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Published: July 17th 2018
Day 7: St Petersburg
(We've been going for +15hrs straight and I'm toast, so photos will be added either tomorrow night or when we're in Helsinki and I'll put a note the day I do it)
It is stunningly beautiful here - gardens, canals, buildings (other than their concrete apartment blocks), everything.
We had a jam-packed day today. You need a tourist visa for Russia or you need to join an excursion, so we saved ourselves the headache and just booked a 2-day trip through SPB Tours (because the EXACT same itinerary is 2x the price through the cruise). We made a good choice - SPB is fantastic so far - our guide Daniel is friendly and a wealth of information and our driver Sergey is just the perfect stereotypical Russian man lol.
Ok wait, backtrack, going through customs was an experience. Our group was supposed to go through immigration at 8h30... uhm... that turned into closer to us being allowed down to the actual terminal at 9h10 and we only got through at 10h20. Crazy..! They don't even ask you questions, so I'm not quite sure why the time is so long, but the
tour groups all know it can take long, so they know to wait.
Ok on to the tour! We drove out to Catherine's Palace first - about an hour out of the city in Pushkin. We passed the seaport, some giant scrapyard, drove over their beautiful new bridge, saw a lot of concrete apartments (much like it was in Bulgaria) and took a sun nap since the "AC" isn't really "AC". It was a toasty 28 today, which isn't what the city is used to lol.
Catherine's palace is quite something - it was the summer palace. We got there at 11h45 which I guess is good timing since the last tour was allowed in noon. The palace is officially closed today, so it's all just tours and we were the ones who brought up the rear lol - they were literally closing doors behind us each time we left a room haha. That's the way to do it.
Anyway, the rooms are all beautifully ornate - gold every where, chandeliers to my heart's content. The palace was completely destroyed during the War, but they had saved all the furniture (by moving it into the city), so
although they had to repaint/restore all the walls to be an exact replica, it's amazing that the furniture itself are the originals.
Of course we started in the grand ballroom and then worked our way through dining rooms, drawing rooms etc until the famous Amber Room. During the War it was fully destroyed and it's the one room without the original furnishings (they've been lost!) - but they've done an exact restoration of what made it so famous - its walls are completely covered in amber! It's like a giant, beautiful piece of art.
(Random note: we had to wear the saddest little booties over our shoes inside the palace haha. We were like little elves!)
For lunch we drove back near the city centre, but far enough that we were the only non-locals which is perfect. It was a "Russian pie" (coulibiac) place - soooooo good. It's basically like baked bread (thicker than tourtiere) and a filling. We both had the beef ones and shared a cream cheese one for dessert.
Next stop was Church on Spilled Blood - probably the most iconic of their churches - it's the super colorful onion-domed one you often
see in pictures. Ceiling to floor the ENTIRE interior is covered in icons (paintings). I've seen a lot of stunning churches, but nothing quite like this. The front area ("Holy Gates") was something else with the intricate work and jewling on the doors. In the back is where Alexander the 2nd was killed (which is why they then built the church over this area and why it's nicknamed this).
Leaving the church was the first time we really had to deal with "pushy salesmen", but as per usual I pull out the teacher/Julie look and they get the hint.
Last stop for this tour was a brief (1.5hrs ish) at the Hermitage - that's like a drop in the bucket, but we got an overview at least. My God it was busy though - I couldn't help myself, I was walking through the halls as if it were the end of the school day - hands out in front of me, clasped, forging my own path lol.
All Mom cared about at the Hermitage was to see the Prodigal Son - so our guide brought us there (relatively) first. Myself, I was just happy with statues and
the chandeliers once more lol. Doesn't take much in the buildings to keep me happy.
At this point it was a little after 5pm and we were supposed to go back to the ship, but, since we were running late we'd have to get right back on a transfer for the evening folk show... so... he let us roam free near the theatre lol. That was fantastic and odd at the same time. He told us where we could walk down for some restaurants, but we only had about an hour before we wanted to go into the theater to get good seats. I saw a bunch of locals walking up to this little hut, so do as the locals do! We ended up eating blinni(sp??) which is a like a savoury crepe and one of the go to fast-foods. I got minced meat and mom got bacon, cottage cheese, green onion and cucumber - both superb. I had fun ordering... it was a point and nod kind of transaction.
We had to walk through the underground passages to cross the street, so we passed through some stores. We walked into a grocery store just to have a
look and then into something of a souvenir store. We started talking with the cashier (young girl) and she was so surprised we were Canadian lol. The first she's ever met lol.
We head over to the theater after that - as we walked up the grand stair case they had people dressed in period clothes and violinists playing. How fancy. They had a table with free wine (white or rosé) and what I thought the guy said was water lol. Mom went to take one and he's like no no vodka! LOL. That would have been a surprise.
The show was folk singing, music and dance and it was totally worth it - I read some reviews that said it was meh but I'd like to see them try any of those dance moves the guys were doing lol.
The dancing was my favourite part - the girls are just pretty with their lines, but I love watching the athleticism required in the guys' dances. The storytelling in the dances is another bonus - and they had some real hams too haha.
Few standout dances:
- they pulled 3 guys up on stage and it
was glorious how uncomfortable they were while the ladies were hamming it up
- in a lot of the dances there was the one guy who always played the fool or who was just desperately trying to win over the girl
- there were "2 sumo wrestler-esque guys" fighting each other all over the stage, and fell off the stage 3x and went all over the theatre - and at the end we realized it was one guy crawling around on his knees the whole time. Ow.
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