January 16, 2006
St. Petersburg, Russia
I had to take a taxi to the Anglo American School of St. Petersburg, even though it was only a ten minute walk away because the hotel receptionist says the directions were too complicated for her to explain to me. The taxi ride cost 700 rubles! I exchanged $100 American dollars at the airport in Helsinki for rubles and received nearly $2500 rubles. I discovered here in Russia I can get closer to $2900! The American teachers later told me I had been ripped off by the taxi ride and showed me how to walk back to my hotel. After meeting with the principal, Mr. Ron Gleason (who tells me he once dated a storyteller in Anchorage, Alaska—Pam Saylor, so he at least knows what a storyteller is) I learned that mail for the school is sent to an Helsinki address because the mail in Russia is quite slow and sometimes not delivered. I learned a lot about the teachers there and how they came to be in Russia—such interesting stories in and of themselves! They decided the performance would happen tomorrow at 11:00am. As we walked out of the gate the teachers all remarked how happy they were to have daylight since it had been dark at 4pm every day. I could identify. In Helsinki, daylight didn’t come until closer to 10 am and sunset around 4pm. Not much time to enjoy the day! The school is located only two blocks from where Stalin gave his famous speech that started the Revolution and a block from the famous ship Aurora that fired blanks during the war. \\
The walk was brisk and filled with facts given to tourists about points of reference and places and things to do. Along the way there were detailed discussions about the wonderful Christmas celebrations with singing in the churches and at many points on the street during the Christmas season. How one cathedral in the distance was spared because it was the only visible landmark to the enemy during the war. If they destroyed it there would have been no point of reference! Marina, had guests visiting over the holidays and told about her visits to the churches with family members. Nola, told about visiting the Church that bleeds and gave many details too. She had recently been to the church, but was eager to show me, so we made the trek to the Church that bleeds. Along the way, gingerly side stepping ice patches, she told me the high point of weddings in Russia is for couples to take pictures after their ceremony with major historical monuments in the backdrop. And what magnificent edifices they are! I had seen a wedding book in Kortgena, Netherlands and was amazed at the detail given to wedding pictures as many of the photos are of the couple in the country’s environment and not the reception or ceremony. \\
I learned the heat in Russia is supplied by the government and comes on in patches after the cold season begins. Everyone rejoices as government buildings and schools receive heat first followed by the homes a week or so later. They explained the heat came nearly a month after the cold first started in October. Nor can they adjust heat. The heat is just piped in all winter long and people leave their windows and doors open to allow the heat to circulate and they don’t have to pay for the heat!!!!
We stopped at the gorgeous Church that Bleeds totally painted in mosaic chips. I cannot explain how absolutely gorgeous the mosaics are and was sorry I did not have my camera with me, nor a scarf and gloves to protect me from the cold. I thought I would be taking the taxi back after the hour long meeting. The entrance fee was 300 rubles for me but only $100 for Nola because she is a resident. The other teachers having reached their destinations pealed their goodbyes and continued on their way home. Another amazing point for me is how they are content to walk in the cold to and from home for work and even in sunny weather we take the car in America!
The cathedral was restored following World War 2 and there were pictures showing the restoration process—awesome. We then went through an area selling many Russian souvenirs, though I didn’t buy any. We went down a street called the Nevsky and was told to hold my purse close to me because of gypsy pickpockets in the area. Then we went to dinner at Captain Cook’s café. I sat there thinking here I am in Russia but I could have been anywhere in the world enjoying a meal, for the restaurant was modern and the menu filled with choices and selections from around the world. In fact, you could tell it was a tourist spot because there was something sure to tweak the taste for any foreigner. I settled on a type of steak stuffed with crabmeat and topped with shrimp surrounded by potatoes. Nola, my lone guide by this point, chose a salmon dish. After dinner she suggested a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and I heartily agreed. Let me tell you the hot chocolate was more like chocolate syrup! All that was needed was some vanilla ice-cream! I sipped only half of it because it was so rich!
I was glad for the walk back to my hotel. We passed by two blocks from my hotel the Church of St. Isaacs, another fabulous cathedral and palaces and fortresses and the millionaire’s street and the place where the chef Stroganoff created his famous beef dish for one of the czars! My face was flushed and glowing as if I’d been exercising!
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