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Author Topic: Our Russian honeymoon  (Read 32723 times)

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Offline mendeleyev

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Our Russian honeymoon
« on: November 08, 2007, 12:06:15 AM »
Honeymoon....Leningradskaya style!

In the segment about weddings at a Russian ZAGS which also includes details and videos of the Orthodox Church wedding ceremony, I had referenced much earlier about our honeymoon so have decided to post it here.

Our ZAGS wedding took place in late December to accomodate my daughters schedules.  Because this was during the 40 day Orthodox fasting period before Orthodox Christmas, we delayed having a wedding reception dinner party until early January after the fast was concluded.  And I will say that it was quite a party!

So we decided to take our personal honeymoon between those dates.  Her home, her cousin's apartment, and my apartment were packed with guests for the ZAGS wedding and the first days afterward so we really, really needed a honeymoon--to get away from everyone!

Our honeymoon was a gift from her mother.  Just weeks before the wedding she announced that her mother was giving us this honeymoon and it would be a gift.  Great!  And she announced that it would be part of a tour.

The brochures were brought out and there in living colour was the description of a "tour" to Russian's northern capital, St Petersburg.  (My MIL calls it Leningrad to this day.)  So it was a tour, a historical tour, no less. 

Это нормально? (Is that normal?), I inquired of my soon-to-be-bride.

She looked at me funny, as if I had just asked a silly question.

I put the question back in my pocket. Maybe I could bring it out again later.

"Later" came the next day in my office. Oksana, my trusted assistant and personal courtship guide, the person who had helped me learn Russian courtship traditions and manners, the one who could take a lot of credit for helping this marriage come into existence, surely of all people, my dear confidante Oksana would help me. Oksana would tell me the truth. 

Alas, or a lass, Oksana was no help: just another silly look from a female, with a facial expression which resembled something very close to a "did you just ask me a very stupid question?" kind of look.

Okay, when all else fails, ask Sasha.

I should introduce Sasha.  Sasha and Lyuda were two personal guides of the Russian Press Department assigned to a small group of journalists.  Each journalist is part of such a group for what the Russians call "internal accountability." I was part of Sasha and Lyuda's group. Sasha is a choc-a-holic and non-stop smokestack.  He lives to smoke.  Smoking, chocolate, and his family are his passions. Probably in that order, too.

Sasha was also our driver for official (and sometimes very, very unofficial business...so much for any notion of "internal accountablity"). Sasha was also an electronics whiz.  From laptops to digital cameras, he was your man if you had a problem.  My friend Sasha would tell me the truth, and he was always easy to find. Just look for a trail of smoke and follow it in like a heat-seeking missile.  Or when high technology fails, just stick to the ground and follow the trail of chocolate foil wrappers.  Either would work. Bingo, there you are Sasha.

So I asked Sasha. He was outside smoking. (Gee, what a surprise.) In mid-puff he looked at me and the wrinkles on his forehead began to move up and down in unison like a series of tsunami waves coming in to pulverize some backward and unsuspecting Pacific hamlet. 

Что? (What?) he asked.

Is it normal?  I repeated.

He turned away from me to throw his cigarette on the ground. He always does that when he doesn't want to look you in the eyes. Turning back around as he ground it into the snow he only quickly glanced at me with a sly grin and reaffirmed, "Its a gift from your mother-in-law?" Then he grunted, "Tak."  ("So.")

You hear that a lot in Russia. 

People walking around muttering to themselves "Tak" (So). It says nothing. 

But it says everything.

Certain that his cigarette would not be contributing to any new fiery rampage of Moscow, he stomped back inside. As the door slammed I wondered what did he mean by "so."

Guess we're taking a historical tour. For our honeymoon.

Tak.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2007, 10:20:45 AM »
What truly mattered was being with my bride.  Sharing a historical trip with her, and we both love history, would be a bonding experience.

A bonding experience.

So I returned to making wedding preparations and cleaning my apartment for the guests who would be coming. 

Cleaning my apartment. Every guy should do this at least once per year. It's amazing what you will find! If you are dating a lady, do it twice annually. And if she is really special, and you truly care about her, perhaps even monthly, well, so long as one does not go to extremes.   :-X

During the latter part of our courtship period we had settled into a routine. Most weekends if I was in Moscow she and daughter would come over on weekends.  We're fairly traditional and wanted to set a moral example for our children so she and my future step-daughter would stay in the main room (living room) which had a large L-shaped sofa which turned into a very comfy bed. I would typically try to keep the apartment halfway neat and the kitchen and bath very clean for their comfort. 

I slept on the sofa in the very small bedroom which also served as a home office away from the prying eyes at my official office. I had a rule for this room: No females allowed. I had everything organized just so. You know, materials for the story on Uzbek farming trends are in that pile on the floor next to the wardrobe. That pile on the side table? Oh, on the bottom are surveys I need to return to New York, the middle section are open story ideas for a slow news week, and the top are the more urgent projects. I have no idea what is in the top pile, but trust me, they are urgent! (Or they will be sometime in the future!)

Women have no place in such a complex and highly organized environment. Their very presence in such a sensitive area invites total chaos. So you can understand my rule.  ;D

In the kitchen however one can be meticulous. Living in Russia brings it's own hazzards with hap-hazzard food standards. In the kitchen (and bath) one can be clean.  Very clean. Plus, I'd already discovered that files don't keep well in the refrigator.  Too damp....makes the ink run on documents.   

So in the final days leading up to our wedding date I was a busy beaver cleaning my apartment. 

In the midst of that I had work and projects to accomplish. One evening we were having dinner at her home and I decided to look at the tour to Leningrad brochure again. 

Holy cow! The tour bus was coming from Britain I exclaimed!

No, she assured me, the bus would come from here in Russia. Perhaps it would drive down from St Petersburg.

Okay.......I tried to think. When was the last time I'd seen a red double-decker in Moscow? Or St P for that matter? I could not place a single time. Oh well, maybe the Russians were hiding them as a secret weapon during the cold war. If the evil American/British alliance ever decided to invade Tver the Russians would stuff the Red Army in those red double deck buses and off to free Tver! 

I just hadn't seen any around Moscow. 

Mother came in the room to assure me that this would be a very modern and comfortable tour. Not wishing to be offensive, I hugged her and assured her that I was looking forward to this tour and appreciated this wonderful honeymoon gift.

She didn't seem to believe me. So she invited me to sit on the big blue sofa (the same one on which she had tried to poison me with mushrooms more than a year earlier) and we leafed thru the tour brochure together. With my beloved at my side we sat while the ladies went on, oohing and aahing as we turned the pages. Women. You've got to love em'!

I should tell you that Russians love to travel. Decades of living behind the Iron Curtain lifted the idea of travel to the level of fantasy to most Soviet citizens. Ask a Russian/Ukrainian person today their favourite activity or hobby and it's guaranteed that travel will be somewhere in the top 3. Even someone who has never traveled anywhere will list travel amongst their most favourite pastimes.

In this climate Russians have developed their own unique style of travel. Here in the West we rise early in the morning and drive all day to reach our holiday vacation destinations. Arriving tired, we stumble into bed. We'll play tomorrow, but now we must sleep.

On the other hand, Russians board a bus or train in late afternoon or evening and sleep while the train carries them to their destination. They arrive at their destination ready for play. They pointed out that the red double-deck bus would leave Moscow at night and we would arrive by 8am in Leningrad and the historical tour would begin immediately after breakfast.

Was this brochure a piece of left-over Cold War style propaganda? In addition to the modern tour bus, a bright red double-decker bus mind you,  the brochure showed photos of couples relaxing on the main level in plush and luxurious comfort. Pampered, no less. Let's see...hmm...in late December we're going to ride a bus from Moscow to St P overnight as we danced on the top deck while eating chocolate and drinking tea. 

I needed to get my bearings. Perhaps I was lost? Glancing out the window I could see that we were still in Moscow. Glancing at my bride, her face was cherubic. This is for her, I thought. Let's focus on making it special for the love of my life. I watched as she and her mother spoke in wonder about the double decker bus. Heck, the upper level had photos of couples dancing and there were little round tables with flowers and little glass dishes filled with chocolates. Kind of like a cruise ship on wheels, I mused to myself.

The bus even boasted a modern toilet!

Now don't get me wrong, I've seen Russian buses with toilets. Hmm....trying to remember one that worked is an entirely different story.

Glancing back out the window I could see smoke rising from factories down at the river. The loud nose of a huge hydraulic machine punctuated the air with sounds of pilings being driven deep into the permafrost for a new high-rise in the neighborhood.

"I'm in Russia" my inner thoughts whispered to myself. Shrugging off the doubts I turned my attention again to the brochure.  The ladies had moved to the page advertising the hotel. I'd expect such luxury in a major American city, or even in the centre of Moscow where pampered Westerners could not imagine themselves in an Intourist hotel. But this was a tour which cost a few hundred dollars...for 2 people...for 4 days...meals and accomodations included.

As I returned to my little apartment home that evening my eyes darted back and forth to find one of those double-deckers running about.

Not a one.

Tak.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2007, 02:07:19 AM »
It seemed like time stood still for a week before the wedding, then the last two days burst by in a blur.  The wedding was the experience of a lifetime (see posting about ZAGS wedding in the Adventure Continues section).  After a couple of days in her apartment, with guests, we were more than ready to spend some time alone.

Ah, just the two of us.  On a tour.   :'(

Mother and an Aunt called with news that they were on the way over to see us off.  They had been staying at a cousins to make room in our flat and the last guest, a friend from up north had said his goodbyes and left on the train that morning.  Mother would be moving back in and we spent the day of our honeymoon departure cleaning her apartment.

Russian males tend to drink lots of beer during a celebration.  And the tradition once a bottle is empty is to place it on the floor.  We had enough bottles to start a glass recyling business!  

Her apartment building has a large round metal trash chute which was fitted in the far corner of the stairway and travels the height of the building from the top floor to the bottom.  Each floor had a metal door which is just large enough to open and deposit trash.  The trash is deposited and then falls down the chute to an opening on the outside.  

Every Russian citizen must earn their keep and there were a couple of older "trash ladies" responsible for shoveling out the trash at the bottom and taking it to a dumpster about a block down a side street.  On winter nights neighborhood men will sift thru the trash to find the combustible materials.  A large metal barrel holds the combustible material as it is burned.  Folks gather around the outside fire to visit and exchange the latest news and gossip.  

I must tell you that gathering up 3-4 days work of beer bottles and throwing them down that chute was quite a job.  We gathered up all the bottles and sit them on the cement floor of the stairway.  Then she entrusted me with the job of putting them in the chute while she went inside to clean the bathroom.

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Boys will play.  One would have expected a mid-40's man to throw them down the chute quickly and return inside to help his new bride.  A worthy assumption.

But Mendeleyev was having too much fun:  Open the chute, hold the bottle suspended in air inside the chute and then let it go.  Counting 1001, 1002, 1003...her apartment is on the 8th floor....then "smash!"  You could hear those bottles splat as they shattered upon impact.  

I was having so much fun that I almost didn't hear the two little trash ladies yelling and breathing heavily as they ran up the stairs, trying to find the idiot who was dropping glass bombs at the bottom of their chute.


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Fortunately a young mid-40s male is faster than two elderly pensioners.  I scooped up all the bottles within reach, shoved them into that chute for one last rousing smash landing and then turned and headed for our apartment door.  Glancing back I noticed that most of them had been disposed of in my mad dash.  

Except for two Baltika bottles.  Sitting there on that concrete floor.  Baltika #8 if I recall.  That is a mighty fine brew.  Heavy as most German brews with a smooth and malty taste.  I don't drink much, but if needed, a Baltika #8 would be just great.

Leaving the two bottles to fend for themselves, I pulled the door shut and turned the triple deadbolts.

About that time my lovely bride appeared around the corner.  Her English was good and I had taught her key American idioms, like "What's up?" and those were exactly her words as she kissed me on the lips on her way to the kitchen.  After a well placed "Oh not much" I casually strolled down the hall toward her room.  Maybe I could help with the packing.  Get my mind of those two defenseless bottles left stranded outside.

It must have worked because a couple of hours later both bottles had disappeared.  She allowed me to mop the hallway floor while she straighted the main (living) room.  We were done soon, just in time to hear the lift stop and the apartment door open moments later.

Mother and her younger sister scolded us for cleaning.  I think Mother was embarrassed that we had cleaned on the day we were to leave on our honeymoon.  Her Aunt settled into making some dinner while Mother caught up on who had left, who had stayed, etc.  A lot of relatives and friends had been a part of our special ceremony.

I headed for the shower.  Her shower worked perfectly and as the shower ended I was greeted by my bride standing there when the shower curtain opened.  What a lovely surprise!  She held a towel and invited me to step out.  Gladly!  Finally, we were headed off for a real honeymoon.  Just the two of us.  

On a tour bus.

Tak.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2007, 09:58:34 AM »
That night it was cold.  Very cold.  About 6pm we wheeled one medium sized suitcase and a small carry-on bag out the apartment door and down the lift.  We stepped outside to falling snow and a biting wind.  Typical late December in Moscow.  Turning to wave at her mother and Aunt who were leaning out the kitchen window and waving back like a couple of pre-teens, we chuckled at the merry sight and headed up the street toward the bus stop 3 blocks away.

Russian winters are one of my favourite times of the year...once you get over the depression.  I was miserable the first Russian winter--just like the more seasoned vets had warned me.  For most the cold, the dark, the grey and the dreary brings on a strong sense of depression.  With a rare exceptonal day, the sun never really rises fully at all.  Light begins about 10 to 10:30 AM and some days are so dim that the automated street lights never shut off.  Nightfall arrives around 3:30 to 4pm and most days are spent with the constant need for electric lighting indoors and out.  

But once you've been there thru the cycles, the seasonal influence begins to take over, and for me the second winter was much better.  Then 3rd and forward were delightful.  Russia is a land of seasonal adjustments and once your internal clock and system gets in synch, you'll understand and enjoy each season for it's uniqueness.

Russian buses come on time and often.  In a land where very few things are done efficiently, they must have kept a few punctual German bus operators after the war because you can count on a Russian bus.  Same with the Metro.

After a short 12 minute bus ride we were heading down into the Metro.  Anyone with a large bag and most certainly a suitcase would be stopped and searched so we left a little early just in case we were delayed.  Surprisingly, while we saw others being halted and searched in the next 35 minutes on the Metro system, we passed untouched.  I was genuinely amazed.  It was as if they hadn't even seen us.

And so we arrived at our destination early.  We had been instructed to exit the Metro and walk one block to the parking area of a small city park.  At the edge of the park was a shopping center.  We were the first to arrive which made us question if we had understood the directions correctly. A quick look at the confirmation letter and a call home to mother confirmed that we should sit tight.  Sure enough other couples and families began to arrive.  There we stood in a moderate snowfall, waiting for that red double-decker bus from the brochure to pull up and take us north to Leningrad in warm comfort.

I closed my eyes for a moment and relaxed.  We were holding hands and she was making small talk with the wife of a couple who had arrived just minutes after us.  The touch of falling snow on my face felt good.  I wondered what it would be like to ride in that luxurious bus, to go up top and enjoy hot tea and chocolates while the driver navigated our way to the northern capital.  Smiling, I realized that the travel brochure had caught my fancy too, and glancing at her face and how she glowed when speaking about our recent wedding, I hoped that the trip would be as advertised.  I would be crushed if her joy and happiness was turned to disappointment.

Little did I realize that in less than 5 hours we would come just a moment's breath from risking the death of the man standing beside us and that I'd be standing out in a Russian farmyard with my nice winter boots soaked in animal excrement.

But for now, we were ready for our honeymoon.

Tak.

Offline Jared2151

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2007, 12:18:12 PM »
Man, this has to be the mother of all cliffhangers ....

Offline ECR844

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2007, 12:23:09 PM »
Mendeleyev is a hard act to follow...He'll give you nothing but the best. Right up there with a "Jooky TR."

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2007, 07:51:52 PM »
As more tour members began to arrive the nature and extent of the tour began to unfold.  While knowing it was advertised as a historical tour to the high points of Russian history in Leningrad, it became evident that this was a tour which would be attended by individuals and families with roots in the academic community, some of them using the tour as part of a degree program.  In fact, once we arrived in St P our tour guide and lecturer would be one of the top professors of Russian history in the country!  I was impressed with the participants who ranged in age from college students to college professors.  Their spouses and in a couple of cases their children had come along.  Such an adventure can be common for a Russian family.

The makeup of tour participants also explained how mother had found the trip and obtained it so cost-effectively. She is herself a tenured professor in Moscow and no doubt had given up her chance to attend so that we could enjoy it together.  I felt honoured and vowed to myself to give mother a detailed report of what we'd learned upon our return.

It wasn't long before a large bus pulled over and stopped.  I didn't think it was our bus.  It couldn't be our bus.  Something was very wrong.

My new wife who had been busily chatting with the lady standing next to her, took one look at it and here, in quotes, was her reaction:

"Oh God, it's a Russian bus."

I'll never forget those words as long as I live.

Telling me to stay put, she turned and walked began to walk quickly toward a little food market in the shoping centre.  Amazingly, every other female followed her!

In less than 60 seconds all the women had fled and left us men (and a couple of children) just standing there.  Not knowing what else to do we began to shuffle our luggage toward the parked bus.  Who says men are leaders?  Without our wives we don't have a clue what to do next!   :-X

This can't be right, I thought to myself.  It's not red!

Nor was it a double decker...at least not in the way a British bus would be designed and nowhere, and I do mean nowhere, was there any sort of enclosed upper deck for sipping hot tea and eating chocolate.

It was just...a bus.

A very tired looking Russian bus.  It looked odd for some reason and soon I figured out that the front driver's compartment was below on the stowage/luggage level while the passengers were in the main part of the bus.  That was the only similiarity between this bus and the bright shinny one pictured in the brochure.  Sighing, I handed our suitcase to the driver, surprised at how little storage was left--apparently this bus was carrying some sort of boxed crates on the trip.  Certainly not necessary for a history tour, the crates may have contained anything from auto parts to vodka.  

Apparently this bus driver and his company wanted to maximize every opportunity for revenue per kilometre as some luggage had to be placed up in the passenger compartment.  The crates simply took up too much of the underneath storage.  Holding us all in the parking lot until he and the tour coordinator could load the remaining suitcases up front in the passenger section, we stood outside in the snow for another 20 minutes while they loaded and arranged things up top.

By this time all the ladies had reappeared.  It was magic.  Without having to be told, they had taken one look at the bus and instinctively knew that there would be no chocolate, no hot tea, and no snacks inside the bus.  My bride's bag held 3 bottles of water, a link of sauage, some bread and what little chocolate she could grab in the mad dash of 25-30 females all crowding a little market for the same items.  I put my arm around her and thanked her for taking care of us.  We kissed, and the couple we'd been chatting with previously announced to everyone that we had just been married and were on our first trip as a couple.  There was clapping and imaginary toasts.  It felt nice to make friends so quickly.

It was a great start.  The happiness and merriment would last for a few more hours.

Tak.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2007, 09:34:18 PM »
Finally the tour coordinator took out his master list and begin to read off names.  We were getting on board.

I felt a reassessment was in order.  Standing at my side was the most special and beautiful woman on the planet, she was in love with me (I haven't a clue why an ordinary guy could get so lucky!), and we were going to St P for our honeymoon.  Besides, who needed an upper deck?  We had sauage, bread, water and chocolate.  And each other.  The bus may not have been pretty, and yes it apparently doubled as a freight cargo transport, but at least we'd have a nice view of the road and it did have a toilet.

We found our seats and took some time to arrange our carry-on bag which carried our miscellaneous things such as books for reading and a cassette portable player with Christmas music.  We began to "unlayer" a bit in preparation for the ride.

Russians "layer" their clothing in winter.  Have you ever opened a wrapped gift in which each box only led to another box and there was box after box until finally at the end there was the little box?  That is how one dresses for winter in Russia.  It allows for maximum coverage outside in the bitter cold and one can manage indoor heat needs by taking something off when hot or putting something back on when cold.  

The tour coordinator stood near the front of the bus and welcomed the group.  After explaining that there would be 3 scheduled stops during the overnight trip, and announcing that the driver would be playing popular movies during the ride, I should have guessed what would come out of his mouth next.  Those famous words uttered all over the land.  

One might at times guess it to be the official motto of Russia:

"Туалет не работает"  (The toilet doesn't work).

I chuckled to myself thinking of that tour brochure laying on the hall table back in our apartment.   We were together.  Nothing else mattered.

Да, так.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2007, 10:52:21 PM »
Our honeymoon was officially underway.  We were about to hit the road.  This would probably be a good time to talk about Russian roads.

Known as M-10, the Moscow Highway (Московское Шоссе) traveling south and as Leningrad Highway (Ленинградское шоссе) climbing north, 666 kilometres (414 miles) were in front of us. 

When Dwight Eisenhower returned from Germany he was very impressed with German highways.  Realizing that modern highways would aid in the rapid defense should America be attacked, the USA began a campaign which we now know as the US Interstate highway system.  What it also did was revolutionize the economy, stimulating rapid transit of trade goods at a pace unknown anywhere else in the world. 

Stalin on the other hand was afraid of modern roads.  Russia today might be ruled by the Germans had modern highways allowed the Germans to move quickly to conquer Leningrad and Moscow.  And Russia had been battered by Stalin's brutality before Hilter came calling and Russia was too drained to begin a modernization of roads. 

So while the USA modernized thru the 1950s to 1970s, Russia today has less than 10 superhighways.  Known as Federal Highways, most of Russia's road system is not that much different than they were 50-100-150-500 years ago.  In the case of M-10, the Federal highway between Moscow and St P, the only difference today is pavement.  Built by a Frenchman who was lured to Russia by Alexander I on the promise of being commissioned as a Major General in the Russian Army, its the main road between Moscow and St Petersburg.   

The first known "travel article" written about the highway was authored by Alexander Radishchev, who in the year 1790 wrote his “Journey from Petersburg to Moscow.”   “I looked around me,” wrote Radishchev, “and my soul was pierced by the sufferings of humanity. I turned my gaze within myself – and beheld that man’s affliction arises from man, and often only from the fact that he looks indirectly at the objects surrounding him”.

Not exactly an AAA Motor Club endorsement.  He was arrested and exiled to Siberia for writing the report. 

Except for the addition of asphalt pavement, not much has changed to the 2 lane highway which wanders and angles thru small villages and towns toward it's destination.  The main highway in Russia, connecting two biggest cities Moscow city and St. Petersburg has only two lanes, with only a few sections with 3-4 lanes, mainly closer to the two cities.  Designed as a 'reverse' highway in which the middle lane, when it rarely appears, is a passing lane going either direction.  M-10 is accident prone and claims the lives of hundreds annually. 

Don't get me wrong, its a scenic road with lots of little villages and slices of authentic Russian life.  Think of America's famous "Route 66" in the 1950s.  It's just not very fast.

Nor is it safe.


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Tak.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2007, 11:15:06 PM »
Here are some fun videos of folks who've made the trip and lived to post their videos on You Tube:

Roads out of St P:


m10 highway


uphill winter drive near Tver


On the (Russian) road again!

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Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2007, 11:43:27 PM »
The first two hours went very smoothly.  We left Moscow in a steady snow and watched the city lights slowly disappear.  The Golden Ring around Moscow, a ring of small towns and holy places is a rare treasure.  But in almost complete darkness it was hard to enjoy the passing landscape.

We couldn't see very well in front of us either.  With much of the luggage piled up at the front (a factor later on that night as it blocked the hatch leading down to the driver) we simply enjoyed each other's company and got to know our neighbors a bit.  There is a bond when you share an adventure and it seems that friendships are easier to make when you meet someone with whom you share a common quest.

We enjoyed the Christmas music also and decided that reading would be useless.  I had brought two small battery operated reading lights which fit over the cover of a book but who wants to read when in the company of new friends!

In the rows directly behind us was a threesome of two boys and one girl.  University students, they were fun to talk to and fascinated with the opportunity to practice English with a real native American.  Directly across the aisle was the couple we'd first met while waiting for the bus.  He was some sort of an "engineer" and she was a school teacher.  Behind them was another family.  In all there were at least 60-65 of us on this adventure.

Note:  When someone tells you they are an engineer it can mean one of several things.  Sometimes it indicates the type education they received.  For example, a person who did not attend the University but instead graduated from a trade school, will often be called an engineer no matter whether they are a salesperson at the market or a bank teller.  Such an individual might introduce themselves as being trained as an engineer but currently working as a bank teller.  

We were seated in the aisle directly across from the rear door.  This couple was sitting directly across from us and next to the door.  The door was facilitated by a small stairway of 4 metal steps.  It was the only direct entry/exit and worked via pneumatic pressure from the driver's compartment.  


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2007, 12:52:39 AM »
After a couple of hours on the highway the bus begin to slow, coming to a stop at a little roadside restaurant and motel.  As soon as the bus was stopped my bride pointed to the sign at the side of the road.  The name for resturant was spelled using the Russian version ресторан but instead of the expected отель, the sign was in English:  MOTEL.  A good omen I thought to myself.  

Apparently I don't know how to read omens very well.

After being on a bus for 2 hours it felt good to stretch.  Predictably a line formed for the bathroom and there was the traditional toilet lady collecting her kopeks and handing out little swatches of toilet paper on the way in.  The line for ladies formed to the left and men to the right.  Guys do these things much more quickly and I felt sorry for my wife because when I came out she was still standing at about the same spot where I'd seen her last.

Outside the hardcore smokers were lighting up so to kill some time I stepped inside the restaurant.  To my delight there was Diet Coke on sale!  Diet Coke used to be a habit. But I had been warned that while she would not deny me the opportunity to drink sodas, she would not purchase it. I'd have to do that myself.  She wanted to keep me around for a long time and in her mind things such as Diet Coke, pizza, McDonalds, and hotdogs would deny her the chance to enjoy a long life at my side. Out of love and respect for her, I've been able to kick the Diet Coke habit.

In Russia Diet Coke is sold as "Coca Cola Light"  (кока-кола лаёт).  Based on Slavic taste buds it has more than 1 calorie, but is close to the American version of Diet Coke.  So seeing a chance to be sneaky while my wife was in the toilet line, I snatched up 3 small bottles and stuffed them in coat pockets where she was unlikely to notice.

There are some things you just can't hide from a woman.  No sooner had we gotten on the bus than she asked what I had done while waiting for her.  The simple mention of my trip inside the restaurant and she knew.  She was grinning and I was blushing as she "nailed me."  We kissed and laughed together as the bus began to move forward.

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2007, 02:30:49 AM »
In Russia Diet Coke is sold as "Coca Cola Light"  (кока-кола лаёт).  Based on Slavic taste buds it has more than 1 calorie, but is close to the American version of Diet Coke. 

In Netherlands, its also sold as "Coca cola light" with just 1 calorie (for women) or "Coca Cola Zero" (for men) which like the russian version has more than just 1 calorie but tastes infinatly better than the light version.

oh and:
C'mon man, don't leave us hanging like that !!  :reading:
You can change anything in life, but a BMW only for a BMW
My first trip to my wife: To Evpatoria!
My road trip to Crimea: Roadtrip to Evpatoria

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2007, 09:16:38 AM »
Just before we were ready to pull out from the restaurant parking lot most everyone inside the bus had already begun "unlayering."  We took off our coats, hats and gloves and stowed them on the little metal rack/shelf that ran the interior of the bus.  There was a hook below it and our small carry-on had strap handles so we hooked it there for convenience. 

Relaxing in our chairs we were ready for the continuation of our honeymoon.  Leningrad is perhaps the most beautiful city in all of Eastern Europe and certainly one of the most storied destinations across Europa in general.  The bus began to move and spirits were high.

As the driver guided the bus out onto the roadway and turned left for the northern target, concern began to mount inside the bus.  When would the driver close the pneumatic door?

For a few moments it was a minor inconvenience.  But as the bus picked up speed it was soon a problem. 

The couple across from us next to the door were getting blasted by cold air and the bus was kicking up snow from the wheel base undercarriage located near the door.  The "spit" or "slush" or whatever you call it from the snow was becoming very wet.

Our new friend the engineer must have been thinking the same as I because we both rose to find the emergency lever.  We found it...broken off....only a protruding metal stub remained where the lever should have hung.  Apparently this wasn't the first time the bus had experienced a problem with the door.

Another man asked us to step aside and he tried to manually force the door closed, but it was built to retreat back into a metal enclosure.  Getting it to come out of that enclosure was the problem.  Had it simply folded and remained accessible we probably could have forced it shut.

Soon it became obvious that the problem was very serious.

To make matters worse the driver or tour coordinator down in the driver's compartment had started a movie.  There was only one TV set, hanging on a brace from the ceiling near the front.  So to make it possible for everyone to hear, apparently they had decided to blast the volume. When the movie started we in the back had felt sorry for those sitting so close to the front. 


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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #14 on: November 10, 2007, 09:50:07 AM »
The bus had shifted into it's highest safe speed and now the wind was whipping around the interior.  Everyone was grabbing their coats and gloves and trying to keep things from flying out the door.  

My wife had the quick reaction to grab our carry-on and huddled over it on her lap.  Papers and miscellaneous small clothing items such as gloves and sweaters were flying around the cabin in a whirlwind.  Some disappeared out the door.  My little cassette with Christmas music and the paperback book I'd left in the little seatback holder both disappeared sometime during the next minutes as the wind whipped into dangerous levels.

By this time ladies were screaming and men shouting and several guys up front were frantically trying to move some of the luggage stacked at the front of the bus to get to the hatchway that led to the driver's compartment.  That turned into a insurmountable problem:  With so little stowage room below, there was too much luggage up front and with the remaining seats filled with people there was nowhere to move the luggage.

And with the piercing wind howling thru the bus, cooperation for such an organized operation was nil.  The wind was at such a roar that it drowned out the noise from the loud movie.

Maybe now would be a good time to say just a word about movies in Russia.  With a few notable exceptions, film making during the Soviet period had become pretty bleak.  Jobs were given to those who knew someone in power and so the most talented actors, directors, producers and writers weren't necessarily the ones making movies.  And writers were under strict guidelines to weave themes of the glorious Communist experiment into every situation.

And so the most popular movies generally came from Hollywood or Paris.  Overdubbed in Russian, they are pirated and poorly copied and overdubbed.  When countries like the USA began to put pressure in world courts over copyright violations, the Soviets simply left the English in the background and added the Russian on top of the audible English.  They argued that they weren't copying and overdubbing, they were simply "translating" and therefore not liable for license fees.  That practice continues today.  If you come across a movie where you can still hear the English underneath the Russian voices, and only 3-4 Russian voices are tying to do all the voice parts (Tom Cruise is soooo cool with his parts being spoken by a Russian female) then you'll know it's a pirated product.

I don't think anyone on the bus that night could remember anything specific about the movie. Grown men were stomping their feet on the floor tying to get the attention of the driver and tour coordinator below.  Unfortunately most of the passengers were seated over the bottom stowage area which was filled with freight.  They never heard us.

...the bus continued on it's trek northward.

Tak.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #15 on: November 10, 2007, 12:48:45 PM »
The best of Russia was also on display that night.  I had mentioned earlier that a family sat behind us a couple rows back.  The wind was blasting our rear section especially and quickly several men organized an operation to move the children forward toward toward the front of the bus where it was cold but not directly blasted by the cold Arctic air.

The kids had to walk past the open doorway and it was sucking anything loose out into the cold Russian winter so we passed the kids along, row by row.  The man in the seat in front of us stood near the doorway, hanging on for dear life, as he used his body as a shield, so that the children could move by the open doorway without danger.

Thanks goodness there was heat--we were all freezing--but the heat coming inside was at least keeping the situation from mass disaster. 

All lot of things had happened and it seemed like an eternity but in reality we were still in the first few minutes of the situation.  One has to admire Russian ingenuity because the engineer had a flash of brilliance.  Remember that toilet that didn't work?

The toilet may not have worked but it had a door.

We needed a door.

Tak.


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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #16 on: November 10, 2007, 03:15:16 PM »
The bathroom door had been locked but on this night it wasn't locked for long...a man who had been introduced as Vlada crashed thru it.  Unfortunately it was a metal door and his method of opening the door left it bent in a funny "V" shape.  We'd have to correct that.

His burst had taken care of the bottom hinge but it took two guys twisting and pulling until the top hinge gave way and relinquished it's hold on the bent door.

Now there were two new problems:  The door was too small to fit the opening.  Also the metal stairs had iced over from the wet slush and blowing wind. 

Just as one of the young University students and our engineer moved into place to try angling the door at least partially across the opening, Alek the engineer slipped on the step and almost slipped out the open doorway.

In that weather, at that road speed, at that hour in the night, survival of such a fall is doubtful.  By the grace of God, Vlada was standing behind them and in a flash had grabbed Alek by the arm.  The two were holding on to each other for dear life.

However in that crowded position and on the icy stairway, the force of the suction was about to pull them both out the door.  Very quickly we could feel other guys around us pulling them back away from the door opening.  It was then as the shaking and shivering second man was being pulled up, the bus began to slow down, eventually to a moving crawl.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #17 on: November 10, 2007, 09:02:23 PM »
Thank goodness for detours!

A detour in the road made it necessary for the bus to slow to a crawl to read the signs, then made a turn and for a moment seemed like it would regain speed again before pulling into a wide spot just a stone's throw away from a barn in a snow covered field.  The detour had confused the driver.

The bus came to a complete stop and then came the noise from the pneumatic door trying to move.  The driver thought he was opening it.  But it was stuck.  Finally it bounced out of it's encasement and shuttered as it began to close.  However a layer of ice on the bottom step kept it from closing and it snapped back before making one final burst to a closed position.

We could hear the crunch of the driver's footsteps as he and the tour guy came to the back.  It sounded as if they stopped in mid-step.  The driver and tour coordinator must have stood there with their eyes wide in amazement.  They knew the door should be open, not shut, and the driver raced back to his compartment and hit the button again.  He must have been in shock.  

We had lost all track of time.  Had we traveled like that for an hour or more?  Being alive, my guess it was a lot shorter (10-15 minutes?) but it had seemed like a lifetime.

I waited for the explosion of tempers.  Russians can sometimes shrug their collective shoulders, mutter the oft-repeated "It's Russia" phrase, and go on with life.  As this was a fairly educated group so I was curious to see what the emotional response would be.

Several guys came very close to blows with the driver, and the coordinator was hammered with insults and demands for refunds.  At times the women seemed to be the most angry.  More Russian swear words passed thru my ears in the next 20 minutes than I've ever heard in one place.

The only thing in my opinion that saved those two from a beating were the frozen steps.  It took some care to get off the bus without falling.   Some eventually got off the bus but my lovely wife sat quietly in her seat.

The excitement had been too much for me.  

I needed to use the toilet.

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #18 on: November 11, 2007, 11:00:40 PM »
Russians love to smoke:


For those of us who wanted to get off the bus it was a slip and slide operation but we made it.  A few passengers got off to smoke (Americans watch football, Russians smoke) and a couple of us went in search for a spot to make a toilet.  We ended up next to the barn with men to the left and ladies to the right.  It really didn't matter.  Even in a full moon the bus windows were frosted over and it was like many other Russian toilet experiences...in public but with a small measure of privacy.

I made a really dumb mistake and walked up too close to the barn only to find myself quickly sinking in a mucky gooey substance.  That smelled to high heavens!  The messy substance oozed over the top of my walking boots and down inside my feet.  Ugh!  Another guy had the same problem so we walked around dragging our feet/shoes in the snow to try to clean them off somehow.

It didn't work.  When the driver had the steps cleared and the door working again I sat down in my seat with the most uncomfortable feeling.  I think normally we would have laughed about it but given the night's events she just stroked my face.

She commented that "America must be so modern and this is all so backward for you."  I reminded her that there are parts of the USA which are very backward also.

This was our honeymoon, and while I didn't know how I could personally make it better, it certainly would not be very manlike to make it worse for her.  

We soon continued but the mood among the passengers was somber.  No more movies, music, or laughter.  It was a subdued and very quiet ride the remaining hours on into Leningrad.  She finally drifted into kind of fitful sleep and I held her as we huddled together.  I just didn't know what to say or to do.

There had been 3 scheduled bathroom/smoke stops and the second stop was early and unscheduled but it was our last.  The driver aimed the bus north and we traveled on until we reached the outskirts of the city.  

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #19 on: November 11, 2007, 11:25:43 PM »
No illusions:

We arrived at the outskirts of St P and the bus pulled up at a very modern hotel.  Based on the trip so far, I had no illusions about this being our home for the next 4 days.  The tour coordinator climbed up inside the passenger area and told us that we would wait here to pick up to pick up the professor who would be our lecturer.  He asked us to wait patiently.

That went over like an underground airplane.  These passengers were in no mood for any patience.  We had been on the road for hours after the unscheduled stop and he was informed that he had better arrange toilet accommodations quickly. Later he would prove to be a very knowledgeable and intelligent man as the tour proceeded. 


Somethings should be said here about Russian hotels:

First, unlike American hotels, you just don't walk inside and use the restrooms.  Likely a guard will meet you at the entrance and ask your business and if have a legitimate reason then you may proceed.  But stopping in to use the toilet can get you thrown out on your ear.

Second, those girls in the lobby or bar area in the smokin hot miniskirts work there.  And they aren't part of the maid staff.  Use a "pick up line" and they'll ask for cash, visa or mastercard.

Less than 5 minutes later and the coordinator reappeared with news that we could go to the toilet. Usually Russians are pretty bad about lines, paying little attention unless forced. I was able to clean my boots from the barnyard experience. That was one of the best feelings of the trip so far!

It was morning but still dark in the far northern exposure but the lights from the parking lot allowed us to straighten up inside the bus a bit.  A lot of things had blown around, some items just gone out with the wind.  I'd lost a book and small portable cassette player. 

Only later would I discover that my camera was damaged, likely being whipped around by the wind when our carry-on bag was first hanging near the window.  It took photos and they showed fine in the view monitor but back home in Moscow we sadly discovered that well over half of our photos were blurred beyond use.  Only a few were okay, and none were of great quality. 

That was very frustrating later because we had been inside St Isaac's, the Peter & Paul fortress, the Hermitage, the Summer Palace, Church on the spilled blood, and so many other historic locations. 

Soon our tour history professor arrived and we continued on into the city.

[ Guests cannot view attachments ]

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #20 on: November 11, 2007, 11:48:37 PM »
A 'real' tour guide:

The history professor turned out to be quite an outgoing personality! I admired her spunk for the very first moment because she had no clue what had happened on the trip. So after being introduced she told us that she would begin pointing out landmarks immediately as the bus traveled. Hmm, typical tour. At first it made me wonder if she was really a professor of history or some middle-age broad who had memorized a tour script. But quickly she put my mind at ease. 

She had a way to drawing you to her. The first thing she asked was "how has been your trip been so far?" Oh boy. She got a lecture for the next several minutes. But she responded well and promised that now we were on her turf and she would make certain we had a satisfying trip from that moment forward. And she kept her word.

We rolled into the area of the Naval Observatory and soon the bus stopped. It was time for breakfast. Two daily meals were part of the tour, usually lunch and dinner, but today it would be breakfast and dinner and there would be no lunch. We were guided into a little restaurant that was waiting for us. On such tours the meals are usually prearranged and you don't order a meal, instead you just eat what is served to you. 


[ Guests cannot view attachments ]


Russians don't really have specific foods for breakfast in the way that we do in the West. But there are some items you may on occasion find on a breakfast table and one of them is rice porridge. It is one of my favourite items for breakfast although you can easily find it at just about any mealtime. It is rice boiled in milk or cream with a dash of sugar. Very tasty! 


[ Guests cannot view attachments ]


Russians also eat bread with any meal. Typically that hard rye wheat bread that is very dark, hence why it is often called Russian black bread. White bread can be found on some tables also. Russian bread is very different from the soft American bread many of us eat. No matter the colour one must slice it off the loaf with a knife and it is hard and chewy.  Great with real butter! We were served a bowl of rice porridge, two slices of bread, and hot tea. After a quick break so everyone could take a toilet/smoke break, we were on the bus.

But not for long. The bus quickly found a parking space and we unloaded and were told to prepare to tour and learn the history of how Peter I built the Russian Navy.

It was not until we returned to the parking area to meet the bus later that afternoon that the rest of us learned that the overnight experience had cost some tour members.

[ Guests cannot view attachments ]


Our new friend the engineer and his wife were gone. The family with the two children had left also. They had returned to Moscow.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #21 on: November 12, 2007, 12:08:34 AM »
Some history/photos:


[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Emblem of Russia, double-headed Eagle.


[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Petrograd/Leningrad/St Petersburg


[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Dusk at mid-day.


[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Nevesky Prospect.


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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #22 on: November 12, 2007, 12:33:13 AM »

The next photo in inside the Hermitage.  Unfortunately most of our photos are too blurred to use.  

[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Ballroom of Catherine the Great.



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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #23 on: November 12, 2007, 01:14:49 AM »
Our hotel:

The hotel provided a little humour and today we still smile and chuckle about our little room.  That devilish brochure advertising the tour had promised 3-4 star accomodations.  

Maybe now would be a good time to mention something about Russian hotel ratings.  During the 1960-70s countries like America, Canada, Germany, the UK, etc were standardizing how hotels and restaurants would be rated.  The first real rating system was developed by the folks at Mobil Oil, an international company.  Soon the label of "stars" would become common in the west.

The Soviets wanted to get in on the action but quickly learned that there were only a handful of hotels in all the CCCP which could get on the radar at all.  So they kicked out the international folks and came up with their own rating system.  Needless to say, you might beware relying on it too much.  A 3 star for example in Kursk might equal an average Motel 6 in the states.  You get the idea.

Our hotel was the old Intourist in St P.  The brochure wrote glowingly that the hotel (unnamed in the brochure--for good reason) had been thoroughly remodeled to Western standards.  Well, the only western standard thing about the hotel was...  

I'll have to get back to you on that.

For instance, there was our room.  We had requested a standard room with one bed for two people.  (Suites were not available on this tour...and God help us if they'd of had a suite as I'm not sure we'd have wanted it anyway.)

Having a little experience in Russian hotels kept me from being blown away, but some things just never cease to amaze me.

On the first day we toured all day upon arrival.  That night a bus (a different bus!) took us to a little restaurant for another pre-planned meal and then drove us to the hotel.  Where we tried to check in.

In the past, not so much anymore, hotels would not allow unmarried couples have a room together.  Of course, it was okay for a man to call down to the front desk for some "room service" by one of the hot smokin mini-skirted ladies hanging around in the lobby, but heaven forbid two unmarried people booked a room together!

We had a slight problem in that our tour had been booked before our wedding and seeing the two different names on the reservation sent the female desk manager into a dizzy tizzy.  She wasn't going to allow any immorality on her shift!  (At least any that wasn't paid for.)
  
The tour coordinator stepped over and explained that this was our honeymoon.  After about 10 minutes of comparing our passports (we had a further complication in that my last name, which is Dutch, had been transliterated back into Russian on my wife's passport at ZAGS--even when married we had what appeared to be different last names!)

I just shook my head in amazement, uttered that national phrase of "It's Russia" (and you thought I was going to say "toilets don't work" didn't you?!) and let the tour guy do his magic.  Finally we surrendered our passports for the night and were handed a key.

The room looked clean although the furniture was ancient. It had heat...sort of.   The bathroom had a shower...sort of. There was a faucet in the middle of the room at ceiling height.  It was a small bathroom and the way to take a shower was to clear everything out so it wouldn't get wet, close the shower curtain (which protected the door from getting wet) and then turn on the water at the sink and then flip the little lever which would re-route the water from the sink to the faucet in the middle of the ceiling.  

Go that?   ;D

At least every fixture, and yes I mean every fixture (and you know what I mean) got a cleaning anytime one took a shower.  Perhaps this was some sort of streamlined and efficient system the Germans had left to help hotel maids be more productive.   :'(

And did I mention the beds.  Yes, plural.  Two thin beds, smaller than normal "twin" beds, one on each side of the room.  For our honeymoon.

We tried to put them together side by side but there was a gap between the two because of the wood frames.  That gap was about an arm's length wide.  So we shoved the beds back in place and decided that we'd stay much warmer at night if we "conserved energy" by sleeping in one bed.   :party0031:

Now of course to pick which of the two beds we used good common sense.  Each bed had a little lampstand and lamp beside it.  The lamp on the left worked.  The lamp with the bed on the right side of the room didn't work.  Laughing that we would not need any lamps for what we had planned, we chose the one on the right.  Good thinking!   :party0011:

After hosting guests in her apartment for a couple of nights, and then spending the previous night in that bus, this was our first "real" night to be alone together.  

That thin little bed worked just fine.  

We didn't need all that extra space.   :king:

Tak.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #24 on: November 12, 2007, 11:35:16 PM »
I sincerely apologize for the lack of good photos from this trip.  The damage to my camera was the only lasting disappointment from that eventful time, because one wishes to document and record such a special event as a honeymoon to share with family and friends.  Unfortunately little of the photos we took that week are discernable.

I did find one of my bride smiling while outside the Winter Palace (Hermitage).  It is significant to me for two reasons: First, she was beginning to cheer up and regain her spirits.  Second, she wore no makeup cosmetics and to me was still very lovely.

For the rest of the photos I'll direct you to a few very wonderful sites on St P.  It is truly one of the most beautiful cities of the world!


This site is what I would consider to be one of the most complete and important regarding St P.  You can spend hour after hour....and it's worth every photo!
http://www.enlight.ru/camera/index_e.htm


The Amber room is one of the most fascinating stories of an entire room made of amber.  The German army took it apart section by section and it was loaded on a train for Germany but never arrived.  Gone forever, it was recently rebuilt with funds from the German government to the exact detail:
http://spbmos.homestead.com/AmberRoom.html


Catherine's palace photo link:  
http://spbmos.homestead.com/Pushkin.html


Also very nice:
http://www.russian-st-petersburg.com/PhotosPetersburg/NewApr2003/index.html

Very nice:
http://www.russian-st-petersburg.com/PhotosPetersburg/index.html