The six of us were the last group into Saint Petersburg for our tour group. I was traveling this year with five women; we were all friends who had traveled abroad several times over the past few years. Usually there were more of us and I was not generally the only male but we were the core group of vagabonds
We checked into a hotel in the north part of the city bordering residential houses and apartments. Our guide walked us down to where the blue line metro stop was located and then back to the hotel. Then we were free for the night, tomorrow we would be going to the Winter Palace.
I went out for a walk the other direction to see what was around and found a small local deli/convenience store that might come in handy over the next couple of days. As I walked back to the hotel I scouted both east and west on our intersecting street and found only residences close by. Back at the hotel a couple of the ladies were outside looking at the sky, it was full daylight and it was ten o’clock at night.
“You were right when you said there would only be a couple hours of dark at night.” Nancy said.
“You should know by now to listen to the old man.” I told her and went into the hotel and up to my room for some sleep. We were getting together at six am for breakfast and then out for the day.
It drizzled early on while we navigated our way to The Winter Palace and the guide told us that it rained most of the days here but sometimes for only a few minutes. I thought of the times I had been in Washington State immediately.
A little under an hour later we were standing in front of the beautiful blue exterior with white columns of the Winter Palace. As usual for me I broke off from the main group after we were inside. I knew when we were leaving and like to roam on my own.
The Palace is huge and the rooms are opulent to say the least. The gold capped blue columns around the grand staircase. The red draped imperial chair in Saint Georges Hall and the ornate gold encrusted Grand church fill you with awe. The ballrooms lighted by many tiered chandeliers and domed clear story windows all around. Floors that have been crafted in various wood parquet or Grecian style ceramics. Period furniture is placed all about and marble statues everywhere you turn. A huge square laid out with an obelisk style statue at its center and the Pavilion Hall.
Rooms and Halls abound with the paintings of Danae, Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Carravagio and others too numerous to name. The paintings are of masters from every era and genera modern, Spanish, Flemish, Italian and more. Lorenzetti statues and the Calvary statues complete with the armor of man and horse. One day was hardly enough to enjoy it all.
That night we ate in a wonderful local restaurant and walked some streets for the night scene, even if it was full daylight.
The next morning we visited the Marble Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress. Then we stopped at a park along the Neva River to shop some local artists and vendors. During the afternoon we saw Smolny Monastery, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Lenin Statue. After dinner some of the ladies and I played a few hands of scrabble in the hotel lounge.
There was Isaakievsky Square, the Artillery Museum, Peter 1 Circus, Voskersenia Khristova Church, The Admiralty, Postral Columns and the piece de resistance The Summer Palace.
The expansive fountains and gardens of the Summer Palace covered in gold and the numerous grand rooms and halls with again all the masters of several art ages were stupendous. My favorite was in the upper hall between the two double doors of entry and between them was the painting of the Archer. This painting was in the style of the Mona Lisa only several times larger. Only in this one the perspective was masterfully done to where it was not the eyes that followed you where ever you were in the room but the Arrow and bow, just mesmerizing.
On our final evening we took the night train for Moscow. Our accommodations were four to a sleeping room two bunks on either side of the room. Now I must say being in one room with three lovely ladies has it challenges, especially if you know them well, but not the kind that jokes are made of. As dawn became morning we stood or sat and watched the countryside go by the small farming towns, factories and most of all the beautiful scenery itself in full bloom in June.
Into Moscow and a ride to Red Square where our hotel overlooked the Moskva River to one side, Red Square and Saint Basils to the other. How could it get any better than this? Oh yes there were gaming tables and slot machines in the lobby, if you liked to gamble. After some scrabble with my friends sleep sweet sleep.
Red Square was fantastic with Saint Basils to the left in all its colorful domes and spires. Directly in front was the Kremlin and to the right GUM department stores that had during its heyday government offices, now great shopping malls for everyone three storied with arched high ceilings. Pictures, pictures, pictures and then we go around the left side to the park there and up the backside of the armory. Wow, a hot dog street vendor I just had to stop and get one. But I noticed everyone on benches in the park was looking at me while I ran to catch up. I wondered what was wrong hadn’t they ever seen a tourist with a backpack and camera eating a hotdog and running. Then when I stopped after catching everyone and looked down I laughed too. There was a dryer sheet sticking out of the bottom of my jeans that I am sure all the locals thought was toilet paper. I laughed right there even though we were standing in front of Russia’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
I found more amber in one of the shops while the ladies shopped for other things. Nesting dolls were on all their lists. There are now nesting dolls for every occasion and some real popular famous persons as well.
Over the next few days we saw Druzhoa Karodous fountain with its golden statues, VDNH Arch, Znamansky cathedral, Danilov monastery and The Tsar Cannon near the governors offices. Then there was the Christ-Savior Cathederal on the Yaura River with golden domes.
Some days we took the metro and here again as you went down into the tubes there would be small kiosks for slot machines every so often. Also it was rather unique that most of the street crossings for pedestrians were under the streets on each side of an intersection sometimes connecting to the tubes.
Later on we went to Church of the Ascension in Knolo Nenskova with its white tower. Finally we saw Peter the Great monument on the Moskva River, the Kremlin Museums, Gorky Park and the Cathedral of Annunciation and its golden domes.
At night there were some of the finest restaurants anywhere, a performance of Russian dancers in period costumes and fine night life.
On the last day we drove by bus about 3 hours east of Moscow to a small town with a 17th century monastery where the monks chanted for the visitors making some of the most harmonic music you could hear. Afterwards we drove about an hour farther east to a wooden Kremlin village still intact and ran by local people in the costume of the day the Kremlin was originally built in the 16th century. It had very interesting fresco paintings on the interior of the wooden building still quite beautiful.
This was our last day in Russia and it was long after dark when we arrived back at our hotel in Moscow on the Moskva River the next morning we boarded our plane headed back to the U.S.A. and California fly the northern route over the North Pole ice again.