Monday, August 22, 2016

I can't believe we went to Russia

For those of us over, say 30 years old, going to Russia really didn't seem like an option growing up in the US.  I mean, I watched White Nights, and Baryshnikov doesn't lie. Even now, Russia's visa requirements mean that the only way we could go to St. Petersburg was with a cruise excursion, so that is what we did.

We lost an hour when we got to Tallinn the day before, and our excursion meeting time was at 7 am.  So that meant getting everyone up at 6 am, which felt like 5 am.  We had to go through passport control and that took time as well.  It was going to be a long exhausting day for our kiddos.  We could have left them on the ship, but they hated the kid's club, and we really feel strongly about traveling as a family and giving our kids these opportunities to see the world.  (In retrospect, we would have left them on the ship, though Amelie was the biggest problem and she wouldn't have been allowed to stay.)

So, all aboard the crazy bus!  The excursion we purchased was a city tour by bus with photo stops and visits to the Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Hermitage art museum.

Our first stop was St. Isaac's Square where we saw this monument to Czar Nicholas I. This was the first equestrian statue in Europe to have only two support points (the back hooves) and was erected in the 1850s.

This is located right in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral. This is the largest Russian Orthodox church in the city and was built over 40 years in the 1800s as well.

Next we made a stop by the Neva River.

Boys will be boys.

Then we arrived at the Peter and Paul Cathedral at the Peter and Paul Fortress.  We got there about 10 minutes before opening time which was perfect...

...because Charlotte desperately needed a bathroom.  Yes, these city buses have been converted to public toilets and connect directly to the sewer.  According to Charlotte, they are not very nice inside.

Anyway, back to our tour with tour guides Toby and Jake.  Our actual tour guide was from Kazakhstan and moved to St. Petersburg while they were both still part of the USSR. She was a bit much to deal with, but more on that later.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral was built in the 1700s and is famous for being the resting place of the Russian Czars- including the final Romanovs. It was so gold!!  And it is actually gold leaf, not paint.  Craziness.

On the front right is the grave of Peter I.

And in this room is the memorial and grave for the Romanov family.  In October 1917 the Romanovs were removed from power and in July 1918 they were all executed and buried in an unmarked grave.  Their bones were not fully recovered until 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union. After that the remains were in a laboratory until 1998 while they were studied and decisions were made about what to do with them, and then they were interred here. In 2008 DNA testing was done to prove the authenticity of the remains.  The kids were disappointed to know that Anastasia did not survive.

Amelie taking nap #1 outside the cathedral.

Our next stop was a souvenir shop (of course.)  We didn't buy this, but it was fun to play with.  We were glad for the clean and well stocked restrooms.

STOP sign along Nevsky Prospekt. 
Rob was working out the Cyrillic pretty well, but this and Кофе Хауз (Coffee House) was about all I understood. Our tour included a "Russian Lunch."  We laughed when we arrived at a Park Inn (by Radisson). Lunch was pretty good actually, but I don't know how Russian it was. We had salad, some sort of green soup (there was no menu posted or given,) beef with gravy and mashed potatoes, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of watermelon and apple cubes. 

After lunch we drove to the Hermitage.  Our guide recommended everyone take a nap as we sat in horrible traffic, she said she would be quiet, but she just really didn't know how to do that.  Rob timed her, she literally stopped talking for 3 minutes. This is a picture of Rob and Amelie waiting in an appalling line to get into the Hermitage.

The museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great.  And the public was allowed in to see it in 1852. There are six buildings in total, and it is one of the largest museums in the world.  We visited four of the buildings, starting with the Winter Palace. From 1732-1917, this was the residence of the Russian Czars.  I took this photo in the Jordan Staircase, or main stairway.  It was as big as many ballrooms we have seen.

Fun note about the Hermitage: it has no air conditioning.  Even though the high outside was in the low 60s, inside as the museum became more and more crowded, the temperature reached the 90s.  Also, Charlotte informed me that she would like one of these little chandeliers for her bedroom.

Czar Nicholas II was killed by a bomb while he was wearing this uniform.  They saved it.  And displayed it.  And I took a picture of it.

Bring on the DaVinci paintings!  
Benois Madonna, approximately 1478. It is little and there was a massive line to see it, but it is beautiful.

But I like this one the best!  Madonna Litta with Mary nursing the infant Jesus.

And you know, an unfinished Michaelangelo. And there were so, so many more.  We saw some El Greco, VanEyck, Rembrandt, Tizian and we didn't even go to the building containing the Impressionists!  We zoomed around in the crowds, nearly losing children, in sweltering heat for an hour and a half.  Near the end all of our kids needed a bathroom and Rob said he might pass out.  It was kind of awful.  But we went to the Hermitage!!

Our last photo stop on the way back to the ship was at The Church on Spilled Blood.  Remember that uniform shirt I took a picture of?  Well this church was built by Nicholas II's son and named because this is the place where his father died.

We were so exhausted, we could barely muster a smile.  It had been ten hours since we left the ship.

I read that the tallest spire is off center because it is directly over the place where Nicholas II died in 1881. The church had been closed in the 1930s when many churches in the USSR were forced to close.  It only reopened in 1997 after 30 years of restoration work.  It is now a museum.

I am so glad we went to St. Petersburg.  It was really different, and amazing to have the opportunity, but I won't be sad to never go to Russia again.  The smog, crowds, traffic.  It was really overwhelming and exhausting.  Though, that's partially because I chose such an ambitious travel day.  Sometimes there is a bit of pain involved in making amazing memories.

1 comment:

Geneil said...

Pretty darn cool!