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Published: March 19th 2006
The follow up to our exhausting introduction to the city was a day off of sorts in which we went about on our own seeing more of what intrigued us. We set off in our groups, got our orientation to the major site of the city (The Hermitage
: world’s largest museum, former winter palace of the Czars/Tsars?) and then set out to see what we wanted. On the way to the winter palace, 3 out of the 4 travel groups had their first encounters with Gypsy crime. Generally speaking, a group of Gypsy women (they seem to all be around 5ft tall) would converge out of nowhere to start harassing part of the group and go for any personal items. Discretion is not something that these women employed. I would describe it as being more of an all out assault. In our group, people behind us called out and warned us that they were coming up behind us. Quick communication defeated any element of surprise and they soon realized that we would prove to be fruitless targets. In parting, on of them gave me a punch in the shoulder and were out of sight a few seconds after. I guess I was
one of the more vocal ones. Other groups had more brash encounters. They struck one in a bus, which resulted in a tug of war over a wallet and lots of yelling and screaming back and forth. I honestly don’t know what they were trying to accomplish. This incident was relayed to me by a member of that group, but the size of the women was consistent, which means that they didn’t have a chance once their intentions became known. Maybe they just didn’t think we would fight for our stuff. I still remember making minimum wage; which back in my day was $6. Let’s see, a $300 camera / 6 = 50 hours of work without allowing for any payroll deductions. Yeah, I’d kick some ass for that. Though, for some reason, none of us really took an aggressive defense. I don’t think any of us were really prepared to fight dwarf human apes, but next time, all inhibitions are off. After St. Petersburg, I don’t think the gypsies could do anything that surprised me.
Having arrived at the Hermitage in one piece, we were able to get to the goal of the day: seeing as much of
Winter Palace Square
View from the 2nd floor of Hermitage
the amazing museum as possible. Perhaps the best aspect of the museum is that it is split between being a museum and a site in and of itself. Some rooms were about the way the palace was used while others were set up to show art, artifacts etc. I think the part that I enjoyed the most was the wing that housed the throne room, library, and royal family living quarters. The museum is so large that I couldn’t even think of trying to see it all. I was able to choose just a few things that interested me, and set off to see them. This was the first museum I had ever been in where I got lost within an exhibit. What I thought was a nice plan of what to see before lunch ended up taking a second visit to rush through. Amazing place to spend several hours. The cool thing about my student card is that it got me in for free. Which is strange, because in every other case the student price was only a discount, and a two tiered one at that. Almost every other museum had a price for foreign students and a price
for Russian Students that was about 75% less. This latter practice really inspired me to go back home and encourage everyone to keep supporting aid for Russia.
In spite of the great fun to be had wondering through the winter palace, we had tickets to the ballet and had to congregate back at the hostel. Had I known what the ballet was going to be like, I would have rather jumped into a hole in the ice. The performance had no storyline. A compellation of fairy tales was strung together in a very artistic manner. Unfortunately for me, it was strung together in a manner that lasted over four hours, in Russian, after a long day, on uncomfortable seats. Ashley teaches ballet and was able to fill Sam in on the finer details of what they ‘doing.’ I guess this is a special kind of ballet. Once we finally got out, I really needed to do something else to rescue the thought of having accomplished something that day, so Liga, Tony, Jill and I went to a bar to unwind. Did I mention that my namesake Russian cigarettes cost only .25 cents a pack? The beer is not that
expensive either. Good times. Chad came by to check in on us, and stayed for about an hour. As we were leaving, we took a few photos. A Russian women from the next table wanted to be in one with us, and sat down next to me for the final shot. What the picture doesn’t show are her under the table left hand sexual overtures. I’ll just say that she was very direct. Yep, far more interesting than the ballet.
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