Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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.

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