I walked down Nevskiy prospekt (one of the main roads that goes through Saint Petersburg) after a blini breakfast. Blinis (thin pancakes that are very similar to crepes and are often served with sour cream) are my favorite kind of breakfast. I have eaten this meal almost every morning at the two hotels I have stayed at, with the exception of when they were not whipped up. The realization that there are no blinis creates an unfavorable blini disappointment that is not comparable to very many things... maybe a low score on a test you thought you did well on, or getting a ticket for talking on your cell phone... It is the worst.
Today started well. I ate blinis. Although these were frozen and pre-filled with sour cream they were surprisingly good.
Tomorrow I signed up at the hotel for a blini breakfast too, but I know I won't have the same excitement as today. You see, today at breakfast I witnessed something terrible. A frozen blini was dropped onto the floor, and then picked up and put into the package and then placed into the fridge, right in front of my very eyes. So the question is, will I get the floor blini, and will it be as good as the non floor variety?
My first impression of Saint Petersburg is that it is much more 'European' than Moscow. There are more international corporations, more English menus, and more non Russian tourists (although non Russian tourism was almost non existent in both cities... I can only assume because of the weather).
Peter the Great (who ascended the throne in 1682, at the age of ten) founded Saint Petersburg in 1703, and by 1712 it was already named the capital of Russia. Peter the Great was the first tsar to ever travel to Europe; he returned to Russia with many ideas regarding architecture and general style (he forced his royal advisers to shave their beards in an attempt to be more 'western'). He used Amsterdam to base his city grid, complete with a network of canals. He actually built on a bog and the city flooded with regularity; people thought it was a miracle that his dream was accomplished.
Yeliseev's was founded by a peasant, Pyotr Yeliseev, in 1813. He started with a wine shop but this became a chocolate factory, houses, inns, a food store and a comedy theater. The exterior contains numerous stained glass windows and bronze statues. I guess you could say that Yeliseev lived the American dream, in Russia.
Gostinyy Dvor is just a block away, a mall filled with shops ranging from honey to liquor to home goods to clothing to sports. It is a nice place to hide from the cold, and learn about how to shop like a Russian. If you are Russian and you see someone else buying something (or even just thinking about buying it), you want it too.
The more people there are, the more the crowd increases.
I cannot tell you how many times I witnessed this.
I was shopping for a scarf and held it up to look at it and two different people walking by held up the other end and oohed and aahed, like they were going to buy it. One lady looked at the price tag of the scarf while I was holding it! I have never experienced such a thing. A different woman stopped to help me pick one out (she did not work there. She was a customer. She put her hands onto her face and motorboated when she really liked one).
It is kind of fun, Russians make shopping a group experience.
It is interesting how acceptable wearing fur is in Russia versus in the United States.
I cannot get over this feeling like Russia looks like a giant movie set.
Securing the Neva river was what lead to the foundation of Saint Petersburg. Russia had to battle with Sweden (one of the strongest countries in the world at the time) in order to posses it. The street shown is the Palace Embankment, which runs in between Millionaire street and the Neva. During any other season the Neva is full of river boats and water taxis but in winter it is frozen over.
The Marble Palace is just one of numerous palaces in Saint Petersburg. It was built in 1785 as a present for Catherine the Great's lover (Count Orlov, an artillary officer who helped her gain power after her husband died). The palace contains 32 different types of marble, none of which the count enjoyed since he died before his palace was completed.
Marble Palace has many exhibitions which change with regularity. I enjoyed the variety of Russian art.
Sometimes I like to look at modern art , and be reminded of how much it sucks. It is kind of like eating your least favorite foods to remember why you don't like them.
Or am I the only one who does that?
My favorite was the photography exhibit. The Russian museum invited amateur and professional photographers to email their photos. Out of thousands, over 500 were selected to be displayed.
Millionaires' Street (Millionnaya ulitsa) got its name from the aristocrats and members of the imperial family who once lived here. The Marble Palace is located on this street, and it dead ends into Palace Square, where the Winter Palace is located.
My day was supposed to conclude at the Hermitage (in Winter Palace) but there was a long line that I did not want to wait in so I headed to Gostinyy Dvor to participate in Russian shopping (I figure they could always use one more person to crowd around and help sell products).
When I travel alone I have a general rule not to be out at night, but in Russia I tended not to follow my own rule, being that it always seemed dark, and people stayed in during the day and came out at night. The streets always became packed at sunset.
I have a lot to learn about Russians.