Sbarro is actually spelled сбарро

This grand staircase greets you shortly after entering the Hermitage museum.

This grand staircase greets you shortly after entering the Hermitage museum.

Greetings from Санкт Петербург (St Petersburg) where I’ve broken one of my cardinal rules of travel by dining at an American chain restaurant. I have two remaining shreds of dignity to hold in my defense. First, this is not McDonalds and second, Sbarro at least looks foreign when spelled with the Cyrillic alphabet. But the real reason why I’m here is that I saw a sign for free wifi as i was walking by, and it was beginning to spit wet snow outside.

My day started around 8:30 when my alarm told me to wake up and get ready for my train’s 9 am arrival in St Petersburg. I had taken the overnight train from Moscow, using the night travel to spare the precious few days I have in this country while taking in my first experience riding a sleeper car. I hadn’t planned to take this foray north, but after hearing several endorsements I decided to try to squeeze it in. The only problem is that I have no guide book for St Petersburg (in fact i didnt even have a basic city map), so I came here pretty blind.

This particular side trip began with the touch of misadventure I’ve come to expect. Jim and I took the metro from his apartment to the Leningrad train station. This would normally have been fine, but we had forgotten that the usually frequent service drops quite a bit during the later hours of the evening before stopping altogether around 1:30 am. So we ended up waiting quite a few minutes at both of the metro stops we had to use on our way to the train station. My train was scheduled to depart just before midnight at 11:59, and we finally ran up to the tracks right at 12:00. One thing to get used to in Russia is that nearly everything runs late and things go rather slowly. The one stark exception to this rule would be the train service. Their punctuality here seems to rival the Swiss. So we ran up to the tracks just in time to see the tail lights of my train as it pulled out of the station. Fortunately, another train was departing 25 minutes later, and with Jim’s Russian language skills and a hefty 70% penalty on the price of my ticket, I was able to secure a spot on the next train. At least I didn’t have to completely forfeit my trip!

Today was my first day completely on my own in this rather foreign land. I struggled for about half an hour with figuring out the metro system, but I ended up getting to the right place on my first try. I emerged next to one of the city’s canals and walked along it to Спас-на-крови (Spasna krovi), a large, ornate, onion-domed cathedral. I continued along the fringe of a park and made my way to the city’s most famous attraction, the Hermitage museum. Housed in Catherine the Great’s winter palace, this is a world-class museum on par with the Louvre. Like the Louvre, I enjoyed the Hermitage at least as much for its architecture as I did for its art. Hyperbolically massive and lavishly decorated, this sprawling building would take at least an entire day to explore fully. I perambulated its grand halls, staircases, gilded ball rooms, throne room, and salons for a solid 3 hours and only covered about half of one of the three levels. I paid an extra 200 rubles to join an English guide into one of the treasure galleries which are only accessible with a paid guide. There I saw opulent evidence of the fabulous wealth of the czars. Rather than bore you with too many details, I’ll distill what I saw to just two examples. One was the bathroom set for one of Peter the Great’s nieces. Gold-framed mirrors, brushes, vases, etc. formed a collection of primping props that incorporated over 45 kilograms of solid gold! The other example is Catherine’s horse bridle and blankets which incorporated over 18,000 cut diamonds. I hope they were tied on good and tight in case she ever brought the horse to a gallop.  Pictures tell these sort of stories best, though, so check out my photo gallery below.

I spent the afternoon meandering my way over the Neva River, through some old walled city/fort, through several parks, and past many grand, columned buildings. I’ve noticed that in Russia, or at least here in St. Petersburg, many of these grand buildings are painted in unexpected pastels. The winter palace, for example is an unlikely turquoise with white columns and gilded tympanums. Others are light pink or yellow.

The afternoon turned a bit more bitter as the skies darkened and the wind picked up. So I appropriately took up refuge in this rather American establishment with it’s free wifi and quintessential comfort food. I’ve placed a few phone calls to touch base with folks back in the states. I’m nicely warm, the precipitation looks like it’s come to a stop, and I’m beginning to tire of the American music that comes with being in an American restaurant. Actually, I’ve found that Russia is pretty much like the rest of the world in this area. Everywhere I go, it sounds like I’m still working out at my health club. I guess that’s what Americas has always exported best: our culture.

I think it’s time for me to go back out into Russia.

One Response to “Sbarro is actually spelled сбарро”

  1. Lydia Says:

    Hey you – I LOVE reading your blog! I wish I had known that you were going to Moscow sooner; I have a friend there who probably would have been able to show you around a bit. Anyway, sounds like you’re having a good visit – it’s fun to read your blog and I can’t wait to see pictures! Oh, it was good to ‘see’ Ken, Angela, and the kids. Travel safe!!!

    Love you,
    Lyd

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