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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 59.939, 30.3158
Our first night at Hotel Herzen was a delight. Comfortable beds, warm showers, and AIR CONDITIONING made for a great night's sleep. We started our day today with breakfast and then met our guide, Natalia, in the lobby for a walk to the Hermitage, the monolithic collection of art that was once the Winter Palace of the Romanovs. The Winter Palace reminded us of Versailles and of the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna. European royals shared a lot of opulent facilities, if not genes.
The tour was not about Russian history, or much about the history of the Winter Palace, it was about art. Lots and lots of art. We were shocked at the accessibility of famous paintings... no security ropes, hermetically sealed chambers, or UV protective glass. Instead, we wandered through the Palace from room to room. Some had opened windows, with sunlight and wind bearing down directly on unprotected antiquities. Others may have had a rope, but security was provided by ladies sitting on chairs. They didn't move much, except for their fans. Natalia explained to us that if the label on a piece of work read "Entered in 1917" that it was probably code for "stolen from somebody's
house by a Bolshevik." She had a great deal of information and the story behind various pieces of art that made the day more enjoyable.
We were surprised at the extensiveness of the collection. During our walk, we viewed works by: Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Delacroix, Rembrandt, the Dutch Masters, Monet, Picasso, Rafael, and DaVinci, among others. Our guide made sure to escort us to the front of the line whenever needed, and despite whoever else was already there. She was a little more assertive than we are.
We noted that most tour groups originated from Israel, China, and Italy. Hearing other English-speakers, thus far, has not been a very common occurrence. The Roman alphabet has not been a very common occurrence either. Barb is very handy with the Cyrillic one, which sometimes makes phonetic sense, and other times makes none.
Lunch was had at the Literary Cafe, a former hangout of Alexander Pushkin and other famous Russian writers. From there came a boat tour of St. Petersburg. It was very evident from the canal boat that Peter the Great was heavily influenced by the Dutch. We had been asked earlier if St. Petersburg reminded us of Amsterdam, and we didn't
really think it did. Once we had the opportunity to explore the canal system here, it became much more apparent that St. Petersburg was indeed a city of canals.
After the boat tour we returned to the hotel for naps and laundry. Then it was time to venture out to St. Petersburg Friday Night. Our hotel manager gave us very enthusiastic advice about restaurant choices, and we settled on the Romanov Cafe, which was an outdoor enclosure along a pedestrian mall and located in "the place to be" in St. Petersburg on a Friday night. This was a true taste of modern Russian life for us, as we were the only English speakers around, including the wait staff. The menu listed "chicken fricasee with green peace." Jeannette asked what "green peace" was and a waiter, in broken English, said "little beans." (Green peas.) People around us were ordering hookahs (giant Turkish tobacco bongs) as an after dinner treat. Others were slamming shots of vodka and chasing them with some red stuff. We just kept taking pictures with our eyes. This pedestrian mall area will require further investigation.
On our walk back, we took in the festive Friday night atmosphere. At 10pm,
it was still broad daylight. We wonder when real St. Petersburg will go to sleep tonight. For us, it will be soon, light out or not.
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