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Summer 2017 Northern Europepalooza trip! Three weeks / five countries / lots of food and drink....

Jun 2017 - Jul 2017

"Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.." - Anthony Bourdain

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Zazdarovje!

Jet lagged...Did someone say Russian vodka?

12:27am

ZAZDAROVJE!

Made it to St. Petersburg after more than ten hours of flying time. We are a bit jet lagged and suffer from a phenomenon I like to call "burning arrows" syndrome. You know what I am talking about - when you are so exhausted from lack of sleep and the time change (9 hours here) that you swear you have hell fire hot arrows stuck in the middle of your forehead and chest. The only cure for burning arrows is a good Russian meal and a helluva lot of pepper vodka at the "Idiot Restaurant", a solid local haunt serving traditional Russian cuisine that we visited tonight.

We landed around 5 PM local time and made our way to our hotel - the fabulous Belmond Grand Hotel Europe. I am way too tired to recite the history, but just know that Tolstoy may or may not have had a drink or three in the main bar - perhaps sitting where I sat this afternoon with my whiskey sours? You never know - I am feeling a bit more "literary" though....

Tomorrow after a good night's sleep we begin exploring this beautiful city.

For tonight, I am getting some rest in preparation for the "White Nights Fest" which begins tomorrow.....

Nautical twilight and scarlet sails...

10:40am

Last night we boarded the Volga Volga on the Neva River for an annual St. Petersburg tradition - the "White Nights Festival". The festival and the Scarlett sails date back to WWII and are inspired by a children's book written to remind children to live their dreams!!

ST. PETERSBURG PUTS ON ONE HELLUVA PARTY!!! The fireworks are the best I have ever seen!

The Volga Volga and the scarlett sailboat were amazing! She may have made me miss my little Ragamuffin sailboat just a bit, but we had a great time, fabulous dinner and wine. Because the sun is so close to the horizon it doesn't get dark here - it only becomes twilight. The sun rises by 3 AM every day and there is almost 19 hours of daylight. At times I feel like I am walking around in a terrarium, and the sun is an LED lamp light - glaring but not powerful. Hard to explain, but it's SO WEIRD!!

The city itself is imposing - wide avenues, many bridges and canals. Neo-classical architecture that surrounds you - envelopes you. Thankfully we have six days here so should be able to get a good feel for the city and explore as much as possible.

We walked around and explored earlier in the day, starting with St. Isaacs Cathedral - a gorgeous church that claims the title of "one of the largest churches in the world." I did, as always, light a candle in memory of my niece, Jennifer. Most of you know from my previous travel blogs that she has candles lit for her all across Europe in the most famous churches in the world. I like to think that she gets a kick out of it - she travels with me everywhere in spirit, so lighting candles for her keeps her close. After St. Issacs, we walked to Senate Park and saw the statue of Peter the Great built by Catherine to honor him. St. Petersburg is filled with beautiful parks - they're everywhere you turn. Today we are going to visit the Hermitage - taking our time there over the next two days as we continue to explore the city. Stay with me for the journey!

Peter the Great...and ballet..

6:47pm

Last night we went to the Mariinsky Theatre to see the ballet. I know, shocking that I would do something so refined and "culturally significant" while in St. Petersburg, but I did indeed!

Did I enjoy it?

Yes, I did. It was beautiful, elegant, a great experience that I will never forget.

After the ballet, we had dinner at the L' Europe, the famous restaurant at our hotel - Grand Hotel Europe. Tchaikovsky honeymooned here. I can see why. The hotel is gorgeous and very old Europe in every way. I highly recommend it if it fits within your budget as it is pricey, but worth every penny.

Continuing our tour, we headed in a hydrofoil to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great - Peterhof - outside of the city, but only 30 minutes away by boat. The palace grounds and gardens are stunning! 1500 acres of beauty filled with gorgeous fountains and landscaping. One observation though on the palace furnishings.

Isn't it odd that we sleep in king sized beds, but poor Peter the Great slept in a very uncomfortable looking twin sized bed?

A highlight of Peterhof was a visit to the Refectory, the church on the palace grounds which was the baptism place of Nicholas II's children - Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, his only son. I have always been fascinated by this Czar, and the tragic demise of his family, not to mention that Nicholas was George V's first cousin, you know - of the Windsor Family of Great Britain. Being of British decent, I find this really interesting.

Since I did visit his summer home, let's talk a bit about Peter the Great. Peter apparently liked his food and drink, as the story goes- he fed his guests excessive booze all day, so much that his drunk guests used to wander the gardens at night and were found in the morning in precarious positions by the staff. After walking the gardens today I had to chuckle a little at that thought.....

On the agenda for tonight is a visit to the "Beer Geek" - a highly recommended joint that serves Russian craft beers! You know I will be all over that....

Stay tuned

Palace hopping and pizza.....

6:38pm

Walked in the footsteps of Bourdain yesterday when we visited the Palace of Catherine the Great - a sprawling place in a town about an hour outside of St. Petersburg. Without our knowledge, our driver knew someone there - so a slip of a few thousand rubles and we went right in and avoided the masssive long lines outside! While that was awesome, the only downside with that is that we were then left with no audio guides, so had to walk through the rooms with little o no knowledge of what-was-what. Upside was of course not having to wait hours to get in - so, it was a trade-off we were Ok with in the end.

Today we spent the entire day at the State Hermitage, an impressive palace turned museum after the Russian Revolution. The Hermitage holds over 3 million artifacts, so forget about seeing everything there, or even half of the holdings. We focused on the Rembrandt's and Da Vinci's and are going back tomorrow to see the Inpressionists and Egyptian collection. The building alone is stunningly beautiful, and originally was the Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Nicholas's family stayed there as well, so I was enthralled with his library and other artifacts. Well worth the visit if you can stand the crowds as they are overbearing st times.

At one point I was shoved and literally almost fell into a Rembrandt, which would have been a very bad, bad thing. A vacation ruined for sure. Trust me.

All this museum hopping made me hungry - sometimes you just have to have a slice of pizza, ya know? I found his fabulous Italian place called Mario Trattoria that the locals go to - food is delicious and extremely cheap! A medium pizza with a caprese salad was about 10 bucks!

My Italian craving satisfied, tonight is our last night in St. Petersburg and we are heading out for traditional Russian food at Literary Cafe, where Pushkin are his last meal before the duel that took his life.

More sight seeing tomorrow and then we had to Minsk, Belarus!

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