ST. PETERSBURG – Thank God for Bailey’s. I nearly fell asleep at dinner last night. This sweet after-dinner liquor perked me up and gave me enough energy to explore the Historic Heart and the Neva riverbank with my hosts from St. Petersburg State University.
I could have spent my first day in Russia catching up sleep. Instead, I ignored my jet lag and walked around my new home away from home. Before sunset, I savored the beautiful, classic buildings and the colorful history of Peter’s “Window to Europe.”
After a 7+ hour plane ride on Finnair, I scored about 3.5 hours of sleep. My fellow travelers groaned inside when a baby spent a third of the trip screaming at the top of his lungs. I’m also tempted to splurge on a business class seat on the return trip to the States after being cramped up in the center seat. On this flight over the Atlantic, we had decent selection of in-flight films/tv shows. I was able to tune out the baby’s crying with “The Heartbreak.” It had English subtitles and it was shot in beautiful Monaco.
I landed in St. Petersburg while my family and friends were asleep in California. Sergei, my driver at the airport, pointed out Stalin-era buildings and touched on World War II tales. One of his daughters was married to a conductor for the NY Philharmonic and we swapped stories on our visits to the Big Apple and the Grand Canyon.
He was certainly passionate about the cities culture and history. He answered my questions (Yes – you can climb up the “dumo” of St. Isacc’s Cathedral. Wear good walking shoes. His granddaughter left him panting, as he climbed up all those stairs.) (Avoid the Hermitage on weekends – too many tourists and tour buses) (Yes – there’s plenty of vodka. Please be careful.)
He didn’t have much to say on Russian cuisine.
My mom made me promise to let everyone know I made it to Russia in one piece. (She also advised me to buy a bottle of vodka and share it with my bears in my hotel room.) I sent out a “I made to Russia” e-mail to my hubby and parents thanks to the free internet connection at the Hotel Kronverk.
I went out to dinner with Elena and Pavel after we did an orientation meeting at the hotel lobby. I gushed over the brides and wedding parties posing near the Birzhevoy most. I pointed out one bridesmaid carrying an open-bottle of vodka. Pavel said it was tradition and we laughed over how traditions like vodka can get anybody into trouble.
Elena swerved around traffic and Pavel pointed out historical nuggets on Peter and Paul’s fortress, Winter Palace and the 12 Colleges. I was up to speed on some of those nuggets thanks to the Lonely Planet Guide and NPR. (Cats at the Hermitage! I know! Gotta meet them!!!)
After dinner, Pavel gave me a walking tour of the Historic District. I whipped out my Nikon Cool Pix because I couldn’t repress my inner shutterbug any more. I apologized to Pavel for being a tourist and a snapped away as he kept talking. Thankfully, he didn’t mind stopping every few moments as I framed up icons, streets and rivers.
My hosts are quite sweet and determined to make me comfortable in this city. I don’t know many Russian phrases but I am getting by with a few Russian words and my fake sign language.
So far so good.