Finally in Russia again
Trip Start Aug 12, 2012
8Trip End Aug 18, 2012
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She got up early to go to the gym. I reset the alarm for an hour later. She's up at 5:45. At 6:45 I get up and take a quick shower and dress and get everything packed. We have passed out of the open sea and into land on at least our side of the boat but we are still motoring up the waterway with no sign of slowing. My daughter comes back from the gym and relates her tale of not being able to find it
My daughter back and cleaned up and we go to the breakfast and went to the same restaurant but we had reservations for the other restaurant which must be fancier but said
ala carte but was the same buffet but probably not as many choices and not near as many people. Was the "deluxe" breakfast. All the tables were set with dinnerware including wine glasses and all and the waiter cleared it all off our table but they never cleared a table until someone came. We are still motoring down the waterway without seeming to come to a docking.
After breakfast we go to the service desk downstairs to make our dinner reservation to come back but she says to go the restaurant so we do but it is the same two ladies who don't really understand English and can't tell I want a future reservation and tell me to come that night at 6:30 to get one. We go into the store before that to see if there is a place there to make a reservation because I thought I saw a booth but it was the photo booth and the tour booth and no one was in the tour booth. Was another belt there but it was 40 euros so my daughter declined
Got the camera and finished packing then went upstairs to see what was happening. My information had docking at 8, docking at 9:30, docking at 9 so wasn't sure when we were docking. Finally we see that we are docking and watch them throw the lines and move in sideways to the dock which is next to what seems to be a hotel. Nothing else around. They tie up the ferry and then move the gangway up to the door and we choose then to move back to our room. I'm thinking it is 8:30 and we're not really getting picked up until 10 supposedly so I'm waiting inside the room for people to start down the gangway. Another group from some other boat goes by and fills up the immigration hall and then people start leaving our boat so we go to the elevator and start pushing our way into the crowd and down the gangway. We are in line for immigration but lined up outside the door when someone says we can use the door next door.
We go and get in a line but it is moving very slowly. Finally they open another line and half our line goes away plus we are in front of two doors and get to go in faster than the other door had been going but a sign over our door says for members of the customs union. No idea what that means but we stay in line and finally get to the officers and are stamped into the country. I had to wait while workers came in from the opposite side of my doorway but still didn't take us too long. When we got outside of customs, we went to the toilet and then found Olga, our guide for the morning. There was no x-ray to get in so we could have brought the knife but is safer without it
Olga takes us outside and calls our driver who says he can't park at the front and we cross the parking lot. Only one person asked me to take their taxi while we were waiting. Into the car and Olga starts talking a mile a minute as we drive into the city. She is giving us a lot of interesting information and background on St. Petersburg which is about 300 years old and more European than a lot of cities in Russia but more Russian than a lot of European cities. Also is Venice of the north because is built on many marshy islands and has rivers and canals and bridges. At midnight, they open the bridges and you can watch and is very pretty.
Today is Wed and a good many of the churches are closed if they are used mostly as museums but you can go up St. Isaac's and get a good view of the city from it. We see people going up there. We park for photos. We are warned about pickpockets so we keep a good watch on each other. Along with St Isaac's is a statue of Nicholas I on a horse
Back in the car and we drive past the admiralty and past the Napoleonic war monument to the war of 1812 and the front of the hermitage or winter palace of Catherine the Great. Olga keeps yakking away the entire time giving us history and more but not sure we will remember much of it at all. She does tell us there are about 150 weddings a day during the summer because that's when everyone gets married and they do church weddings now with white dress as a requirement but it doesn't count if they don't do the civil registry first which is the only way you are legal. Says divorce rate is about 60% and divorce is easy. Told us about one of the bridges where they do the marriage locks and we drove by it and the locks were on a four sided wire stand next to the bridge.
Finally we get to the Peter and Paul fortress but stop first in a park across the Neva river from the fortress and see the back of 4 of the hermitage buildings from the bridge over the river and also several Viking monuments from when they had Vikings here or a Viking war or something
She warns us about pickpockets and my daughter tells her she must warn me about curbs and steps and holes. St. Petersburg looks very different from when I was here before. We figure out that it was 1997 when my husband and I came. Back then, it was a lot dirtier and the streets were a lot smaller I think. Also, not so many photos from then because weren't using digital. The trams were still running down the main streets and not many people had jobs and the grocery stores were sparse.
Back in the car and to the fortress and walk into it and she goes to get our tickets because she just has a voucher. Means more paperwork so means more people have a job. We stand in the courtyard. Back in 97, there were people standing up against the wall of the fortress to get a tan, now there are not. There are tons of Chinese tourists. We go to the church and she walks past all the lines to get us in first. But we do have to wait for a Chinese group to go in because they are counting and we will mess up their count but we get in before the other groups. It is crowded inside and of course restoration is being done so the icon wall at the front has a scaffold in front of it. This icon wall is unusual because the door that the priest goes through is open scrollwork which is quite different from most Russian orthodox churches where the door is solid and only opened occasionally when the priest is doing
This is the church where the czars are buried so Nicolas I is here and goes through Peter and Catherine the great then there is a small room in the back where they think and believe that Nicolas II and his family are buried here after they were murdered and disappeared but it is believed they were found by DNA testing in the 90s and moved here all except Anastasia the youngest daughter and Alexey, the son. They still have tombs here but they are empty
She showed us photos of what the church used to look like before the soviets and the revolution and it was totally covered with silver and gold gifts and wreaths but that is all gone now, either in someone's attic or melted down. Only one wreath was recovered.
Back outside and to the car and then to the church of the savior of the spilled blood or something like that. It is the onion dome church that has decorations on each dome. It is closed today also because it is Wed. There are a lot of mosaics in side but we can't see them. She warns us not to go down the sales tents which have cheap tourist crap that is probably not real and also gypsies there who are experts at pickpockets so we are convinced to leave our purses in the car for walking down to the end of the street for photos
She also advised us not to buy vodka in the supermarkets as there were tales of people getting sick from fake vodka so she took us to a store where we got our vodka, a bottle each, for $15 each. It is the silver brand rather than the gold brand which was $46 each. Good enough at the $15 each for us. Says to always be careful of our money and credit cards and leave them all in the hotel safe along with our passports because of the gypsies and pickpockets. Later we are warned at the hermitage to beware of our purses.
Finally we move on to the hotel. She tells us that Nevsky Prospect is the main street and it looks so different from 1997 that I would not have recognized it. I'm pretty sure that there was a tram/trolley down it back then and it was dirty and full of potholes. Now it is an upmarket shopping area and lots of cafes, etc. and restaurants including McDonald's,KFC, etc. we turn down our hotel street and they keep saying it is close to Nevsky Prospect but it is at the end of the street and it's about ½ mile to get to Nevsky Prospect so I'm not walking
We go into the hotel and get checked in and get our room, 6605 and have to give a credit card for the laundry and anything else we want. We say goodbye to Olga and have her card just in case. She was talking the whole time. Don't know how someone can do that for hours but Dasha is the same, talk, talk, talk. Must come from having so much history that you must spit out again to the tourists.
The room is good. Our view is into the shopping center next door but the A/C works and the water works. The safe does not. I tried to open the fridge from the wrong side. Called on the safe and they couldn't get it to work either and offered to change our room but we will lockup in the suitcases. My daughter gave in some laundry and then we went up to the 7th floor to see the gym which is way on the other side of the hotel in among the rooms and it's not that great plus it cost 480 rubles or something like that, about $12. Then we went downstairs and my daughter is hungry and we haven't had lunch.
Dasha is waiting for us in the lobby but she is flexible and takes us next door to the grocery
My daughter eats her chicken in the car and we are at the Hermitage before she can eat her green beans but she is still hungry so unfortunately she has to eat them out of the can standing outside the entrance. Not what she wanted to do on her birthday but it's what happens.
Dasha takes us past the other people in line as they are not quite ready and we shove into the Hermitage and get into it and head over to the Grand Staircase. See the photos for what we saw and did. When we are almost done, my daughter's ankles are giving her some grief and we are not interested in going to see the impressionists so we skip that part. We go to the gift shop and there are some nice things there. We will have time later for more shopping as we tell Dasha we don't need another city tour but maybe seeing the mosaics or shopping or going up in St. Isaacs. One thing we aren't doing is a boat cruise which would have been good
Back to the car and back to the hotel. We ask Dasha to help us find a gym and there is one next door but when we go there and the manager comes out, she cannot help us because she does not have paperwork for a single or a day visit. My daughter must join for a year if she wants to work out. We stand in the shopping center courtyard and Dasha calls around to find a gym and the only one she can find that is close and Alexander, our driver, will show us tomorrow but it is 2000 rubles or $65 to use it for a day. My daughter will do the hotel rotten one tomorrow and then the nice one on Friday morning. Whew.
Dasha leaves and we try to find socks but no luck. There is a stockman's on Nevsky Prospect but we aren't going there. We go back to the grocery and put our sack in a locker which is automatic and luckily had instructions in English. We pick up drinks and fruit and she gets several desserts and I get ice cream which I have to eat it all when we get back. We both get several other things and then check out and it is almost $50. We pick up our packet again and go to the hotel. My daughter thought that I wanted to go out to eat but I really don't like to that often because can't really find what I like and can't eat as much as they give you
Back to the hotel and her laundry has already been returned. Hope I don't get charged for super-fast service. She eats her stuff and I eat my ice cream. She goes to the ice machine first and gets ice for her ankles but it's small cubes and melting fast. Then we get a knock on the door and it is the hotel sending her a bottle of sparkling wine for her birthday. How nice. They saw that on her passport. Then she opens her presents which I brought with me. My husband calls briefly. My daughter is able to get on line but I am not.
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