Friday, September 10, 2010

St. Petersburg Experience

I've had these pic's sitting in my draft basket for 3 weeks now? Funny how real life must come before the Blog :). I may finish this today, Friday, or I may have to cut short so I can finish packing and go to a 4th/5th grade Assembly. We'll see.

St. Petersburg. We're back on the cruise. One thing I haven't mentioned about this cruise experience was that for the first 3 days, we were changing our clocks - forward 1 hour each night. Made for early mornings.

This was an early morning, our first look at St. Petersburg. Have to admit, Bart and I were standing on our balcony watching the docking process and thinking "Wow, we're in Russia. Just never thought we'd be here." I have to admit, I'm a fan of the "spy" novel (a little LeCarre, DeMille, Silva makes for a good morning, afternoon or evening read) so my views of some places are still foggy with remnants of cold war intrigue.

Speaking of foggy: as I viewed my pictures later, I was surprised to see how hazy our St. Petersburg pic's were because we had beautiful weather that day. Then we remembered the fires. We were in the area during the high point of the fires outside of Moscow and they had reported that the air quality in the St. Petersburg region was being affected. Funny how the naked eye doesn't necessarily see it but the camera sure did.

There is so much to be learned by going on these tours - with local tour guides. As I mentioned several weeks ago, it was interesting to hear the commentary from the guides especially when it concerned other countries. Memories are long in this part of the world. Our guide says that many people in the older generation still refer to St. Petersburg by it's former name of Leningrad (note: originally St. Petersburg, changed to Leningrad during Lenin's rule and then back to St. Petersburg about 10-12 yrs ago ? forget ex. timing). She said those who fought to keep Leningrad from falling to the German's in WWII would never call it anything else.

Also of note for those wishing to travel to Russia: you must obtain a travel Visa. Only if you are on a specific tour arranged by the ship can you go into the City without one. So, no running around on our own with this tour - stay with the group or you are in violation of Immigration laws. :)

We hopped on one of the MANY tour buses and headed out of the city to Catherine's Palace. This Palace was taken over by the Nazi's during the attempted Siege of Leningrad and burned as they retreated. We saw photos of the devestation outside of the city and of the Palace. Pretty disheartening. The Palace was rebuilt based on memory of survivors and photo's.
In the mirrored Ballroom - note the paper booties on Kendra's feet. We all had to wear them to protect the rugs and parquet wooden floors. Back of the Palace. Like with many 'palaces' in Europe, the biggest ones are the 'summer' residences outside of the cities themselves. Huge:

Every Summer palace must have it's reflective 'water feature' with little tea house:
We were then driven to a restaurant for lunch (simple but tasty - complete with Vodka shot at each place setting of which we removed from the girls :) ) and were entertained by a Russian Folk group.
One of the "Prospekt's" in the city (street). We were actually surprised by the variety of automobiles in St. Petersburg. The variety was definitely more than what we typically see driving through Zurich/Switzerland. There was about every different model of car you could think of: European, American, Japanese and of course some Russian models we didn't recognize. These are the kind of thing you notice driving around the city in a big bus.
The next couple pic's are of Apartment 'houses' or Apartment blocks. I can't say I'd want to live here. As our tour guide explained, there are very few single family homes in the City. Everyone lives in an apartment. In the "old" days, they were given these apartments free based on waiting lists/jobs, etc... by the government. When communism fell, they were allowed to 'buy' their apartments for a 'reasonable at that time' price. Most families of 4-6 people live in a 2 room apartment - that's 2 rooms, not 2 bedrooms.
Apartment blocks (2nd pic) are built with residences encircling a 'block' with open space in the middle so the children can play 'within the block' and there are markets available, etc... We noticed a lack of cafe's, restaurant, flower shops, etc... that you would normally find in a large city. The guide said that most people don't eat out - most meals are eaten in the home with family/friends. Some of the apartments were temporaries (built during Glasnost) but are still being lived in 30 yrs later with no plans to replace.
Definitely a different place. Having a hard time describing it all.
Along with every car make you can think of - there was also McD's!

Below is the dome from one of the Orthodox churches in the area. The churches were used for State purposes during Communist/Stalinist reign. After the fall of communism, the churches were turned over for religious services again.

St. Petersburg is a huge city - the buildings are huge, the streets are huge - everything's big and intimidating but beautiful in it's way.
After lunch and the City tour by bus, we headed for our Neva river cruise. St. Petersburg is similar to Stockholm in that it is made up of various islands/peninsulas that stretch into the Baltic and through the City winds the Neva river.
As I look at the pic above I'm reminded how hot it was. It was hot! Along the way we found a warship:
The Hermitage Museum (largest collection of Art in Europe/Asia continents):
There are many bridges along the river and they are all draw bridges. It was explained that from approx. 1am to 5am, the bridges are all drawn up so that the ships/larger vessels can move along the river to their next destinations. The guide explained that during "White Nights" (The summer evenings when the sun goes down for only 3-4 hrs - but it stays light out. Here I thought it was just an '80's movie! :}) it is beautiful to sit by the river and watch the bridges go up and the boats go by.

I know there must be aspects of this visit that I'm missing. If you are a 'thinker' (which I am based on my Meyers Briggs personality eval. -haha), you spend all day wondering "what would it be like, how did they ......, what do they.....?????" So many questions. Many differences that other parts of Europe we've been to.
For instance, I wouldn't buy a Father Frost because that was the Government replacement for Santa Claus. When the Communists outlawed religion in the Soviet Union, they realized they couldn't just take Santa away from the kids but Santa was christian, St. Nicolas. Atheism was taught in the schools. They settled upon Father Frost who would come to the school on January 1, the New Year, and bring a gift to the children. Father Frost looks much like Santa but carries a staff and wears a blue robe. I'm tempted to ask my neighbor about all this but that would venture into the really personal and our relationship isn't that deep - these things can be tricky.
It was a beautiful day and I won't forget the experience.
But there were other Ports awaiting and we sailed off into the night (note - at 3am in August, it still looks like twilight, the light never quite goes away):


Susan said...

Hi Susan - wonderful photos as always. I think I would also be walking around saying to myself "Wow, I'm in Russia" just like you.

Judy said...

I think you did a great job explaining! With each post, I'm thinking more and more that this is a cruise I'd like to take.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. Taking a quick peak to see what the Swiss family is doing. I just have to comment on the apartment looks just like my building in Shanghai! We live the same lives is such different places in this world. Your place is more beautiful!!

Much love,