Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mother Russia, June 27, 2015

Holy Guacamole, we're in St. Petersburg. It has been my dream to come here for SO very long. I've been fascinated with Russia/Soviet Union for as long as I can remember... the Czars, the Bolsheviks, the Communists... I wrote a thesis on the architecture here in college... and holy guacamole, I'm in Russia!!!!!!!

BTW... it's sunny (mostly) and in the 70's... just sayin'...

SO we docked at 930 in the morning. it took FOREVER to get off the boat and through passport control, though we did meet some fellow buckeyes while we waited, so big win there!

Soviet vs. Czarist 
(though this is not the neoclassical style that is so prevalent in St. Petersburg.)

We boarded a shuttle that took us to our hotel, the Solo Sokos Vasilyevsky. Vasilyevsky is one of the major islands that St. Petersburg sits on. We dropped off our luggage and took advantage of the lobby wifi while we waited for our private tour guide, Masha Ganina, to pick us up.

SO... first of all, Masha Ganina is a rock star. If you ever want to go to Russia, please contact me and I'll put you in touch with my dude who can schedule her for you. And I will talk your ear off singing her praises.

So our first tour with Masha was Pushkin, which I knew as Tsarskoye Selo, which simply means the Tsars' Village. It is outside the city, but not far. Traffic was heavy because it was Peter the Great's name day and there were many festivals going on. We saw A LOT of monuments and memorials on the way. (I was unaware that St. Petersburg was occupied by the Germans in WWII.)

If this dome looks familiar, it's because the architect studied with the dude who built/designed the dome on the United States Capitol. (I think)

 ¯STOP!! in the name of love...¯

Below is my most amazing picture... "hey Masha, does the Russian Air Force have a demonstration team?" NO. they don't. I first saw the fighters flying in a diamond formation, but then they went all crazy and THEN they were dogfighting. NO KIDDING. I almost fainted... it happened so quickly, I only got one picture of one jet... but seriously, I get a little lightheaded just remembering it as I type.


So we get to Pushkin and see the Catherine Palace (this is Catherine I, Peter the Great's wife). It is AMAZING. And beautiful. and the grounds are gorgeous. And the other buildings...

 This place is enormous.
 The gilding is unreal... 

 inlaid wood, so happy we had to wear booties to protect the floors. 

 This is the amber room, there aren't supposed to be any photos. EVERYTHING in here is made of amber. the frames, the artwork, everything. It is the most amazing thing.
 The front lawn.
  The side garden.
The back yard.
 One of the other buildings on the grounds, this one has a fake moat built around it.
This also had a crazy dumbwaiter system where each dinner guest (individually) would have their meal dropped in front of them simultaneously, from the ceiling. 

  The domes are on top of the palace's chapel.

We saw A LOT of wedding parties that were here for pictures, some with just their selfie sticks, some with a full on photographic entourage. 
 That is Masha Ganina in the middle. Best tour guide in the history of the world!!!

The top level is where Catherine liked to walk. It is on the same level as her apartments. (She didn't do stairs.)
proof that i was here.

 Masha and Karen

 Zoomed in... there's a bride and groom in that boat.

So one of the most amazing things about the Catherine Palace is that it wasn't just built once, it was built twice. The Nazis pretty much destroyed it in World War II. Masha took us to a lower level in the palace where no one was. There are photographs of proud Nazis standing in front of a gutted and burned out palace, makes you sick. There are also pictures of Russian artisans who so lovingly rebuilt and restored it to its former glory. To me, it was the most interesting part of the tour.

When the Russians knew the Nazi's were on their way, TONS of people converged on Pushkin to try to save as much as they could. Many things were taken away and hidden, lots of statuary was actually buried right there on the grounds. The amber room was completely dismantled and hidden from the Germans, only they hid it too well. It was never found so they had to completely recreate it.


Got this gorgeous picture of the city when we left Pushkin. It's just enormous.

When we left Pushkin, we asked Masha if she could drop us off at the Faberge Museum. Unfortunately, there are no pictures allowed inside the Faberge Museum.

In our defense, Karen took one picture, I took the other, and neither of us knew that we weren't supposed to take pictures until we did.

If you have time to read up on the imperial eggs, they are really fascinating. Not only are they intricately designed, made of precious metals, delicately inlaid with enamel and encrusted with precious stones, they are real feats of engineering, full of camouflaged mechanisms that reveal hidden surprises inside.

We were a ways from our hotel but decided we'd start walking toward it, then grab a cab when we got tired of walking. We walked along Nevsky Prospekt, checked out a few places, then settled into a sidewalk cafe for dinner.

 ¯ STOP! 

 This was a shopping mall.
(probably still is)
 The Chocolate Museum (whatever. it wasn't a freakin' museum, it was a store)
 ZOMG, a pastry shop.

St. Petersburg is full of canals. It's on the Neva River, which i think means swamp in swedish... so it had to have drainage, but Peter the Great also wanted his city to resemble Venice. I think it was Catherine the Great who filled in many of the canals, it was just too hard to get around. (Catherine the Great is Catherine II. Catherine I was Peter the Great's wife. Their daughter was the Empress Elizabeth, she was succeeded by her cousin, Peter III and CTG was HIS wife.)

 Saw this and had to snap a picture for Jon.
 This burger was enormous... and DELICIOUS!!! ZOMG, that was the best burger I ever had.

 Karen had bacon wrapped chicken with cheese on top. Nice presentation.

We saw a few more sites after we ate, but then we gave up walking and took a cab to our hotel, checked in, facetimed with Alex (his birthday is the 28th) and called it a night.

 This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. GORGEOUS. Built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated. (Check back for my June 29 post, we went inside)
i'm not kidding.
All done on facetime, good night!

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