Tuesday, June 30, 2009
This is my favorite photo. It really shows the mood of all of us on this trip. Alan did get in the next photo but I neglected to get back to the photo shop to get it...so, minus Alan in only this photo, we are here in a very cold, windy Russia. Unbelievable!
Stark, drab and dark. A lot of dirt rather than grass in places.
I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would be in Russia, nor did I desire to be. There is a fear attached to being in Russia that I did not know I had.
Our tour guide was a young woman with long red hair and she was very nice. That wasn't the case with all Russians I encountered. Most looked sad to me.
St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, next to Moscow. It is supposed to be the most westernized, planned city. This port city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great and is considered one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Russia. That was a revelation to me once I toured the city because it did not seem beautiful or romantic. I did see museums and buildings that were really elaborate, but they were all in different states of disrepair.The over all feel of the place was pallor and a depressed state. The buildings were old, peeling and dirty looking. I came to find later in Estonia that it was a particular Russian style building that the Russians also built there when they controlled Estonia. (So they made them to look like this?) I'd say more like no style; putty colored cement buildings with no design to them and several commented that they looked like projects.
The tour guide told us on a couple of occasions to make note of the colorful buildings and we would look outside at dull yellow and drab pink buildings among the gray ones. This girl had not been out of Russia so to her the buildings probably were colorful. She said it might be depressing there if it were not for all the beautiful buildings.
Russia is located on forty-two islands. The majority of Russians live in the apartment buildings that lined the street in Saint Petersburg as we drove in. There were rows and rows of gray, stark, dirty white, carbon copies apartment buildings everywhere. We were told that the apartments were very small and the only ones that have homes are the very rich.
Downtown someone spotted a Gucci store and asked the guide who could afford some of those stores. She replied that the “Golden Youth” were the ones who shopped in places like that. In the early 90’s after Soviet rule ended, gangs and organized crime proliferated and they became rich. The children of these people are rich and spend the money now in stores that most can’t afford.
Saint Petersburg used to be called Leningrad.
The city was called “The Venice of the North” because there were so many canals. Most of the canals were later filled in and are now roads.
There are only 30 sunny days a year in Russia. It also rains a lot. It poured while were were there, would clear up,then rain some more. It was very cold and windy. We were told that was normal but that we were having a good day because the day before we got there it was 9 degrees!
We had lunch at a restaurant in town and we, the tourists, were the only ones there. It was in a huge building with off white walls and absolutely no decorations. No pictures, photos, nothing on the walls. We were entertained by a Russian Folkloric group and were able to see some of the beautiful costumes and instruments used. The act seemed to be a comedy but I really didn’t understand it. It was either the accents or the sound system at fault or both. We were served Vodka with our lunch along with our water. We weren’t asked if we wanted it, we were just served. We understand that is normal to drink vodka with every meal. We expected the vodka to burn our throats or be really vile tasting. It was, in fact, very good. We had caviar on our salad. The meal was mediocre, chicken stroganoff with salad and desert of ice cream. One thing about the food in Scandinavia and Russia is that it was all rather bland. The potato and sausages was the only local foods that I could really note as local dishes.
We went to the Hermitage (Her-ma-TAGE) Museum. There was a huge crowd and the museum was incredible. The Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. We saw a very small section of the museums and were duly impressed by the architecture and paintings of the greats. Six buildings make up the Hermitage and one is the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars. There are 3 million pieces of art in the buildings. The art works in the museum were owned by the Russian Tsars and were only opened to the public in the 19th century.
The guide told us that in Russia if you see five brides in a day, you will have good luck. I thought that was an impossible happening until I found out the traditions for brides and grooms on their wedding day. They go to be photographed by as many monuments or famous buildings that they can reach on that day. We saw more than five in wedding gowns and their entourage with them getting photos taken. They all looked very tired and with all the monuments I imagine they are on the go all day! It was fun to see so many brides and grooms on their special day.
There are 200 museums in Saint Petersburg. There is a museum for everything. A museum for vodka, one for bread; then there is the museum of chocolate. I think I would have tried to see the latter if I’d been free to do so. You can’t go into Russia on your own like we could the other places. We have to be on sanctioned tours. I went through a check point on my way back to the ship at one point, thinking that we only had to check in on the way into Russia. Not so. The woman started yelling at me in Russian and started slamming her fist down on the desk. Shades of Kruschev and his shoe floated through my mind. I could not say anything to appease her or explain myself so I sat through a lecture in Russian and kept nodding my head and she finally let me through. Whew. I was glad to be on that ship again but was also looking forward to being out of that port.
The minimum wage in Russia is equal to $200 in American dollars. $500-$700 is a good wage. $1,000 a month is excellent pay and made by The more experienced doctors, etc. The very small apartments are expensive. $10,000 per square meter or $3,000 per square meter for the very old tiny apartments with one bed. Land is extremely expensive and only the very rich have land and houses. Few people have cars. Almost all Russians smoke cigarettes and a lot of them drink. In comparison to the states, Russian cigarettes are inexpensive and they can afford them.
Here are Dave and Chris, George and Chris standing at the Neva River. Across the river is the Peter and Paul fortress and Cathedral. Part of the fortress was once a political jail that held people like Dostoyevsky and many well known people. The Peter and Paul Orthodox Cathedral is filled with caskets of royalty buried there. There were no seats, people had to stand during the services. The Cathedral spire is the highest building in St. Petersburg and the weather vane at the top (angel holding a cross) is a symbol of St. Petersburg.
Posted by Judy Roney at 7:34 AM