Monday, November 23, 2009

Russia - Day 2

I woke up to the sound of rain on the pitch dark room. Groan! Rain isthe one thing that can make miserable the life of a tourist. I turnedon my iPod and enjoyed the first two chapters of “Twilight” as I turned this way and that inside my warm covers, but at 7 am I gave up, jumped off from bed, took a bath, and went down to breakfast. Alas,the Kobbergers were notable for their absence, and it was not until 9am that I saw signs of life from them. All for the better, because by the time we were ready to go the rain had abated somehow, so bravingthe elements became less of an issue. The friendly concierge gave us a ride in his car (making a little business on the side) to the plaza where a tourist bus starts on a city tour. Chrissy and I did this oncein Paris and really enjoyed it: For a flat fee the bus line runs in aloop through some of the best sights in town. While in transit a recorded narrative tells you interesting tidbits about the city. The best part is that you can get down anywhere you want and then catch the next bus an hour later. So we did that and stopped at a remarkable church (Kremlin style) built at the place one of the czars was assassinated in the early 1800’s. It is called the Church of OurSavior at the Spilled Blood (la Iglesia del Salvador sobre la sangre derramada). Besides its gruesome origins, the church is a fabulous example of the style of Orthodox church with colored “onion” towersand a dazzling display of icons. The icons have been made with tiny mosaics that shimmer with bright golden, blue, red, and a myriad other colors, creating a monumental collection of biblical and evangelical images. Very cool.

We passed through the Hermitage museum (but didn’t get down because wewill visit it tomorrow), the banks of the Neva (accent in the “a”), crossed the bridges, and finally got off at the St. Peter and Paul fortress, built to protect the city against the Swedes, who for a short time in the early 1700’s had occupied this portion of Russia.The main landmark is the cathedral built inside the fortress, with its150 m high gilded spire, but many of the fortress buildings now host aseries of rather interesting museums about the history of the city andthe Romanoff imperial dynasty. The dynasty came to an end with theBolchevic revolution and the execution of czar Nicholas II and his family (including princess Anastasia). By that time we were gettingpretty tired, so we made a nurturing stop in a small cafĂ© within the fortress, where for little money we had a wonderful meal (for me itwas a herring and beet salad, beef tongue, rice, and a pork chop baked in cream, everything generously irrigated with a dark beer).

The tour ended with a drive down Nevsky prospect, the main shopping street of St. Pete. Dusk was setting in as we went into a giant“market”, of the type we were told are present in every Russian city. It is a massive two-story building, not unlike the mercados of Mexico,but with the difference that this particular one has evolved into high end boutiques. In other words, it is like this giant department store, where each small section is a different vendor. Like in Mexico, all watch shops (or fabric, or hats) are clustered together, so the shopper can do comparison shopping without having to walk all around the market. Pretty cool!

When we got out it was night already, and Nevsky prospect was ablaze with light. Shops, churches, restaurants, and commercial buildings are brightly illuminated, inviting the innocent to spend their rubles in all possible ways. We managed to fend off temptation, jumped in the metro, and headed back home. A short walk, and a brief shopping spree in a small supermarket, and we were comfortable back at home, ready to spend an evening drinking white wine and playing Rumme Cap (a newversion of Gin Rummy). It was a good day!

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