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Published: October 7th 2018
This is our third and final night in St. Petersburg. Our days have been chockfull of activities, our tour trying to cram as much in our three days here as possible. Monday night I slept for four hours straight, and that turned out to be it, my third night in a row without adequate sleep. So on Tuesday I lasted until mid-afternoon, and then had the very unusual (for me) experience of feeling tired. This is a relatively unique occurrence for me, but without enough sleep for several nights even exciting days in a foreign country can feel heavy at times.
And on Tuesday we had hardly any down time at all to catch our breath, which is actually the way I prefer to travel. Tuesday morning we visited the Hermitage, Peter the Great's (and other tsars') Winter Palace. There are over three million pieces of art collected in this magnificent museum; it has been said it would take a person ten years to see everything there. We did not have even a full day, so there was only enough time to make a very small dent in seeing this extensive museum. A visit to the Hermitage is overwhelming in its history, its artifacts, its number of rooms, its incredible beauty. "Nyet nyet ladies" are stationed in every room watching for entrants' misbehaviors, at which point they will approach the offender and very seriously admonish them. One helpful thing we learned was, if ever scolded by a "nyet nyet lady," to thoroughly confuse her and thereby effectively diffuse the situation, was to smile at her. Russians do not smile easily, and like to keep any happiness they might find quietly inside themselves. If happiness is shared they believe they are jinxing it; much better to complain about anything and everything as that way they can keep their happiness safe. I wonder how much of their happiness they might share with loved ones and family members, or if that would also create too much diffusion and cause it to disappear. But now you know how to get out of sticky situations in Russia, at least with nyet nyet ladies in museums. Feel free to share this important information widely with your fellow travellers.
Tuesday afternoon we toured St. Isaac's Cathedral, the fourth largest cathedral in the world. In this area, in the center of St. Petersburg, we kept being cautioned about professional pickpockets. I was aware and wore my bag with the zippers facing my body, but totally forgot when a period costumed couple approached and asked if I'd like to dance. I love to dance, and so readily accepted the handsome, well dressed young man's arms held out in a partner's dance position, but then the young woman said to give her my camera, that she would take a photo of us, only five Euros, okay? No, nyet, I said, holding my camera tighter and quickly steppng away. I had thought he had meant to dance, not to make or steal money off my naivety, stupidity perhaps. Luckily nothing was stolen; they got nothing from me, but I was disappointed in the loss of a dance, and in the apparently very easy disappearance of my good sense.
Tuesday was still not over yet. After a rushed take-out dinner from Stolle's, well known in Russia for their pies, savory or sweet (I liked the one filled with mushrooms best), we headed back out for an evening at the ballet. I should have paid better attention to my gut feelings and not have gone. After seeing "Swan Lake" magnificently performed by the Bolshoi Ballet (videotaped by NTL, National Theatre Live), the Boston Ballet, and the New York City Ballet Company, I knew to expect a lesser performance here, but this one was a joke; it was so unprofessional. The choreography was geared to beginning dancers, neophytes, very young children perhaps; Siegfried mostly just stood around smiling and gesturing with his arms, not dancing at all. I kept wondering when and where the ballet part of this performance would appear. The swans made unpleasantly awkward movements throughout, dancing totally ungracefully, thumping around the stage repeating the same segments over and over, and while the music was quite good, the conductor raced through the score. For me it was more than a waste of time and money as it was so irritating to watch this travesty; it was so very badly done. But I had thought seeing one of Tchaikovsky's masterworks in St. Petersburg, near where he lived, might make it worthwhile. It did not. But there turned out to be one very good thing about this night (nothing at all to do with the ballet performance however): for the first time since leaving home last Saturday morning I slept seven hours straight through the remainder of the night.
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