Russia...it has always been on my bucket list. It’s one of those places that conjures up images of grey cinder block architecture and similarly colored food. All the things ingrained in us during the Cold War era. A trip to St. Petersburg changed that image for me. It’s a cosmopolitan and cultured city comprised of Baroque and Rococo architecture painted in pretty hues of blue, yellow and pink. That said, it’s imposing and doesn’t have a lot of charm. It still has a lawless, black market and underground feel to it. I experienced this firsthand within a couple hours of arriving.
My mother is a huge fan of Russian history and literature. To this day, she is 92, and she can still recite the list of Russian Czars, in chronological order, and speak in great detail about their lives. The lives of the Romanov’s were discussed in fairytale like grandeur by her. So when I first arrived I was almost giddy with excitement to visit The Winter Palace and The Hermitage. Imposing and overwhelmingly big are your first impressions. We purchased our tickets and stepped inside deciding where to start. A man in a suit jacket quickly descended upon us and asked if we would like a tour in English. We agreed, and we were quickly passed off to an older women who spoke perfect English.
Approximately 45 minutes into our tour, we were surround by security guards who seemed to be speaking sternly to our tour guide in Russian. After several minutes of them going back and forth, we were allowed to continue on our tour. I asked our guide if everything was OK to which she assured me it was. Apparently it was not though, because 10 minutes later, she was being interrogated again. Shortly after the second interrogation, she came clean. She was a school teacher making $36 per week and was supplementing her income by doing “black market” tours of the museum. She asked me if I would accompany her to the museum’s head of security to answer a few questions. There I stood in front of the head of security lying for a women I had never met, explaining to them that I was a friend of a friend in Russia. Luckily, we were dismissed after about 10 minutes of interrogations and sent on our way. No gulag this trip!
The Winter Palace and The Hermitage are spectacular sights to visit. You could easily spend days at both.
I also added the Faberge egg museum to our list and wasn’t disappointed. If you aren’t a history or museum type then it’s probably not a city for you. We also happened to be in St. Petersburg during the World Cup which probably changed its feel. Loud rowdy crowds filled the streets and sidewalks making it impossible to walk.
The food isn’t great in Russia. With so many U.S. and European sanctions, the restaurants can’t get the quality ingredients they really need. Over 700 restaurants have closed in Moscow and about several hundred in St. Petersburg closed since the sanctions began. I suggest you substitute food for Vodka. Try the Vodka museum and see how it’s made and stay for a few or a few too many!
What are Russians saying about Putin. Old and young Russians don’t have much good to say about the man. I was surprised at how open they were about it. Most would say they are just barely getting by with two or three jobs. A place to visit to see the Russian culture in its' full glory is the Undelnaya Flea Market on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Here there is no shortage of vodka, local musicans and tons of old and new Russian goodies.
I happened upon some pre war antique Russian lace that is going to frame up beautifuly. The intricate detail in the pieces are a sure sign of its' authenticity.
Next stop Estonia!