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Trip Report Babushkas, the "Strutters", blinis and more

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I just got back this afternoon from two marvelous weeks in St. Petersburg. We had visited Moscow several years ago in February, but this was our first trip to this impressive, young city of 4.5 million.

We went for various reasons. We hosted an exchange student many years ago and have kept in touch with her. Her family also owns an apartment here in Spain two hours away and have asked us "When are you coming to know MY city?" more than once.

So, coinciding with the end of the Volvo Ocean Race, we decided to try to organize the visas and tickets for late June. Since we were being given an apartment for our stay, we planned on visiting more in depth than we normally would have been able to.

It was a very exciting time for us. Our German exchange student left for his home after half a year with us just hours before we left for St. P. The back and forth to the airport and last minute plant watering, animal medication list, etc.. topped off our usual pre-trip routine. We were also very excited to be reunited with our son after a couple months of not seeing him.

We arrived in St. P. at an ungodly hour but our host was waiting smiling at the arrivals area to whisk us to our apartment, driving us the "long" way around since some of the bridges were now open for the awaiting ships to come into port, so traversing the city was not possible.

The next day we were collected and taken up to Kronstad Island ( interesting history and cathedral by the way) to try to see the Volvo boats come into the area for the final of the race. We could see them at a distance, so that was better than nothing. The trip down dirt roads towards viewing points was hilarious as at one beach we came across a slew of cars, music coming from a hut, and lots of what looked like survivors of a sado-masochista beach party. And I am serious!

Girls wearing black leather mini skirts showing a black thong.. tatooed -bodied rough looking guys, naked from the waist up, others drinking in corners and in cars.

The looks on these people's faces when they saw us walking determinedly towards them was a picture worth a thousand words. Needless to say we stayed only long enough to realize this was not the best view point anyway.. so off towards another road!

Satisfied having seen the boats sail by we went for lunch and later to town to the port activities at the Peter and Paul Fortress area. We spent this day and the next enjoying our friends and our son just socializing and stopping later for coffee before retiring.

We could see that S.P. was going to be very special and Russia still a country of contrasts to say the least.

The following days were filled with long walks to try to get in some of the popular tourist sites and some nice meals. Having had breakfast at home we walked the two blocks to the metro.

I remembered the "babushkas" ( not a real definition, but I used this word to describe the real Russian working woman) in the Moscow metro.. the women in the glass boxes at the bottom of the escalators. In Moscow they mostly seemed very old and sovietically "grey". Here they were of various ages. But what a boring job! Their only entertainment must be watching the parade of workers, lovers and students endure the seemingly endless trip down into the guts of what is the world's deepest metro.

Some people embrace and kiss all the way down.. others read a page or two of their book, an occasional rebel sits down ( prohibited) as the rest of us look on as the breeze coming up dries the humidity off our face.

The service between trains is amazingly efficient. Waiting times of three minutes is normal, and half that during rush hour.

So off we go. Of course.. to the most famous site.."The Hermitage" I would like to give one word of warning to those trying to see the Hermitage on their own.

I had very limited internet access during this trip and I did not take note of tips about entering the Hermitage. I only remembered reading somewhere about getting a group tour through the Museum office.

So after waiting what seemed like 30 minutes in the VERY long general ticket line formed in the garden area, and not moving more than 6 feet, I went off in search of this office. It is accessed under the arch and up some steps. The woman at the Museum tour desk (up some more steps and through a door.. NOT the two cashiers behind glass), can put you into a group when there is space. I am unaware if you can book any of this in advance... hopefully one of you can insert instructions of how best to do this.

Of course, there was no space. .."Come back tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, you try everyday.. I don't know.. you can call me.. but not sure.. etc.etc.etc."

I went back to the line with my husband and son and after 15 more grueling minutes of getting nowhere fast we left for happier activities. I will jump ahead here and tell you that after several DAYS of no possibility of getting into a group tour through the museum office, we booked a private tour for two for 3,200 R. (about 80 E), through an agency called Nevsky Souvenir. Our guide was very good and it was an excellent choice.

The Hermitage is overwhelming. In the end you walk past priceless objects and more objects and suddenly we found ourselves next to an unfinished Michaelangelo sculpture. You were also allowed to take photos of the paintings. You are very near the art work, unless,of course, three cruise ships tours are sharing the rooms with you, as seems to be the case most days in the summer.

The Hermitage has a small café and internet (fee) so after walking for 3 hours we were ready to chill out with a sandwich and catch up on news back home.

After a stop at a tourist office we headed off for our first meal. We ventured into a place recommended off a list of Russian restaurants from the tourist office. It was one of many tasty Russian fast food places that we would NOT have entered had it not been recommended. It was called "Frikadelki" along the Griboyedova Canal, just off Nevsky Prospekt. This was cafeteria style, so it was easy to point.

No ambience, but the food was tasty. We were able to make ourselves understood and for our first adventure, it was just fine. Many of our other meals would be at table- clothed sit down restaurants that were more memorable, but one CAN eat decent food in S.P. without breaking the bank.

As you walk down Nevsky Prospekt, or near very high end restaurants you will see "The Sturtters". Anyone who has been to Russian or is afficionado to "Russian Girls" will know exactly what I mean.

Usually tall, blonde, tight sweater, jewelry, heavy make-up, short skirt..maybe plaid, and sometimes thigh high stockings with elastic band, high high heels.. heavy bracelet.. large bag.. and a look to see who's watching as they pass you by. They seem to be on a mission. And the ones hanging around the clubs, I understand, are very very provocative.

It made people watching very interesting!

I hope to finish this tomorrow with a list of some of our favorite eateries. We used mostly "In Your Pocket" and "Where" magazine while we were there. Then, once I found internet cafés ( there are not very many and the ones on N. Prospeckt are very expensive 100R/hour) I checked out tripadvisor , etc. for posted suggestions as I had unfortunately left my two page S.P. list at home near the computer!

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