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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 59.6873, 30.3405
This entry will be brief, because we are recounting the previous day. We got into Riga, Latvia, late last night and will update about today in the next entry.
Our final day in St. Petersburg was a whirlwind. We headed out in the morning for Pushkin, a suburb and the location of Catherine's Palace. Yes, another one of those. This one was the busiest location we had yet visited, with tour buses and large groups everywhere. Like the Summer Palace, Catherine's was gutted by Germany during WWII. Many of the statues were "buried in the ground" to save them and many survived. After Germany surrendered, the Russians found the place virtually destroyed--roofless, burned, and set with mines. It has been painstakingly restored over the last half century.
When we first arrived, as usual, Natalia motioned us forward to the front of the line, past the Japanese, Israeli, and other tour groups. She is one assertive person. Jeannette had to use the restroom. As there was a long line, Natalia told her to use the men's room. "We are not going to wait an hour," she exclaimed. Jeannette manned up, much to the surprise of some Japanese men
using the urinals. Konechi-WHAT?!?
Also, as we entered the grounds, a volunteer band greeted us with the American National Anthem and Battle Hymn of the Republic. We tipped them 200 rubles, and once the song ended, one of them chased after us with a bunch of singles and a five, wanting to know if we could trade them in for a 10 or 20 dollar bill. We obliged.
Natalia offered to take us to the end of the garden after our tour of the palace. This was after we had rounded Catherine's pond, which was complete with admiralty houses (boat houses) and orchestra island, so she could enjoy live music while cruising. She must have been like the CEO of GE or something. Opulence is really something. Anyway, after our third day of forced marches through palaces, the end of the park seemed like the end of the earth and we chose the exit instead.
With some time left on the Natalia clock, we were able to squeeze in a visit to the Museum of the Blockade, a monument to those who did and did not survive the 900 day siege of Leningrad during the years 1941-1945
(known in Russia as "The Great Patriotic War"😉. The text above the memorial entrance read "To Your Heroism, Leningrad." Exhibits inside detailed how the people survived the German blockade using a secret route across a frozen river to get food known as the "Road of Life" until it was discovered. The scenes were disturbing, as so many perished (800,000) that mass graves were necessary. The language on some of the placards seemed rather propagandistic; through these words the Russian sentiment towards the Nazis left no room for the imagination.
Having time left before boarding our plane, we went for awhile in a shopping center dating back at least to the 19th century. Finally, we sat for our last meal in St. Petersburg. Lo and behold, as we waited, and waited, and waited, a special guest emerged in the dining room. A rabbit, persistent for food and attention, scampered around and in between our feet. He even left some special rabbit gifts under our table. We gifted him with our surplus of dill, which as mentioned previously, is abundant in Russia. Apparently this was not a good idea as our waitress scolded us. Oh well. Hopefully we didn't cause rabbit
Flying from St. Petersburg to Riga proved to be an adventure of its own. We, our bags, and our passports were checked (or not) at three different checkpoints. To go through the final one, we had to show our passports, empty our pockets, x-ray our baggage, remove our shoes, and put little footies on our feet. Somehow this was supposed to be sanitary. Yet, there were hundreds of discarded footies all over the place and it smelled like feet anyway. Then, we had to wait in our fourth line of the evening to catch a bus to take us out to our plane.
Safely arriving in Riga, it was time for lights out.
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