Friday, October 14, 2011
St. Petersburg, Russia, and Cruising
I grew up in a generation that feared the Russians. In the early 90s I was in the Thousand Oaks, California audience for the performance of the Red Star Army Chorus when they brought the audience to its feet, and most of us to tears by singing God Bless America. Even then, I never expected to walk the streets of a Russian city, tasting its beauty and photographing the extravagance of its culture.
As always, sharing the adventure with family made it so much more special. The cruise ship's second stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. Ben and I were both in pain, and everything we wanted to see seemed miles away, but we walked for hours, and the weather held off from its expected downpour until we returned to the ship. People in costume posed with tourists like us for a small sum, and we thought it was worth it a couple of times.
There are many photos that show John looking back, and that was because I continually limped along behind the group. I guess he figured they'd eventually lose me, but they never did.
The buildings were amazing, a blend of spectacular and military grey. There was enough gold on some of them to fund a third world country. It will never be scraped off the buildings, of course, since it is their country's heritage in many ways, but it still astounded me to see the glitter next to the somber darkness of some of the older buildings. It is a country of contrasts, if St. Petersburg is anything to go by. Here's your Slideshow.
After wearing ourselves out trying to see everything possible in the city, we made our way back to the cruise ship, and I enjoyed my "daily spa treatment." I should explain that. The first night on board ship, Ben let us know he was going to the ship's spa for a drawing. Hardly anyone knows about this sort of thing, as they're off drinking and exploring. Ben always checks things out, and had learned that there was a "have to be there to win" drawing for products and services in the ship's spa. I invited myself along and got in on the draw. Ben and I sat there and listened to name after name being called, with the people not being present. It ended up with Ben and me each winning $250 in spa services. He used his for a couples massage with Ruth, but I split mine up for the daily massage specials, which meant I got a massage and facial every day we were on the ship, except for the day we disembarked. Sweet. Thanks, Ben. I've never used a ship's spa before. I'd never had a facial before—good things, both.
I spent the next day either with the kids or on deck photographing the Baltic as we went through the passage. It was beautiful, and sunset that night was incredible. I love being on the ocean, and a day at sea is a pleasure for me.
The next morning, as we made our way through the small inhabited islands of the Baltic approaching Sweden once again, I enjoyed the early morning fog and mist that rose from homes and churches dotting what I believe was Finland for a time. It was remote and beautiful, and it appeared that people came and went by boat.
There were few people out as early as I was, but I didn't miss having them in my photos. Some of the islands were tiny, and some were fairly large. You'll see a larger sampling on the Cruise Slideshow.
We pulled into Stockholm at the end of the trip and were among the first to return to land. I have already shared photos of Sweden before and after the cruise, but there's one little side trip I failed to include. We went to a mall for ice cream, and I have to admit it was one of the most interesting presentations I've ever had. They split open an absolutely delicious cupcake or muffin, at the choice of the one ordering, and filled the split with an ice cream or frozen yogurt of your choice. It was way too much, I thought, for one person to eat alone, and the girls had cones instead, which they loved, but Ruth showed us the truth of the old verse: Where there's a will, there's a way.