooms each with their own bathroom. I didn’t stay there, but overall I would like to say that I think the hotel was quite nice. It was easy to find, had a good café downstairs, good breakfasts according to the fam, and even though they shared the bathroom, it was quite a luxurious bathroom with a shower that has jets to propel water at you.

Sunday, July 14th, we went to Alexander Nevsky Lavra and both experienced the Lavra in and of itself, but also we somewhat participated in the church service. We were late and we left early, but were there for most of it (and since we can’t take communion, we didn’t need to stay for that). Dad bought a couple CDs of the music, hopefully good stuff sung by the monks there, but I don’t know how the CDs turned out and since there weren’t great descriptions on the cases (at least that I could read) I don’t really know. The family decided to forego entering the “Artist’s Cemetery” located at the Lavra since it was 200 rubles a person (1,000 total for 5 people which would be about $30). I don’t know if it would have been worth their going in, but it is a fascinating cemetery with people like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and well, here, you can read about it. (tag link).

We left the Lavra and hopped on a bus to go from one end of Nevsky Prospekt to the other to actually see the Hermitage this time. Fortunately my Russian is good enough to pick up on the announcement of the conductor (the person who walks up and down the bus taking your money – a great way to expedite getting passengers on and off instead of forming a line so that everyone puts money into a machine). On account of construction – which I knew about and forgot – Nevsky was closed on the weekends (open for weekday work traffic). We quickly hopped off and took the metro, which also made us walk a little more (and although everyone survived the trip, we were trying to limit the walking – especially since we had museums to visit – since mom, dad, and Erik had been walking for nearly a month straight). This however, enabled us to stop and eat some pyshki – delicious fried dough/donut type things) and I showed them all a quick taste of mead. We also learned from the previous attempt at the Hermitage that one is able to skip a long line by purchasing tickets online. We got to the Hermitage and they all took their own paths around the museum while I went home (bus would have been great instead of me walking all the way back to the metro and then walking from our metro home too. Alas).

Daria and I met them outside, where each told stories of things they liked about the museum, such as the peacock clock, some of the Da Vinci stuff (Matt was sad he missed that section, but he also enjoyed what he saw). I honestly don’t remember what each said they liked best, so if they read, I welcome their comments below (ahem, you can write it as anonymous without making an account and just sign your name in the comment box – actually, dear family that visited, please feel free to write some of your own things in all the posts about the trip).

We went to Balitka Brewery for dinner (celebrating my birthday a few days early) and I made another poor decision (I was responsible for a few poor decisions throughout this trip, I’m telling you). While I wanted to go there, the food wasn’t bad, but wasn’t that great and they were missing quite a bit of what we wanted so we had to keep guessing on our orders. Also, half the beer selection was gone. I could have made the decision to leave and find someplace new, and probably should have, but I didn’t and so we stayed with a mediocre meal and mediocre beer. At least it was quiet and the company of family was good.

After dinner Erik, Matt, and I climbed up to the top of the dome of St. Isaac’s, while mom and Daria went into the museum of St. Isaac’s, and dad sat on the steps of St. Isaac’s to listen to the opera that was being played on a portable, special event stage in the middle of St. Isaac’s Square. We ended the evening with a relaxing canal tour.

Monday, July 15th was a much slower day. We took our time getting things ready in the morning and then everyone came over for a quick visit of the apartment (yeah, the final day in SPB and I finally show them where we have lived the last year). There I showed them the самогон, samogon, better known as moonshine to you Americans that one of my students gave me for New Years. I had saved a little bit to share with my family. The mixed reactions were priceless. I think it was 2 and 2 of who liked it and who didn’t, but I don’t remember (Erik and dad yes, mom and Matt no????? Help! I don’t know). Although Daria had the best face, even though she’s tried it before, dad wishes he had a picture of it. And since I had never offered any to Daria’s grandpa before I offered him some. I thought he’d take a small sip out of the cup that everyone was sharing, but he gulped the whole thing down (probably less than a shot left in the cut or maybe about a shot, but still, I wasn’t expecting that) and said, mmmm.

We ate shwarma for lunch just outside of where we needed to board the bus out to Peterhof (Petergof), the Summer Palace. ACCIDENT we enjoyed a nice stroll through the gardens and the company of some beautiful golden fountains among other water spewing mechanisms also known as fountains but lack the modifier golden. I think one of the more memorable parts of this day was Matt finding a good souvenir for his brother Charles. Matt had been struggling finding presents for some people and while most of the souvenirs at the various stands were the same, one stand had a set of an SPB pint glass and 6 shot glasses. As soon as Matt saw it he bought it. We took the boat back on the return trip and I fell asleep and missed all of it. Back in the city, we did a little more souvenir shopping, ate one final dinner at the cafeteria place (I should just tell you the name Shelkunchik and that in Russian it’s called a stolovaya). This place was great and was good for us because we could each easily get what we want, no hassle with menus, and is cheap with its own delicious homebrew beer.

Daria remained in SPB, but Monday night the 5 of us caught an overnight train to Moscow. We stayed up a little late on the train playing some cards, enjoying some more Scotch (hey I had to finish off all the little bottles – side note about the Scotch in case you don’t remember from previous posts – I had two bottles that I brought with me. These I did not need to share because my family has had them and can easily be had again in the US. I had a bottle of Dewars 12 year blend that Daria’s dad gave me last year for my birthday and a bottle of Macallans 15 year single malt that my company students gave me for New Years. These latter two bottles are what I wanted to share with my family because they’re pricier than what we normally get and they’re new to us so of course I need to share the love. I packed the Balvenie 21 year and my Teacher’s Blend that students gave me at the end of the year and those will be tried here in the US). Dad also smuggled (ok it was legal, but smuggled sounds cooler) some Oban 14 in a small flask. We finished my Dewars and the Oban on the train. I then used the flask, after rinsing and drying, to send the moonshine back so that some people can try that in the States.

Since there were 5 of us and only 4 beds in a compartment, I had to wake up my compartment mates at about 1 or 1.30 am since they locked the door on me despite the fact that I told them I would be coming in late and was merely playing cards with my family. This train was the best train of the whole time with the family. Going to Karelia, we had 6 beds, but no doors on the “compartments” and 2 beds were against the aisle wall. Not bad and I’d happily do that type of train again, but not private either. Here the 6 of us were together in “one space.” We had the same type of train on the way back, but now all 6 of us were on the aisle wall so we didn’t share “one space.” Going to Moscow 4 shared one room and I was next door. Erik and I on the way back from Moscow had a similar compartment train, but it was about 30 years older than the one on the way to Moscow. More on that train later.

before the Karelia post, family still in SPB

Notice written on Oct. 28th: Oops I made a mistake in the order and put another one first. This looks like it should come before.

Old writing:

The following few blogs are written accounts of the time with the family. The pictures will come in a second series, and hopefully will add more details to the trip. They are also all quite lengthy and the style follows the log of events and has less colorful language than some previous posts. I hope that my pictures in the second series will add and make the tale more exciting.

Family arrived:

Written 13 July 2013 on the train from Belomorsk to SPB with some edits from Monday the 29th.

On Friday the 5th my parents and my brother arrived in the evening on a bus from Tallinn. The first evening was basically getting them settled into the hotel and getting a bite to eat.

Saturday was the first real adventure as we went out to Lisiy Nos to visit Daria’s mom’s mom and we had a feast in her garden. We grilled some shashlik, had a salad made with a mix of vegetables from the store and the garden, and ate some fresh berries and cherries out of the garden. We were joined for the feast by Daria’s cousin Masha and her daughter Karina, as well as by Daria’s and Masha’s childhood friend Anna and her mom. Anna currently resides in Boston working at MIT on her post-doc, so she was a good companion with whom my family could speak English. Both families were glad to meet each other after so long, but the conversation largely took place through interpretation. However, it appeared as though it was a good conversation. After the meal we also ventured out to the Gulf thinking that we might get a little bit of wading done in the shallow waters, but a strong wind was blowing some sewage onto shore and deterred people from entering the water. We quickly returned to the pleasant atmosphere of the garden where we just relaxed talked some more and had some dessert. My mom tried to help clean things up, but grandma was quick to rebuke her and make her sit and relax, as the hosts would take care of the cleaning up. When we returned to the city in the evening, we walked through Lenin Square with the musical fountains, across the Neva, past the church Daria where was baptized and through the neighborhood home.

Sunday was another adventure to the dacha, but this time to Gorkovskoe to Daria’s dad’s parents. Here there was more conversation since Daria’s grandpa speaks English quite well, and I must say I learned that her grandma speaks English much better than I had known/thought as evidenced by a good conversation between her and my mom. One of the most memorable moments was at our feast, Daria’s grandma said that Karma was her best friend and that she was going to miss her when we return to LA. They apparently get on quite well together when the rest of us are out of the apartment. Our feast here included the famed kvas (Nikola, who has the best ad/slogan I can think of – Nikola the brand is “not cola” when you change the stress and make it two words). In Gorkovskoe we ventured into the forest and my parents were able to see the abundance of blueberries and at least where mushroom picking happens even if we didn’t pick any. We also took a longer trek than we thought to the lake (we didn’t know how long the walk was since we always bike) to go swimming, but it was raining the whole time. Mom decided to stay ashore even though she put her suit on at the house. Grandpa decided he was too lazy to change in the rain, but Erik, Daria, and I all went for a swim in the rain while the “adults” stayed ashore and chatted. Once again, while the water didn’t “cooperate” with our plans, but a good time was had by all, and my family got to see the idyllic summer houses that I love so much.

Monday, we actually ventured into the city after my parents and brother joined me for Karma’s morning walk. I took my parents on a tour of a couple churches in the morning starting with the restoration of St. Fyodor’s (Theodore), which is almost complete, but is quite different from other churches because of its lack of dome and low ceilings which appear more western/gothic with the crossed-ribbed arches. We also saw St. Vladimir’s near the home of Dostoevsky (and at both churches I taught my family how to properly enter and cross themselves) before we took a stroll down Nevskiy Prospekt. They saw many famous sights including Anichkov Bridge with the four statues of the taming of a horse, the square and statue of Catherine the Great, Gostiniy Dvor, and Kazanskiy Cathedral. Daria met up with us for lunch at the pie place and took my parents and brother to the Russian Museum where they could see many works of art from Russian artists. I, on the other hand, went to the airport to meet my cousin Matt arriving from Colorado. Upon his arrival I hastily took him back to the hotel to get checked-in whereupon I quickly left to administer the final test of my intermediate class (and my final workday) as everyone else got ready and went to the ballet of Anna Karenina at the Marinskiy. They apparently thoroughly enjoyed both the museum and the ballet as their experience of the “Royal Theatre” while I was busy earning my last rubles. I had a quick drink with two of my students who could do a drink upon short notice as I waited for the ballet to end so that I could meet up with the family. I also made the poor decision this night to be the night to enjoy a quick nip of Scotch since we hadn’t done so up to that point. We were all really exhausted, but I wanted a nip so I pulled out the Macallan 15 year. It was delicious and of course it was nice to have some Scotch with the family after so long, but I could have chosen a better timing than midnight or so on Monday night when everyone was already crashing for the night.

Tuesday morning we went out to Savior on Spilled Blood. I had forgotten the awe-inspiring mosaics inside the museum. The museum has never actually been a functioning church although it was built in the style of classical Russian churches (as part of Alexander III’s attempt to restore a conservative faith instead of the 19th century modern faith). It is so named because it is the site of the assassination of Alexander II, although it also has the name of The Church of the Resurrection of Christ. It miraculously survived the Siege during WWII with only taking a small bombing, although many of the mosaics did have to be restored after the war.

Our lunch was a little less exciting since what was supposed to be a quick lunch turned into a long sit down. This drastically changed plans of an afternoon at the Hermitage, which is now scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) and Sunday’s plans are bumped to Monday and Monday’s plans happened last Tuesday. While we visited a little of Palace Square, we crossed Palace bridge to Vasilovskiy Island, and a couple sights on the Strelka (the arrowhead shaped point on the island), such as the pillars representing the 4 rivers of Russia. This was followed by heading to Peter and Paul Fortress, visiting Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the tombs of the Tsars are located, including Peter the Great. Peter had chose that site for his burial, but since he died before they really broke ground to build the cathedral, they had to quickly built a wooden chapel, bless it, bury him, and then construct the cathedral around this chapel before disassembling the wooden chapel.

Since Daria and I had planned on packing for our excursion to Karelia while they visited the Hermitage, Daria returned home while I continued the tour of places like Mars Field and the Eternal Flame Memorial, seeing the outside of the Summer Gardens, and the outside of Michael’s Castle, where a member of the royal family (Alexander III I think??) who was paranoid of being assassinated in the Winter Palace so he built himself his own castle, but was assassinated anyway. We went to dinner at the cafeteria-styled restaurant that we ate at on Friday, before quickly returning to gather our things (and for me to pack) so that we could head to the train station and start the Karelian excursion.

Random fun facts of the city tour/ the past few days so far include using the deepest metro system in the world as it has to go under all the marsh land; going into the deepest station in this system; seeing other neat stations in the system, such as the golden chainmail links of Alexander Nevskiy station (fitting of the man himself). Well, ok, that’s really just about the metro, but I wanted to share with you what they got. Daria and I also burnt the midnight oil, or better yet, the candle at both ends during these few days as we routinely did a little bit of laundry for the family almost every night (different items put in a shift). Because of this we got to bed late and then of course got up early every morning to go meet them.

Pictures are forth