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Tag Archives: Russia

Royal Russia – Day 4

9 Feb

I woke up on our 4th day in Saint Petersburg with ballerinas on the brain.  The night we would go to the Mariinsky theater to see Swan Lake, starring one of Russia’s Prima ballerinas, Diana Vishneva, had arrived.  The Mariinsky, now in its 229th season opened in October 1860.  Music by Tchaikovsky (and other famous Russian composers) was heard here for the very first time.  I was so excited I couldn’t stand it!  But it was still hours before curtain call…we had plenty of time to explore more of Saint Petersburg!  So – to the Yusupov Palace we went.

Mirrors and crystal balustrades were used in the ballroom to make it appear even larger.  Because even though they were not part of the Royal Family, as one of the wealthiest families in Russia before the revolution, the Yusupovs wanted nothing more than to impress their peers…and the Romanovs for that matter.  The Yusupov palace certainly leaves quite the impression. (Recognize the kissing couple in the mirror??)

While the ballrooms and music rooms of the palace were rather magnificent, it was the private theater that amazed us most.  Can you imagine having such a theater room in your home for you and your closest friends? Much less one with its own “tsar box”.   A bit pompous to say the least!

The Yusupov palace was one of our favorite sites in Saint Petersburg.  In addition to all of its splendor, its history is remarkable.  Knowing that Rasputin was murdered within its walls just before the start of the revolution gives it an extra eerie and mystical feeling.  I highly recommend it!

We worked up quite an appetite touring the palace – so we headed to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch before  returning to the hotel to get ready for our night at the theater.

I honestly can’t say that Brett and I are ballet connoisseurs, but I don’t think that one has to see a million ballets to know that Diana Vishneva is the real deal – a real show stealer.  Her movements are nymph like – graceful and absolutely beautiful.  It is hard to take your eyes off of her.  That paired with the perfect backdrop of the Mariinsky Theater created a truly magical moment.

A quick photo opportunity during one of the two intermissions.

They flutter around so much that it was very difficult for me to snap any clear images.  That said, I actually like the way the pictures turned out.  I think they show just how quickly the dancers pirouette about.

Following the ballet, we went to The Russian Empire Restaurant.   While the style of the place is a bit clichéd, we couldn’t resist having a meal inside the Stroganov Palace.  Where better to have Beef Stroganoff, am I right?

There is a  famous “tale” told of Catherine the Great visiting the palace for a dinner in which the Count promised her the most delicious olive in the world.  As it turned out, her olive was basically served to her in the predecessor to the Turducken.  As the story goes…she was first presented a full cow, within it a full pig, within it a full lamb, within it a goose, and so on and so on until a tiny squab held inside the most perfect and delicious olive within it.  The restaurant tries to keep this legend alive by serving what I considered to be an extremely tasty olive.  Stuffed with sturgeon and served in a succulent sauce, it offers a very unique and enjoyable flavor. So although, The Russian Empire is not avant guard in terms of modern cuisine or style, I would still recommend it.  In a city like Saint Petersburg…it is actually quite fun to be a tourist – to allow yourself to live and dine as Russian Royalty.

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Royal Russia – Day 3

6 Feb

The majority of our 3rd day in Saint Petersburg was spent strolling through the room after room of the majestic Hermitage.   Of course we only saw a tiny fraction of the treasures that the Hermitage holds (it would take 365 days of touring for nine years to see every item in the collection) but what we did see was remarkable.  In actual fact, the building itself is outstanding even without its contents.

My wonderful husband intently studying one of the exhibits in the Hermitage.  I couldn’t stop myself from intently studying him!

Then…I suppose – he was studying me!

Snapping a photo of the above hallway – one of the more famous ones in the Winter Palace would have been nearly impossible in the summertime.  But again, we were rewarded for braving the cold and had much of the Hermitage to ourselves.  The only downside being that the Museum workers snapped at me for wearing high-heeled boots that made “too loud of a noise” when I walked.  Had others been around…I don’t think they could have singled me out!

Honestly, I don’t know the name or anything about the artist of this statue – but of all the things we saw that day, it was my absolute favorite.  Most likely because it reminded me of my two darling and very best friends – Mary Kay Bowden and Kimmy Willson.  Not that they look anything like the statue!  It just reminded me of our days as little girl ballerinas dancing together.

After hours of art and culture – we decided to treat ourselves to proper cocktails and appetizers at the Lobby Bar in the Grand Europe Hotel just off of the Nevsky Prospect.  Great company, great drinks, and great people watching.  The furs alone made my mouth water.  Sorry PETA.

We ended our night with a divine meal at Mix – the new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the W Hotel.  Once again we filled our bellies to the point of explosion!  Below are two images of our favorite dishes…

Our first courses were our favorites. LEFT: Brett's Chicory Ham and Black Truffle. RIGHT: My Soft Boiled Egg, Tender Lentils, and Toasted French Baguette.

Just as expected, day 3 in Saint Petersburg did not disappoint – but just like the 2 previous days, we were absolutely spent at the end of it.  There is so much history to learn, so much beauty to absorb, and so much food to eat that our brains and bellies needed to rest!

Up Next: Royal Russia – Day 4…Off to the Ballet!

Royal Russia – Day 1

3 Feb

After the airport debacle in Moscow, we decided to live it up Russian style.   Like a Tsar and his Tsarina, we would rule the town (in our minds anyway!) for the remainder of our trip.  Let them eat beluga!

We touched down in Saint Petersburg – after a quick and painless 1 1/2 hour flight from Moscow around lunchtime.  By 1PM we had already checked into our room at the wonderful Hotel Astoria.  Choosing a hotel is always a little difficult when there are several of interest to you, but I feel confident that we chose right!  The Grand Europe Hotel is too dated now and the new W Hotel is just well…too American.  Don’t get me wrong, I love America – but I wanted something a bit more authentic.  That said, it didn’t stop us from eating dinner one night at Mix, the new Alain Ducasse restaurant inside the W.  Delicious!

By 2:30PM, we were in the car with our tour guide for an afternoon of sight seeing.  This is when our love affair with Russia officially began.  Here is our journey through pictures:

In front of the Church of Resurrection – also known as Church on the Spilled Blood as it was built on the site of the mortal wounding of Emperor Alexander II who was assassinated there on March 1, 1881.

Brett studying the gorgeous mosaics that cover almost every inch of the inside of the church.  It took over 24 years to complete the church’s interior decor.

Standing on one of the many bridges of Saint Petersburg with the LOML (love of my life) –  Church on the Spilled Blood in the background.

The Peter and Paul Fortress - Saint Petersburg, Russia

Whispering my secret wish into this creatures ear.  According to Russian superstitions…it will now come true!  We shall see….

View of the Hermitage from across the frozen river

About to enjoy an amazing meal at Palkin – one of the top Russian cuisine restaurants in Saint Petersburg.  They pretty much had to roll us out after our meal…

I love to watch my husband study a menu.  His intensity is endearing and amusing at the same time.  This  dedication always results in an amazing meal experience, and this meal was no exception.

From the Herring & crème fraîche cocktail starter, to the vodka & caviar tasting with warm buttered blinis, to the cevette (mushroom) soup, to the homemade strawberry sorbet palette cleanser, to the Beef Stroganoff....

To the grand finale...a whole Sturgeon - filleted table side. Also, the wine carafe (and the wine in it of course)was fantastic!

At the end of our 4-hour plus meal…we were spent.  To bed we went to get our beauty rest for another full day of Royal Russia – starting with Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, just outside of Saint Petersburg.

Stayed tuned for our full day of regal palaces!

 

From Russia with NO Love

2 Feb

Walking down the never-ending hallway of LEFT luggage....

I suppose it is not really fair to use the phrase “NO Love” when, in fact, we did feel a Dr. Zhivago and Lara kind of love during our time in Russia.  That said, it is very fair to say that immediately upon arrival, we felt NO love.

It all started when Aeroflot decided to cancel the redeye flight from Beijing.  This forced us to take the morning flight 12 hours earlier than intended and add an overnight in Moscow.  Honestly, we were thrilled.  Our original plan was to visit Saint Petersburg only. Now we had the opportunity to see their capital city and experience some serious Russian nightlife!  I immediately booked a hotel  – just feet from Red Square and began chatting with the concierge about bookings for the evening.  Thanks to our great friend, Michael Davitiashvili and his wonderful recommendations, we were set with a 9PM dinner at Pushkin on the 2nd floor in their romantic Library room, 11:30 after dinner drinks and dancing at Karlson, and a 2AM reservation for dessert and more dancing at the Soho Rooms.  It could have been the perfect evening…but as you may have guessed by now – we never made it.

Perhaps it was excitement that clouded our judgement or perhaps it was just plain ignorance, but neither Brett nor I thought about the implications that arriving to Russia 12 hours earlier might have on our Visas.  You see – getting into Russia is not a cake walk.  The visa application alone is quite comprehensive – requiring all sorts of personal history including details of education, employment, and family.  Somehow – even after completing this lengthy process, it still did not occur to us that our Visas would have such rigid arrival and departure dates.  After all, every other country we have visited that requires Visas (which of late has been almost all of them) offers a window of at least 30 days for arrival and departure.  We now know (after learning by way of quarantine) that Russia is an exception.

The truth is – we noticed the specificity of the dates on our Visas for the first time as we were filling out our immigration arrival cards at 30,000 feet just 30 minutes before landing in Moscow.  Initially is seemed like a cause for concern, but our flight attendants assured us that everything would be fine.  In retrospect, I believe that they were just trying to shelter us from our inevitable fate; and that they didn’t want to disrupt our last glass of champagne before being thrown to the immigration wolves. I may have done the same thing…I mean – who wants to be the bearer of bad news if you don’t have to be?

When we got to the immigration hall, I received a text message that our car service was waiting for us just outside of baggage claim.  We believed (thanks to the false positives of the Aeroflot Crew) that are trip was off to the perfect start.  Immigration was blowing people through the lines, and in no time at all, it was our turn.  Unfortunately, “our turn” turned out to last for almost 10 hours…

While our plane landed at 4:40PM – we were not allowed into the country until midnight.  After flying for 8 hours, the last thing you want to do is hang out in the airport for another 8…especially when you have already reached your destination!  We begged and pleaded to no avail.  Finally, a member of the security crew of the airport  came to our rescue – sort of.  He agreed to escort us to the First Class Lounge and free us from immigration purgatory where there wasn’t even so much as a water fountain.  Unfortunately for us though, the Olympian skilled speed walker was already out of sight when we discovered that our previous first class boarding passes did not currently qualify us to relax in the lounge.  So – from immigration purgatory, we had now entered duty-free purgatory.  Bad duty-free purgatory –  liquor and cigarette only duty-free.

What else could we do but laugh?  Perhaps I laughed after I shed a couple of silly girl tears…but I assure you that the laughing came fairly soon!  We decided to get something to eat, have a beer, and then try to find a place to get some rest before our freedom would ring at the stroke of midnight.

Not exactly Belluga...and not exactly the Blinis or toast points we were hoping for! But we did have pre-packed butter and plastic knives so that's something.

I am not sure why we thought airport caviar would be a good idea…but when in Russia, right?  It was definitely not the caviar tasting experience that I was expecting…but that would come later.  Looking back, I kind of love the way it turned out.  I mean – at least I didn’t fall into a fire or anything!

At 11:30, after several hours of terrible sleep piled up like two puppies on a park bench, we trekked back to the security office to wait for an officer to escort us back to the immigration hall.  At 11:50, a half-naked man poked his head out of the office door to say he would be with us in 5 minutes.  A man of his word, the three of us were on our way to immigration at 11:55PM.  We arrived at 11:57 and were told to wait for 3 minutes.  3 minutes became 10 – but at 12:07 we were released!  Not without being fined first though –  for breaking their immigration laws. 2000 Rubles each (about $75 USD).

I received yet another text message alert that a second car service had been sent and was waiting for us again just outside baggage claim.  (FYI – we had to pay for the first one as well – which is awesome!)  We thought we had reached the promise land…but we were wrong.  Apparently, it is just too easy for them to leave your bags in the terminal in which you arrive.  So they sent our bags to a far, far away Moscow airport land.  For those of you who have spent anytime in the Moscow International Airport, you can appreciate what this meant.  It meant a 10 minute drive plus an hour-long walk down what seemed to be the longest, most disturbing hallway (outside of a mental institution) that I have ever seen.  Eventually, we were reunited with our bags – but there was no shortage of paperwork filled out in order to claim them.  And why have a copy machine when you can just re-write the 3 page bag-reclaim application by hand 3 times?

It was after 2 AM before we reached our hotel.  According to our original plan, we would have been sitting down for a delicious dessert at The Soho Rooms…instead we opted to share a Ritz cheeseburger and hit the sack.  We drifted off to sleep with prayers for a brighter tomorrow.  It’s affirmative.  God does answer prayers!

Stayed tuned for the rest of our Russian tale….I promise it get’s better – and so do the pictures!

TRAVEL TIP:  When we return to Russia (and we will because despite the above story – it is absolutely lovely) we will most definitely allow for wiggle room in our agenda.  The fact that it is necessary for an American Tourist to be sponsored by a hotel (or other travel institution) makes this a bit difficult.  If we had it to do over, we would have initially booked our stay in the hotel for a longer period of time, obtained our Visas, and then altered the reservation for our actual intended stay.  There are probably even better ways to do this…just be sure to look into all the details before you take-off!

Royal Russia Up Next!

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