Tuesday, May 13, 2008


So far am having a good time in Russia, my cousin's early morning blowdryer routine notwithstanding. We ended up in a brand-new hotel. The radiant-heat flooring and the rain shower are aweseome. St. Petersburg is a very elegant, stately city, at least what we have seen of it. It has elements of Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam. However, I think I prefer all of those cities to St. Petersburg. There's not much that is unique just to the location, which I would appreciate more.

While here, we figured it was mandatory to see the ballet, and it turned out to be Tchaikovksky's Swan Lake. You can't get more quintessential than that. I had higher expectations of Russians' interest in culture, based on what my mom told me. The nyet-nyet ladies were nowhere in sight when a bunch of Russian children were making noise during the performance, nor when the row of Japanese tourists in front of us started taking flash photographs during the performance. One of them even tried to evade giving my cousin change on her 1000-ruble note for the program. Even my kindgergarten-level Russian couldn't get us through that negotiation, so being a paranoid New Yorker, I flagged the tour guide to straighten it out. Not having much prior exposure to ballet, I wasn't overly enthralled with the performance. The first act in particular went a bit overboard with the swan-hopping.

Overall, I think my favorite sight is the Hermitage. To think that this art collection was once seen exclusively by Catherine the Great and the mice running through the Winter Palace fascinates me. Chalk one good deed up to the Commies for nationalizing the gallery.

So far, I am quite disappointed with the Fodor's guidebook purchased before the trip. A couple of key sites and hotels appear to be missing, and the Armenian restaurant I hunted for after the Hermitage was no longer there. we didn't have much time to investigate further as we were leaving for our next city soon after.

Onto Novgorod...