I am recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I kept a journal of sorts while I was there, not necessarily with a blog post in mind, but a series of blog posts it has become.
Aug 23. Salt Lake City to Fort Worth/Dallas airport. Hey there's a yoga studio here, gotta check that out!
Dallas - Amsterdam. Sitting next to me is a lovely Sudanese high schooler, starting school again in two days. Her father is Dutch, her mother is Sudanese but raised in London. She and her two sisters live two hours south of Amsterdam, learning Dutch and English. We are getting along famously, until I spilled my cup of water on her. *doh!*
The flight attendant asked me a question in French, assuming I was French. This makes my day (obvs).
Surprise! Five hour layover in Amsterdam. I asked to be dropped off a the Rijksmuseum. I see Vermeer's Milkmaid, and I am moved to tears by seeing a Vermeer for the first time. The colors?! Unbelievable. I see Rembrandt's The Nightwatch, and I am surprised at how overwhelmed I am by it. Rembrandt isn't my favorite, but seeing this painting brings it home to me why he is a master. I visit the Flemish 15th century tapestries, and revel in their mille fleurs brilliance.
Aug. 24. Fly to St. Petersburg
Welcome to Russia! We will lose your luggage, and make you fill out 6 separate but identical forms about it!
We almost die in the taxi ride. Twice. Worse than Italy?
Arrive at the Taleon Imperial Hotel. In a word: opulent. That Catherine sure knew luxury. I've never stayed anywhere so grand. It feels like a sleepover at Downton Abbey.
There is a female mannequin next to the hotel desk, wearing a blonde wig and a crimson flamenco dress...um, why?
I don't believe in jet lag, but it believes in me.
Aug 25. We find a delicious bakery around the corner from the hotel, Le Pain Quotidien. I eat a croque madam, almond croissant and peach camomile tea for breakfast, and enjoy every morsel and drop.
Hydrofoil to Peterhof. Vern Swanson always says the national bird of Russia is the construction crane, and its true. I've never seen so many in one place.
Oh my Peterhof - could you be lovelier? Fountains are glorious!
Church on the Spilled Blood. Oh my, tesserae!
We returned to the hotel, and guess what?! My suitcase came! I went for a swim in their exquisite pool, and was much refreshed. I don't want to go home.
Canal boat ride, loved every minute. The boat has a warning sign: "Dear guests! There are 500 bridges in St. Petersburg. But you only have One Head. So be careful." People ride jet skis through the canals, and it looks like so much fun.
Dinner at a delightful cafe called Katyusha on Nevsky Prospect. Menu offered things like elk meatloaf and veal tongue. I asked for a slice of Bird Cherry Cake, but they were already sold out. Now I'm a bit obsessed with figuring out what on earth that is, and if I can replicate it at home.
Walk back to the hotel, and the city is abuzz with live music, people and movement. I make a realization: I am in love with this city!!!
Aug 26. Hermitage. Can I just not write anything about the Hermitage? It overwhelms all the senses in its vast majesty and brilliance. Its hard to believe such a place like this exists.
Waiting for the Peacock Clock to chime. It is so crowded, so overheated, so airless that there are a couple of times I knew if I unlocked my knees, I would probably faint.
I know "personal space" is an American mental construct, but it is nearly impossible to ignore. I hate being crowded and can't help feeling like others are being exceedingly rude by jostling me.
I wish I lived in Europe. Whenever I say that, people respond, "No you don't, because blah blah blah." I'm 30 years old now, and I have wanted to live in Europe for as long as I can remember. So who is it to say that I wouldn't want to live there?! Why do people presume to know more about me than I do? And why the hell have I listened to them for so long?! Its going to be harder to go home than I imagined.
Aug 27. Piskaryovskoye Cemetery, the mass burial site from the siege of Leningrad, 1941-43. The German attack on St. Petersburg was not what it was on Paris. Hitler wanted Paris for himself, and didn't cause damage. He ordered Leningrad to be wiped off the face of the earth. If the Nazis were allowed to breach the siege ring, it would mean absolute destruction for the city in every feasible way. It meant annihilation. I don't believe any people have suffered like the Leningraders did during the siege. From the psychological terror of living within a ring surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies, cut off from food supplies and support, and the bitter, bitter cold...I doubt any other group of people have suffered quite like that. Everything I have seen in St. Petersburg was hard won, great sacrifices were made to keep it standing.
I shed some tears here, but not for those who died. They were relieved of a horrific situation. I cried for the people left behind, for the families that were torn apart. Before I came here I did extensive research into the siege, and some of the children's accounts are beyond comprehension.
The United States has never faced anything like this as a nation.
I make a realization in part about why I love Europe so much: History is accessible to the senses, in art, architecture, language and food. It is so much less so in the United States, you have to work so hard to see it, and its all so relatively young. By and large, American culture is not aware of history, and where I live particularly, it is expected of me to be happy and blithely ignorant of anything sad. But here's the thing - I have heartbreaks and cemeteries and sadness. I believe leaving that accessible leads to a richer life, rather than an empty smile.