Wednesday, August 6, 2008

RU - St Petersburg, Petergof

I was still rather bitter from the drama of the previous day, so waking up was a bit of an affair. I heard the other two up and moving about, but I found it difficult to mobilize myself. It’s just tough to get up when you know you’ll have to sit around and have absolutely nothing to say. I figured that having nothing to say while I’m sitting right there is more anti-social than just feigning that I’m still asleep. It was also a partial test to see if they’d even try to get me up.

My test felt like it was failing, so I eventually got myself up; and we were out the door only moments later. I can’t help but ponder that I would’ve just been left to sleep in bed had I not moved. My complete and utter silence the previous day had certainly antagonized us all.

We left for Petergof, a large palace & garden west of St. Petersburg. It would be appropriate to call this Russia’s “Versailles”, as indeed that is what it was modeled after. We didn’t go inside the palace itself, but the gardens were lovely. There are trick fountains, which kept us entertained for a bit; and I was excited to see the Gulf of Finland.

Furthering my excitement was the smell… the wonderful wonderful smell of the sea, and all the nostalgia that comes with. Understand that I was born in New Jersey, spent the first couple years of my life at the shore, and indeed my name “Andy” is because I would have been named “Sandy” if I were a girl. So I’m even named after the beach. Growing up, I used to go to my Dad’s house at the shore very often, year-round. Since college, however, my visits have become far too rare, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to even recall the last time I was there. The smell of the Gulf reminded me of the sea, with all sorts of nostalgia suddenly flowing through my mind. There was even a lighthouse just east of the main canal, adding to my memories of Old Barney.

In all directions, I could see Russian facilities located along various outcroppings of land. The gulf drew my camera’s attention; as did the gardens and palaces on land. All-in-all, it was a good thing I brought lots of camera cards.

We returned to St. Petersburg just in time for me to make it to the theatre for the Ballet. I had purchased tickets to see Swan Lake and was outright excited. I completely owe it to my relationship with Becca – way back in 2001-2003 – for my love of dance, especially ballet. Indeed, I think every new girlfriend I get introduces me to a whole new interest, which then begins to manifest itself in my trips.

My seat was as high as you can get and a little left of center. All in all not bad, considering it cost me about $20. Had I thought a bit more into it, I certainly would have gone a bit pricier – only $4 more per level, with the ground-level seats a mere $40. My balcony-mates were friendly and included a couple from Fort Washington – that is: Philly natives. At each intermission, I was amused to look around at all the wives and girlfriends scooted right up to the balcony railings; and the husbands and boyfriends resting their heads on the back wall.

My balcony-mates fit that description – I was one of only a few males who were right up along the railing, showing some apparent interest in the whole affair. Personally, I’m a bit surprised… even if a male doesn’t like ballet, surely the dancers themselves would garner some attention. These Russian ballerinas were, without a doubt, the most beautiful women I had seen the entire trip.

For all you people who just watched the new Batman: those women were not ballerinas and I’d bet they’ve never even heard of Blochs. Ask any dancer and I am sure that they’ll right-away tell you that no ballerina is that buxom or has those chicken-legs. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the lustful women like Bruce Wayne’s ballerinas just as any other man with testosterone in his veins; but I also like to see women with some grace and poise. Again, that’s the difference between “hot” and “cute”.

I would have thought I’d be underdressed, wearing cargo pants which were soaked by the trick fountains back at Petergof. I had hiking sneakers, a soaked shirt (though it was at least nice-ish), and my black jacket (also soaked). Except for the people on the ground floor, however, it could be said that I was overdressed. Even my balcony-mate had what was, I believe, a Metallica T-shirt. My friend Chris Beres would be proud: Metallica at the ballet. Actually, I can’t help but think that would be a really cool show. It’s my guess that the more casual dress was because the season is officially closed, so this was truly just catering to the tourists and not the local populace.

The ballet itself was phenomenal – I love the music to Swan Lake, and the dancing was spot-on. Following the ballet, I had some free time to roam about the city. I got a lot of photos of the city at night, eventually making my way to the Bronze Horseman to meet up with Svitlana and Anastasia. Reunited with the girls, we wandered across the river a bit and got a whole slew of photos of each other, at which point I grabbed what could probably rank as the worst pizza I have ever had. First, it was microwaved; second, it was not Italian; and third, it came from a portable stall. Well, I knew what I was getting into, but dagnabit I was hungry.

We crossed back onto our side of the river and at about 1:30, watched as the first bridge was opened up. St. Petersburg has drawbridges across its rivers, and they all open up overnight. Not just for a couple minutes or as a tourist gimmick; they are open all night to let freighter traffic through. So if you ever visit, do make sure you’re on the correct side of the bridge. The next bridge opens far sooner than you’d be able to walk or even drive, so if you’re on the wrong side: you’re stuck. Do keep that in mind.

It is a very neat event, and even more fascinating to see the freighters come up. I couldn’t help but envision James Bond standing here spying on each ship… ready to run up the side of the drawbridge and leap down onto his target cargo ship. This was a delightfully fun evening, in stark contrast to the previous day. I really just needed to get some time to be on my own, just so I could be me.

I inquired about what the ladies had been up to and learned that they went shopping. I asked what they bought and was told that it’s a secret, though Svitlana seemed to hint that I’ll get to see it by the end of the trip. I think it was Anastasia that suggest the word “intriguing”, which certainly fit that bill. I admitted that as a male, their vague descriptions only drive a whole bunch of crazy ideas… but I was gentleman enough not to elaborate (and surely there was no need!).

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