Maybe it was the weather, but I think not, St. Petersburg is generally a depressing place. Sure, we came here to see some amazing sights, and they did not disappoint. While taking a cruise, we didn’t have to get a Russia visa. Friends told us that was a cumbersome process. So, we are in for the full two day state approved tour with the cruiseline.
We went through passport check, the lines were very, very long and the authorities were sullen. The monumental blocks of dingy, ugly, poorly maintained flats was the first we saw of Russia. Shockingly dilapidated and massive in size, this was not what I expected. Granted, there was a great deal of construction going on, but it looked like the newer buildings were of the same soulless design as the older ones.
Starting at the beautiful Peterhof Palace and grounds, after we checked all bags, coats, backpacks and put on little surgery slippers, we saw the impressive Throne Room, Portrait Room and stunning White Dining Room. It really was an awesome opportunity to see all this, to spite the massive crowds who were also shuffling through, with the cracking reception of their tour guides voices poking at their eardrums. I would estimate that nearly everyone on our 3,500 passenger ship was on an excursion today because of the difficult visa require,ends in Russia. There are many cruise ships in today as well.
Peterhof, they like to say it’s “Russia’s Versailles”. Being a devout Francophile, I would disagree. Peterhof is very stunning, but only Versailles is Versailles, n’est pas? (Did I capture the intended Gallic snootiness there? ) Most enthralling to me were the Grand Cascade fountains and the extensive gardens. At the designated time, the fountains are turned on, accompanied by stirring music, and it really is quite grant for we peasants to witness this royal grandeur.
Our authentic Russian lunch with a folkloric show was cheesy fun. The main course was up for debate, even the tour guide didn’t know what kind of meat was stewed in a white sauce. The best part was a shot of vodka and a glass of “Russian champagne”. (Again with trying to be French! Champagne is from champagne! Did you know that the Russian aristocrats spoke French, not Russian? Some county needs a little self esteem work. Meditations on “I am just perfect being me”.) The dancers were the only smiling Russians that we saw and I suspect that they relaxed into everyday “Russian serious face”, as Jon and Kathryn called it, as soon as they stepped off stage.
Jon and Kathryn came to the tour meeting area just a little later than we did. Consequently, they were in a different tour group and didn’t experience the same crowding that we did. They said that their tour guide also never smiled, though they tried to get her to. From their reporting, sounds like she did have a sense of humor, albeit a dark one. She told them Russian summer was “Nine months of anticipation and three months of disappointment.” She also said that Russian drivers don’t care about pedestrians, so when they were crossing a street they should “Leap from curb to curb like reindeer.” (Say this with Boris Badenoff accent and you get the idea.) Our guide’s name was Natasha, so you can imagine the jokes I endured all day as Berry whispered to me, “Where are moose and squirrel?.