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.
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.
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.