Another action packed day. Up and out.
Onto another little bus and off to Catherine palace.
St Petersburg is exceptionally flat, and a bit swampy, but the autumn colours are divine - the pix wont do them justice though.
When we got there a little band welcomed us with Advance Australia Fair and Waltzing Matilda. That was so much min and so lovely to here it. I could have cried. It's weird that little things like that can make you so instantly homesick.
Catherine palace was a dichotomy. So incredibly beautiful and hideously extravagant. outrageous things that at once delighted and upset.... like the amber room... people over there have suffered so much and here she is having a large room completely lined with amber. opulence gone wrong.
same as the Peterhof summer palace we had to wear bootees but could take photos, no flash everywhere except no photos at all in the amber room.
she had it done in the baroque style, gilt everywhere, the photos wont do it justice.
whole rooms of gold, complete ceiling paintings, rooms where all the walls were individual paintings in a jigsaw of frames.
rooms with secret doors, rooms with fake doors, rooms where servants served the meals next to the dining rooms as the kitchens where in separate buildings. a separate room for all different kinds of waiting or receptions. obscene for such wealth to reside in one person... or a few people. Excessive excess.
Down in the gardens she had an artificial lake put in with a concert room/opera house (as you do).
We however got to listen to more acapella in a pavilion near the lake. the acoustics were breathtaking.. more guys selling their cds.
We are getting to the point of NAFF and NAFP. Not another fancy fountain or fancy palace, soon it with be NAFC as well... cathedrals and churches - but i think we can tolerate a couple more..
some of the buildings show influences of other cultures. Today i saw window boxes but they were on the roof of a building all geraniums in full bloom. Strange but pretty. All the roofs have the ice/snow barriers as well for obvious reasons.
I've been trying some strudels as well although im not sure they are called that here.
The german influence extends to steins of beer which David and Kevin got into the night i went to the ballet at the Bavarian restaurant attached to the hotel - and authentic schnitzel and sausages.
Refreshingly the guides can have opinions of their own. Tatiana has been telling us things that she thinks of Russian politics some good some bad. Over here they have been fiddling about with daylight savings opinion is split about 50/50. She hates it.
She says its no good for the kids or the farmers. Says Medvedev decided that if its 50/50 then they will have it. she says 50/50 should mean they wont have it. She read out some placards people were holding up which were anti government as well.
Kevin has been amusing himself with his usual word jokes. Tatiana has been speaking of enemies of Russia and the King however says it as enemas. kevin has had hours of fun with that. eg; the tzar was scared of his enemas.. then she said pond but it sounded like porn so now he on about the good porn in Russia.
He is always in good spirits though and his good humour is welcome especially by the end of the trip where nerves get frazzled.
From Catherine palace back to town for lunch. we went to a well known local haunt and had pieroggi. a local pie, but not pastry as we know it, a bit sweet and very thick and a little doughy on the bottom. i had chicken, David salmon and Kevvie had beef .the verdict..beautiful.. across the road was a chemist and i needed to buy a couple of things so i thought quick lets do it. the shop was tiny - a little square. I looked in and it didnt seem right - i turned to change my mind but there were about six people behind me.. i started to panic and said Pharmacy? they all nodded so in i went.. there were shelves everywhere but they seemed filed with tubes of what looked like hand cream... god only knows..my only option would have been to ask the shopkeeper behind the glass...as i had no idea how to explain or gesture about what i wanted my only option was to leave, it was packed full of people so people were buying something and im guessing it wasnt hand cream but i don't know what it was.
From here we went to the canal ride. it was definitely a great way to see the buildings. Tatiana was brilliant with her knowledge of all the buildings and the history with all of the royals. She gets a special mention as being the best local guide so far she was brilliant On the boat she quoted some Pushkin poetry by rote. i watched her... eyes closed and really experiencing it. she really loved art, history, poetry, architecture - it wasnt just a job to her guiding was the perfect job.
We said goodbye to her after the canal ride and i believe she was tipped handsomely as everyone thought she was great.
we walked then to where we were having dinner it was only 4 oclock which was a bit odd but off we went anyway.
Rita took us to a traditional Russian restaurant where we all had beef stroganoff and half litres of beer. Steven and neurotic Lynne got to pick a lottery card out of a barrel. Steve won a bottle of vodka. I don't think anyone in our group really cares for vodka, the waiters gave us all a shot glass of it, the boys got it neat, the women with cranberry. Most of us drank it, but nobody was thrilled. To follow there was a very salty dill pickle. Rita said that's how you are supposed to drink it. The pickle certainly removed the taste of the vodka. All it did was make us reach for the beer.
We said goodbye to David and Kevin here and we headed off to fill in a bit of time before the folk singing and dancing. Rita took up to a very good but very expensive souvenir shop. I nearly bought Kelly a set of unpainted nesting dolls but I changed my mind. 10 euro wasn't exorbitant but would Kelly have the time or interest to paint them.. I didn't think so, and back on the shelf they went. So $$ safe, we headed back out to wander aimlessly until the show. Rita took me to get some money from the ATM, but she misunderstood me... I was after euro as I'd given her all mine as payment for the optional extras. Some of the machines in some countries are multi currency but not in Russia. (Except in Moscow in the very first place we stayed obviously). I'll just have to wait for Lithuania. I don't need it yet.. I just don't like not being ready. I have some roubles and some $US so I'm not too worried - not that roubles will be useful after tomorrow morning.
The concert was good to very good. I sat next to neurotic nana. Omg. I'm going to have to kill her. Did I tell you about when we were at the toilets in Peterhof. Running around telling everyone not to put the toilet paper into the toilet, but to use the bin?
Omg Lynne, we can all read. And we have all travelled a fair bit. She's really skinny, she's full of nervous energy, she worries about EVERYTHING all the time. It never stops!! AAAHHH. Makes me want to bang her head (or my head) into something hard and say wake up to yourself. When we go up and down stairs she just claws onto whoever is nearest her. She doesn't ask.. She just claws into you, head buried in your back or tucked into her chest. What a way to live! Anyway... When we sat down she started... Should we move to the front, should we sit one row forward. Will we be able to see, what will happen. God Lynne we get it. You are freaking out the whole time but.... SHUT UP for the love of God! She sucks the life out of everything. Wants to organise everything. At the restaurant as soon as we sat down she wanted to know how we were going to split the bill. Chill pill required. Table 3. Now please. Oh, can you please leave the bottle, we WILL be needing them again.
Back to the concert...there was acapella, traditional singing with traditional life music, a bit of audience participation and Cossack dancing. We were squashed in so tight that they should have sprayed us with olive oil on the way in to ensure a good tight fit. If there was a fire we would have burnt to a crisp. Lynne would be found in a grotesque position with her arms pointing in all directions at the same time.
Anyway... Back to the concert again... The performers were all young and very good. The dancers were extremely skilled. The guys did Cossack dancing like I've never seen. They did the usual thing but then with no arms. Extraordinary.
The audience participation was funny. They chose three guys. One was a guy who persisted in videoing the whole thing even after being told not to. Some people are special aren't they? I assume they chose him on purpose. He was useless, one guy was brilliant and the last guy was just an embarrassment to himself and everyone who knew him. He was probably sitting there thinking please don't pick me, please don't pick me. The fantastic guy just seemed to take it all in his stride, and really played up well with the young entertainer. So he was funny. The guy videoing, he just handed his phone to whoever he sat with, and on it went. Didn't lose a second of it. We were sort of grateful. Without him we wouldn't have seen anything at all because the whole performance was in the feet and we couldn't seem them. The stage was too little, the chairs to close, the people too many. All we could see were heads. No feet.
After intermission where there was free champagne and I don't know what else because we didn't go out there.... The crowd came back, very slowly and loudly. It was mostly Asian people. Chinese and Japanese. Anyway the entertainment started and they wandered back in talking, taking their time. Neurotic Lynne gave a couple a piece of her mind, Libby who I call Needy Nanna gave one a serve and I gave out a rare death stare. The Chinese seem to have a different view on manners. The Japanese were prompt and quiet.
Rita picked us up at the end and we trolley bussed back to our hotel for an earlyish night (about10) ready for our journey to Estonia.
I keep forgetting to tell you about the traffic. Part of the problem seems to be that road rules, parking and speed limits all seems to be optional. They all want to get where they are going very fast even in the very heart of the city, then all converge on intersections together. I have no idea how we are all still in one piece. Two speeds. Flat out or screeching to a halt. You can park sort of anywhere. The footpath is fine. Double parked in the street is fine too. Oh, and you don't have to stay with your car. You can just leave it there. Never seen anything so strange. It all seems very civil though, even if very dangerous.