Ballet and all in St. Petersburg

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Russian Federation  , North-West Russia,
Sunday, June 22, 2008

IMH: Luckily we were able to check-in at our hotel at 5:30 am in the morning which allowed us a few hours of precious sleep before the walking tour scheduled for the morning.
Our guide was a lovely, young Russian girl with a wealth of knowledge.  Her walking tour was actually so informative that we felt we've seen the entire city on the walk. We walked down the main street, Nevskiy Prospect and enjoyed the architecture and people along the way. St. Petersburg felt like a typical West European city and not at all like the rest of Russia we've experienced. That was of course Peter the Great's whole idea with developing St. Petersburg and getting architects from abroad to design it according to his favourite cities - Venice and Amsterdam. Many man-made water ways cross the city with lovely little bridges; we didn't see any gondolas though, only tourist boat cruises.
We walked passed (and learned about) many statues along the way, such as Catherine the Great (who plotted and killed her husband for the throne) and one of Pushkin, the Engineer's castle (which we really appreciated), the breathtaking Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood (unfortunately nothing to do with Jesus' spilt blood), the eternal flame in the Marsovo Pole with a glimpse to the islands across the river with the Peter and Paul's Fortress.
After the walk we decided that an introduction to Russian Art will be in order and visited the Russian Museum. To Ryan's opinion, the old castle which now functions as the museum is more impressive than the actual art, but then we have to remember that this is the second art museum he visited in 2 consecutive days and neither of us has been educated in art. I now wish I paid more attention to the tit-bits of info my mom tried to give us on art every now and again. This was followed with a stroll in the big converted apartment store or mall, which is actually terribly confusing.   
The time spent in the mall was to make-up time waiting of the boat cruise depart at 5pm. We saw St. Petersburg from the many cannels and rivers and it was spectacular. I wish I had more history bones (and associated memory) in me to remember all the details.  I loved Moscow, but I loved St. Petersburg MORE. I hope that I will be able to return one day.
We concluded the evening with a dinner, consisting of supermarket ready made-dishes (surprisingly good and affordable), consisting of chicken ciev, vegetable lasagne, meat balls, salad and a bottle of red wine and a few beers in the park close to our hotel. It seemed we were not the only ones who thought the food looked great as  few vagabonds started hanging around.
Wow, is all that I can stay to an impressive first day in St. Petersburg!
We planned to start the day early, but as we received some bad news about Ryan's mentor in Dubai for the last 2 years and a friend to us both being killed in his home two weeks ago and his fiancÚ wounded, we decided to take the morning slow and only start site-seeing after lunch. Ryan felt bad as we didn't have access to internet facilities to receive the news earlier while travelling with the Trans-Siberian, as we did not have internet access or a working phone.
As Ryan was "art museum'ed out" as he calls it, he planned to go to the fortress this afternoon , while I visited the Hermitage Museum ,which is in the same calibre as for example the Louve in Paris. The weather was bad and it was raining most of the time. I tried the Hermitage, but the queue to get in looked like it was a good 2 hour wait (2 hours indeed as later confirmed by our Australian friend) and I was not quite that heart set on seeing the museum as we'de seen the Pushkin in Moscow and I was not going to wait around in the rain. I went to see the inside of the Church called Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. This church was the most amazing church I've ever seen and I so wish I had a camera to prove it. In most other Russian Orthodox Churches the walls are painted from floor to ceiling. This church was done-out in mosaics from floor to ceiling depicting paintings of religions scenes. It was astounding and I was drawn to tears. The floors were also a masterpiece from many types and pieces of Italian marble to looked like an artwork on the floor.  
Ryan in the meantime did not make it to the fortress, but instead visited the beautiful St. Isaac's cathedral from where you can also get a bird's view of the city. Good for photos of course.
Our friendly guide assisted in organising us exclusive ballet tickets for Swan Lake in the famous Hermitage Theatre for this evening. Ryan was not too keen on the ballet at first, but as neither of us has seen Swan Lake, and most certainly not in the most impressive theatre in all of St. Petersburg, he decided to join me... and it was beautiful! We had some terrible theatre patrons from the Far East who clearly do not know theatre etiquette and removed their shoes and some were even sleeping before they ballet started. We could not understand why tour companies book groups like this to see a ballet if they clearly do not appreciate ballet.

The lady who danced Odetta-Odille did an amazing job together with the accompanied State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg. We both loved it and I think Ryan is forever changed to enjoy ballet performances with live orchestra's going forward. Visiting St. Petersburg and seeing a classic ballet performed in the Hermitage Theatre is a dream come true and an absolute must for culture lovers. [RH: Note, I admit I did enjoy the performance, the music composed by Tchaikovsky was fantastic, the stage and choreography were beautiful and the little I know about ballet seemed to be very well executed. But I would say I am a fan now and will rush to see another ballet. Oh and some of the girls were very hot!]
When the show was finished, after 10pm, it was still light outside and we enjoyed a lovely sunset which was strange after an evening performance. We lay awake in bed talking about St. Petersburg until it got completely dark, around 1:30am the following morning.
St. Petersburg seems to be, not only in architecture, but also in mindset, more European and more English is visible and (it seems) spoken. I have to say again, that I LOVED it!
As we made our way to the airport he following day, to depart to Berlin, we realised that Air Berlin operates from the Domestic Terminal and we were horrified to wait almost 2 hours to get through passport control and when we finally did, Ryan got interrogated about his plans in Europe. Luckily Ryan talked his way out of it and we were finaly off (even though we were the last passengers on board) and surprisingly had NO trouble entering Germany!
By the way, a New Zealand guy asked me yesterday what a Shengen Visa means, and I just realised again how unlucky we are with visas as many other countries just "get" automatic entry!

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