To St. Petersburg with some Mozart

Saturday, May 11– Mother’s Day.   Despite our exhaustion from the night before we had to get on up to make it to the airport.  I made myself some tea with Mom’s decaf teabags, which I wasn’t happy about, but I became even less happy after realizing I’d added about 2 teaspoons of salt instead of sugar.  Luckily, that was the worst thing to happen all day.

We checked out of our apartment and started our trek to the Aeroexpress, the light rail that goes to the airport.  On the way here we had Daniel’s help, so now I worried about our ability to get back to the Aeroexpress station without his extra set of hands.  But everything went fine because we had plenty of time; the rollers on our luggage were adequate for most of the walk there and when they weren’t we had enough time to stop and pick them up.

We got on the Aeroexpress and I started getting really excited about going to Petersburg.  I feel like a traitor to Moscow for saying this, but…Petersburg is the best.  Actually, I’m not a traitor because most Muscovites would agree.  I hadn’t been to Petersburg in about five years so this was a real treat for me, too.

We got on the plane and were shocked to see that we would be fed lunch.  It’s only a one-hour flight!  Each seat had a menu and we checked the boxes for what we wanted to eat and drink.  Almost as soon as we were in the air, our lunch appeared.  Cold appetizer, salad, hot entree, dessert (more delicious ice cream ever)….I was stuffed and about to fall asleep but then we landed.  The flight attendants on this particular flight were so friendly:  I had a slight headache and they rustled up some aspirin for me AND they gave us Sochi 2014 souvenir pens.  I’m a sucker for tiny pleasures.

We got to St. Petersburg in the brand-new terminal and what a glorious terminal it was:  spotless, modern, efficient.  I remembered the first time I had flown into St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1990:  the airport was dirty and dark and the bathroom frightened me.  The entire airport smelled like wet wool.  St. Petersburg, you’ve come a long way, baby.

This is the old airport:


And this is the new:


We were met by Marcel, a driver from the hotel’s transfer service.  On the way into town he told me all about how he spent his Victory Day out near Lake Ladoga, commemorating the Road of Life.  During WWII, the Nazis encircled St. Petersburg, blockading the city, for 900 days.  No supplies could get in or out.  During the first winter of the blockade, in 1941, the weather was exceptionally cold and about 1,000 civilians starved to death every month.  In November, 1941 the army was able to open an ice road across Lake Ladoga, to bring in food and evacuate people out.  This is the Road of Life that Marcel commemorated.  There is now a memorial near the shores of the lake:

road of life

Marcel deposited us at our hotel, which certainly doesn’t look like much from the outside.  In fact, it didn’t really even have a sign.


No matter, because the hotel was charming.  It’s called 33 Pleasures, and look at our room:

hotel room

The little chair on the side folded out into a very comfortable bed for me.  We settled in and got ready for our evening out.  First, we needed showers, which presented an unexpected adventure.  See our shower:


It’s a bit hard to tell, but the shower has nozzles on all sides and the ceiling.  It took us days to figure out which knobs controlled which nozzles, and I’m not sure we ever completely understood them, to be frank.  It was certainly a *thorough* shower.

We rested up and then grabbed a quick dinner at Shokoladnitsa, a decent chain restaurant across the street.  From there, Marcel picked us up to take us to the highlight of the evening: the Marinsky theater.

A word about the Marinsky.  In the late 19th century, many of Russia’s most famous composers debuted their works here:  Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimski-Korsakov, etc.  During Soviet times, when the theater was known as the Kirov, it was known for its outstanding ballet.  Baryshnikov danced here.

We arrived for the 7:00pm performance of The Marriage of Figaro.  We briefly milled around the lobby and checked our coats while we waited for the doors to the theater itself to open.  We were standing right by the doors when the ushers opened them so we were very nearly the first people to step inside.  It took my breath away.  I’ve been to the Marinsky before, but something about being the first inside was thrilling.  Maybe you can see why:

marinsky 2


marinsky 1Look at the magnificent ceiling:

marinsky ceiling

We were in the second row, right near the center:

Mom and Dad in Marinsky

We settled in, the overture began, the curtain went up and….and I went to sleep.  I’m so embarrassed that I couldn’t even make it through the overture.  I want to emphasize that this was no fault of the orchestra or the singers:  it’s just that it was very warm and I was so very, very sleepy.  I managed to catch a bit more of the production at the end of the First Act.  But then….snoozed until intermission, when we decided to leave.  The Marriage of Figaro is a 4-hour long production, so I’m not terribly surprised we weren’t up for it.  It’s a challenging opera…even the Emperor of Austria had trouble keeping up with it:

After the theater, we strolled for a bit:

Rachel and Mom after theater

It was about 9:30 at night but the sun was still so high I felt energized, but Mom and Dad were naturally tired (I think they had less of a nap during the performance than I did).  We stopped for tea and beer so that we had small enough change to catch a car back to the hotel.   I wanted to keep walking so after dropping them off I went out on my own and had a beer in a bar near the metro.  It felt so good to be back in St. Petersburg.

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  1. I must tell you about the breakfasts that came with our hotel: hot cereal, fresh-baked bread, small salad, jams and jellies, and an omelet stuffed with different things on different days. Russians really do like to feed you! I believe it goes back to those starvation times Rachel mentioned. They don’t want anybody to go undernourished. If fact, one morning we were asked if yesterday’s breakfast was not satisfactory because we hadn’t eaten every crumb.

    The theater, as you can see, was truly magnificent! I still can’t believe I was there. The seats, however, were not especially comfortable. In fact, they were hard, and coupled with our fatigue and the warm surroundings, it was so easy to just nod off.

    Rachel mentioned checking our coats. Every place we visited had provisions for our coats. If we didn’t have a coat check room, there were plenty of coat racks for our coats and scarves.

    The late hour for the sunset can really cause you to overdo your activities. It just seems like it’s still afternoon, when it’s actually my bedtime! It did, however, give us more time to see more beautiful things. And for that, I was grateful.

    Still can’t believe I had this adventure!


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