Cruise Day 7, Russia
Tj woke me up at 6…I was sleepy, but ok. We dressed and went to breakfast. I had challah french toast and eggs benedict. Tj had a waffle. I know what I had, but I still don’t remember eating it. That sleeping pill was nice, but a little strange.
We went right out to meet our group at 7:45. We had our passports checked for the first time; the guy was like out of a movie, piercing eye contact and almost a grimace. After we walked through (Tj was first, I was second) and looked for but didn’t find our guide, we waited in the exit room for a bit, but then the guard told Tj we had to go outside to the busses. I asked if he literally said we had to go out (cause I wanted to wait inside) and Tj said he implied it, so we went out. After we’d waited outside a little bit (which seemed like ages) Tj finally saw the American guy who had been in contact with our Russian guide. When we walked back inside to meet him he was arrogant and pushy, asking why we were outside, and when we told him why he sarcastically asked if we were trying to leave without them? He was a real jerk. Tj was super peeved. We headed over to the bus and the guy’s wife asked how we liked the scowl on the Russian passport inspector? I said it was about like her husband’s scowl when we walked back inside, but I said it with a chuckle. He didn’t seem to have any hard feelings though I’m sure he heard.
The day was good, but super fast paced. It was hard to be on this tour after Dave’s tour. He knew we couldn’t see everything so he chose a few spots and we spent a good bit of time at each one. This lady has so many places picked out that we had to fly through each one. I think I’d rather leave out some places and do others well. Tj says all the Russian tours were pretty much the same. I totally get that, but our guide was really not a great guide…she didn’t have good people skills. She kept telling us to be quiet and listen to her, hurrying us up after making us wait, saying ‘chatterbox chatterbox’ if we’re not paying 100% attention to her, and scolding us to ‘look look look’! We’re not kids on a school tour…we paid for this!
The other hard part of this tour were the couple who were in touch with the guide. The woman kept shooing us, and babying us, telling us to hurry along. She actually twice helped a grown, married man find booties to put on his shoes (they were required in two museums). When the guide asked who would be drinking champagne she piped up and said the 16-yr-old boy wouldn’t instead of letting him or his parents say so, and she kept explaining things to him that the guide already explained. Her husband made a few comments and was just the icing on the cake. (In the end we never even got champagne!)
I know this is a gripe-fest. I do also know how lucky we are to be in Russia. Especially without our kiddos. I know they wouldn’t appreciate it at their age, and that we couldn’t keep up this rigorous pace with them. There are two couples on this tour (one with the boy) who’s company we enjoy, and it’s nice that our group is so small (just the 9 of us).
My first impression of the city was just sad. I know the whole sky is gray and has been so all day, so I’m sure that affects the mood, but so much of our ride into the city was past super-old/worn out buildings. On into the city proper the buildings looked ok, I took a ton of pictures. The museums were often super-gaudy with the really outrageous rooms full of gold and mirrors. The inlaid floors were beautiful, though. The guide often insisted that we leave our jackets at the coat-check station. I don’t know, but could believe, that it was a rule of the museum. She was so kindergarten-teacher about it. After we left the coat-check place once she spied the bossy-guy’s jacket hanging from his camera bag and made him go back and check it. She let a girl keep her jacket on, but at another museum she made both guys who had zipped up jackets take them off and check them. Whatever. I kept my purse/backpack on the whole time with no word said. In Russia you do as you’re told!
We stopped to see a pair of sphinxes which Julia said came from Egypt. Supposedly their beards had to be broken off before they left Egypt so as to not give Egypt’s power away.
I bought a fake fur hat in a souvenir shop we stopped at. I saw but missed out on a little pewter bell. If I see one tomorrow I think I’ll get it. We bought a postcard we need to fill out and mail to Max.
We visited the Hermitage for a couple of hours…it would probably take 3 days to see everything in there. This was the Romanovs’ Winter Palace, and it houses art collected by Catherine the Great. There were works by van Gogh, Rembrandt and Matisse among many, many others. Not only do you get to see the art she collected but also the ostentatious rooms where royals spent their time. Some of the things we saw included the War Gallery of 1812, the gold Peacock Clock, the Benois Madonna (baby Jesus looking at a flower) by da Vinci, Crouching Boy by Michelangelo, and Danae by Rembrandt.
Lunch at Pavlovsk Palace cafe was a cafeteria line that was literally 30′ long including the register, napkins, etc. The options were: ham or fish sandwich, layer cake, greek salad, 4 fruit juices and about 4 types of Coke, cherry foldover, a small pastry, 2 kinds of muffins, chicken cooked with mushrooms and cheese that was now room temp, meat and mushroom soup, cream of mushroom soup, bread or apple pie. Tj had ham sandwich and cream of mush soup, and I had the chicken bake and cherry turnover. It just seemed so funny to me that we’re in this elaborate palace with so many ornate carvings, but the pickings were so slim (by American standards, admittedly).
We also visited Catherine’s Palace, mostly to see how royal people live. The ostentatiousness of the whole thing was crazy! The room that stood out the most (or at least the room that I’m sure was here, we’ve seen so many in the two days in Russia I get them mixed up) was the amber room. They (forget who) saw the amber panels somewhere and bought many of them. When they built the room and went to install the panels they were too short and narrow, so someone (famous, I’m sure) painted above them to resemble the piecemeal amber panels, and filled in between each panel with tall mirror panels. After all the rooms we’ve seen I really think that royal people didn’t try to make their rooms look nice, they just tried to spend the most money on them and shove as many expensive things inside as they could manage. That amber room was downright ugly!
We got back on the ship and ate our canapes like we’ve gotten every night, then headed out for supper. We started with crepes, then Tj had a hamburger and I had fish and chips, and we finished up with another crepe Now we’re back in the room watching Wikileaks. I don’t think we’ll stay up much past this movie and it’s 8:40 now.
I took a sleeping pill at 10:15pm.
Russian per Julia:
Ya lou blu vas = I love you
Lada = my darling
I heard the alarm this morning at 6am, but I still didn’t want to get up. I did anyway and got dressed. Today was our last day of organized tours, so I just had to tough it out and we’ll set our own pace (within the ship’s time, at least) for the next two days. The bad news is that then our vacation will be over! I’m not wishing it gone, though; just wishing for my own time.
Today I had two over easy eggs, bacon and mixed fruit/nuts/honey. Tj had an omelet.
We met up with our group at 8am, but we were missing two; Jay had a fever so Lisa stayed with him. I was sorry they had to miss the tour for their sakes, and also because I enjoyed talking to Lisa. She’d shown the tour guide (Julia) her ‘portfolio’ on her phone and I was hoping to see it myself.
Today was gray and drizzly all day. I’m so glad Tj decided to get a new rain jacket and suggested I get one for the trip also. We went on a boat ride for about an hour. It was cold, but I think because I was taking so many pictures I didn’t feel it too much. I took a billion photos this trip, but I also made sure to experience the trip. The best part of the ride was taking pictures of the Church on Spilled Blood. I can’t wait to see how they turned out…I hope I have a killer picture or three there!
We visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral and saw the tombs of the Romanovs, Peter the Great, his son (who was tortured to death by his dad), Tsar Nicholas’ mother, etc.
We were supposed to take a hydrofoil to Peterhof, but it was canceled because the water was too low (?!). We drove there instead. We had lunch before looking the place over; Julia took us to a crepe place. I ordered one off the menu which said chocolate/strawberry/honey…it was a hurried choice as all things are with Julia. After I chose it and she asked me a time or two if I was sure, the waiter told her that those things would be on the top of the crepe even though the listing said ‘fillings’. Whatever, it was good. Julia told us all that guys usually like the ‘royal’ and pointed at one that looked great, probably strawberry and it might have been cottage cheese. We asked her what was on it and she said we could see the pic, meat and other stuff, it was really good, etc. Tj nor I saw any meat, but we knew it would be good, and we aren’t picky. When we got it it looked like ‘cheese’, and I saw something green like parsley! I made a joke that it was a Big Mac; turns out it was!!! The picture she’d generally waved her hand at was at right angles to the one we were looking at. She’d made a comment as we were ordering that we shouldn’t eat at the McDonalds nearby, and she probably commented on McD’s 10 times over the two days, so Tj ordered her suggestion and he basically got a Big Mac wrapped up in a crepe. What a laugh! I also got a Pavlova and split it with Tj.
We went inside the Peterhof and had to all put our rain jackets in a bucket, and the lady who worked there walked it to the other end of the museum to meet us when the quick tour was over! Marie helped Randy with his shoe coverings again today (blug). We saw a bit of art; Julia said the humidity was so bad which was why we had to leave our jackets. We also had to rush through the Chinese room so as to not change the temperature in the room with our body heat. I assume the humidity is also the reason the wooden french doors were taped shut with clear packing tape at every joint! I guess they never open them anymore.
We left the gallery and toured the grounds; Peterhof is called Russia’s Versailles Julia said several times. It was beautiful, and had many statues actually covered with gold. I was surprised because they’re right out in the open and at arm’s level…many people were touching them to take pictures…how long until the gold wears off? There were trick fountains in several places where Peter the Great would lure people to just the right place and then soak them. We saw plenty of kids with their rain jackets on waiting to be showered.
We went to the Russian Museum and saw such great art. I know we saw ‘Portrait of Sergei Diaghilev and His Nanny’…Julia said it was one of her favorites. I saw a few things I love, and of course I don’t know who did them or what they were titled. One was a massive Russian Cossack on a massive horse. He was huge and hairy, lots of facial hair, and had a big thick coat and gloves/mittens. I think it was made of tiles, super-colorful. The other ones were Turner-esque, lots of water scenes. These paintings were huge, probably 8′x15′, and there were even bigger ones. I can’t imagine painting something that you had to build scaffolding for to reach the top. How wonderful to have art you ‘must’ get out inside of you. Julia said he would visit the scene and sketch, then go home and paint. I’ll have to go look these guys up when I get home.
Bob wanted to see some particular art (which was absolutely fine), and Bob the aloof didn’t, so we left him at the gift shop and tore through the museum. Julia tried to take us straight to the paintings he wanted to see but she kept getting side-tracked with stuff she wanted to tell us about. For as annoying as she was she was super-knowledgeable and pretty easy to understand. I have to admit (and I’m sure it’s partly because we’d recently been to Germany and had an explanation of the word ‘fart’ there, which means ‘journey’), but I really thought at one point that Julia said when she saw some graffiti it was a ‘piece of fart’. Heh.
Since we had extra time because of the cancelation Julia took us to see the metro. I have to say they were the most beautiful metro stations I’d ever seen! They were almost a nice as a museum. I literally saw one piece of trash once we got underground. I don’t understand how they can spend so much money on beautiful subways and tons of gold statues and restoring museums, and have such sad apartment buildings everywhere! I forgot to mention earlier that many of the palaces and museums had been restored after being (most of them) totally destroyed during wars, or totally looted by the Germans.
After the museum no one really wanted to see the inside of the church nearby, so we opted to skip it. Bob the nice guy had to buy souvenirs so Julia took us there for our last stop. Overall today I bought a little bell; Tj bought his mom a lacquer box and Hoop a t-shirt.
When I started writing this we were watching a movie and looking out our balcony…passing by several small islands, some of them so tiny they just had retaining walls and a few trees. It was amazing. We passed several ships and some buildings on those islands. Now we’re much farther out to sea…I’m not sure that I see any land, but there are two ships of some sort in the distance. What a great vacation!
We ate supper just before coming back to the room for the evening. Among other things I got a pasta made with cream sauce, mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes. The guy put it together like it was Mongolian BBQ. Super! Tj got some desserts from the buffet, but I called Cipriano and asked if I could have the lunchtime dessert at Cagney’s; warm chocolate mocha brownie with tons of walnuts, and a scoop of ice cream. At first he said he couldn’t do it cause it was well past lunch, but then he brought it to my room!!
The time has changed an hour earlier each port we’ve traveled East, and today marks the first change later. It’s 9:20 according to tomorrow’s time and I’m about done. Downton Abbey is on now, Tj’s gone to get a drink, and I’m about to put my pj’s on. What a day!
Tj bought us new shoes for this cruise. The soles of my feet have never hurt on this trip, but the shoes are a little too tight across the top of my foot. I realize now that I didn’t feel my calves today, and don’t think I did yesterday either. Can’t believe it took this long for the pain to completely go away. Also love my little portable keyboard with Bluetooth that links to my phone. Being married to an IT guy has great advantages
Sleeping pill at 9:38pm.