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Thursday, November 21, 2013

So Russia

A friend showed me around St. Petersburg the first day I was in town.  While we walked around chatting she showed me historic places, drilled my on my bearings to be sure I could get around myself, and shared some of her experiences from her 9 years living there.

We came upon a park that she used to take her kids to when they were little.  She recalled the "old days" when the park had outdated, Soviet era equipment.  Today the park is filled with brand new, bright toys for the kids to play on.  She stopped to read the sign at the entrance to the playground and started to laugh.  Each piece of equipment was listed followed by the age the children must be to use the equipment!  So to go down the slide you must be between 3-10 and to swing on a swing 3-12 and so on.

So Russian!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Marble Palace

St. Petersburg is a city that came to life during the dark days of winter.  Balls filled the city keeping spirits high during the long season.  To have a proper ball there must be proper ball rooms and in a city of palaces, there seems to be no lack for opulent interiors.  
Catherine the Great had this palace built for her favorite Count Grigory Orlov because he helped her ascend to the throne in 1762.  He responded to gifting her with one of the larges cut diamonds in the world (189.6 carats) which was later mounted in the royal scepter.  He died before the palace was completed in 1785 so she ended up giving it to her grandson.  
The exterior is quiet impressive with the smooth, pink marble giving it a royal feel.  

The Grand Marble Staircase and the Marble Hall are the only two areas that remain virtually untouched and unchanged since Catherine's day.  They are magnificent.   I love the soft blue walls contrasted with the white ornamental plasterwork as you ascend the green limestone staircase to the main floor.  The Marble Hall has a beautiful wood inlaid floor.  Patterns on the walls are created with 33 different types of marble that reach to the gilded ceiling.  Two huge crystal chandeliers grace the open space.  I can only imagine women in beautiful balls gowns floating and twirling through this room, warmed by the two fireplaces and flushed by the excitement of the gay evening.

Cathedral of the Resurrection

This amazing cathedral is one of St. Petersburg's main tourist attractions.  It was modeled after St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow with a bit different feel to the color and decoration.  Commonly known as Our Saviour on the Spilt Blood it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881.  In fact a small canopy chapel area was incorporated on the exact spot of his death.  

I spent an hour simply walking around the exterior of the cathedral with my camera in hand.  Built in a decorative pattern with red brick, small squares contain mosaic panels and majolica insets.  Nine onion domes reach towards the sky, four gilded and five covered by jewelry enamel.  Orthodox double crosses top each dome.  

I was not prepared for the ornate interior which took my breath away.  Not a single space was left unadorned with mosaic made from semi precious stones.  Scenes from the Bible along with geometric and floral patterns are composed of brilliant blues, oranges and golds.  I spent another hour inside just gazing up at the beauty.
This gaudy church is now tied with Sainte Chapelle in France as my favorite church.

In Georgia

I have discovered that I love Georgian food!  Bordering Russia to the south on the eastern side of the Black Sea, it is one of the old Soviet countries.  Georgian food seems to be popular in Russia. 

While following bad directions from the hotel to a different restaurant we passed this place and made a mental note for "another night".  Eventually we realized we were never going to find the suggested restaurant so we headed back to "In Georgia".

No English menu was available, but our waitress spoke fairly well and gave us suggestions.  We decided to let her order for us and were not disappointed.  We enjoyed different types of kebob while being entertained by locals around us. The two men seated at the table next to us were vastly enjoying their bottle of vodka.  Round after round we watched as they finished an entire bottle.  In a booth sat a foursome.  We were startled when the woman moved onto the man's lap and began passionately kissing him.  Really, what was going on should only happen in the bedroom and what made it more awkward was that what appeared to be one of their sets of parents was seated directly across from them.  This was not a short birthday kiss, rather he must have crossed a milestone.  Now this was not some seedy little joint we popped into.  Rather, well signed on a major road, it seems to have a good reputation.  I think we just happened to hit birthday boy's big night.

Church of St. Panteleimon

Not particularly a tourist attraction, this church became a landmark for me each day confirming I was headed in the correct direction.  A plaque on the side of the building states that it was built in memory of Russian naval victories at Gangut and Grenham that were won on St. Panteleimon's Day.  It was built by Peter the Great in 1721 at the Particular Shipyard.

The simple red and white exterior captured my attention and a glimpse through the window drew me in.  I pushed the wooden door opened and was greeted with the echoing song of a choir.  Although only a recording, the music filled the room.  A service was going on so I stepped to a wall and watched quietly.  

Around 15-20 people stood in the room, men and women with their heads covered, young adult and elderly.  There were no chairs or pews, just an open space.  They did not stand in a row but each person seemed to have their personal space that was not to be invaded.  The air was heavy with the scent of incense floating out of the metal balls the priests would swing back and forth from time to time.  

There seemed to be an order to the service.  Choral music then the monotone song of the priest. The people would bow at the waist with stiff legs in unison.  A priest dressed in long robes would walk around with a gilded cross then the incense ball creating the sign of the cross with his movements.

Observing people worship gives me a glimpse into the society.  Who is there?  How many are there?  Are they sincere?  

Another reason I love stopping in churches and cathedrals is the architecture.  Even a simple church that is there only for the worship of the people can be amazing.  This church was painted in pastels of deep hues from floor to ceiling.  Arches met creating a vaulted ceiling.  Gold stars with simple lines filled the space.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cafe Michel

Every time I pass this cafe I think how nice it would be to have a meal here.  Maybe it's the carved gargoyals that draw me in or the cozy seating just inside heavy brocade curtained windows.  It just appears warm and inviting.

Vetran's day, one of the American holidays that Chad has off but the girls have school, provided the perfect opportunity to check it out.  This restaurant actually is close to the embassy, only a 15 minute walk!  

The menu, in English, was exquisite.  It felt like I would be dining in true Russian style.  A chilly day on the outside, the heavy, hot meals seemed to complement the season.  A special menu featuring "pumpkin" caught our eye.  We shared a plate of pumpkin risotto and a bowl of steaming hazelnut soup.  I never could have imagined up a soup made from nuts, but here in Russia where life can seem a bit cold and bleak, it seems appropriate.  The creamy, nutty flavor was softly bland but intriguing.  

We left satisfied but agreed that splitting two entrees was the way to go.  It would be a pricy meal out if we were planning on a filling dinner, but lunch didn't manage to break the budget.


A friend showed me this little cafe not far from the embassy.  Maybe a 20 minute walk going past the zoo it will be on the left.  It's the sort of place to go with a friend for lunch or just a cup of coffee.  They had a menue in English which always makes me smile.  I like to know what I'm ordering!  I had a nice ceasar wrap that was the perfect size for lunch.  Not particularly fancy, but nice and cozy. 

Centrale Pizza

"Just a short walk from the embassy." we were told as our group set out for dinner.  I guess it was.  In this city anything under 30 minutes is a short walk and we were just at the 30 minute mark when we arrived at the door.  Simply straight up Novey Arbat, across the river and past the Radisson on the other side of the street.

Yummy pasta!  Yummy pizza!  This Italian restaurant is one we will definately return to.