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Author Topic: Our Russian honeymoon  (Read 28921 times)

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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.


Offline mendeleyev

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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.


Offline mendeleyev

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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.  

Offline mendeleyev

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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. 


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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! 


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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.

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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.


Offline mendeleyev

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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.



Offline mendeleyev

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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

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #25 on: November 12, 2007, 11:56:30 PM »
One of the highlights of that trip was spending New Year's eve at a hotel party in Petersburg.  We had a blast.  The ticket (not included in the tour) was $300 per couple. 

My economical bride had brought along a little electric water kettle that made 2 cups of tea at a time.  She also brought along instant mashed potatoes and our tour ended early on New Years eve so that couples could have time to prepare for any of the several parties to which we could purchase tickets.  So as we were dropped off at the hotel she wanted to buy some sausage.  What on earth for?  I asked.  She suggested we buy sausage and she would make the instant mashed potatoes with water from the little kettle.

I pulled out tickets from my coat pocket and she squealed in delight, hugged me, and then spent the rest of the afternoon putting on some serious hair and cosmetics for the evening.  My prior New Year's Eve celebrations had given me an idea that this would be special.

Let's just say this:  Russians know how to throw one heck of a party!

We dressed nicely in a suit for me and a long flowing dress for her because the tickets I purchased were to a ball.  Holy macaroni, the food started flowing about 8:30pm and we shared a table with another couple we'd never met before.  They were vacationing in the city and were very nice.  I've never seen so much food in all my life.  It never stopped.

By 10pm I was more than stuffed and waiters were bringing out new platters of salads, meats, pastries, cakes, vegetables, more meats, more salads, etc.  Every 30 minutes a fresh wave of food would make it's way to our table.  I was swimming in food and thankfully she didn't expect me to eat from everything.  We left the party about 3:30am and they were still bringing out food every 30 minutes.

We danced to a big band orchestra which entertained for about an hour.  Then a circus troupe came in, complete with monkeys, and did a 45 minute show there in the ballroom.  Then a Russian rock band showed up doing American oldies.  Then a string quartet came by for 30-40 minutes and then a Russian comedian entertained.  Another rock band did European hits and then a troupe of magicians showed up.  All night we danced, ate, sang and had a very special time.

At the stroke of midnight the champagne came out with a bottle per person.  Everyone was handed fire crackers and other assorted fireworks and after the countdown and toasts, we launched our own fireworks show there in the hotel ballroom.  I was amazed that we didn't torch the entire city.  In America the fire department would have arrested everyone in sight, but hey, "it's Russia!"


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #26 on: November 12, 2007, 11:58:00 PM »
Another big band orchestra followed and when we left about 3:30 a Euro hits rock band was playing.  The waiters had sat down a fresh new food course as we were standing up to leave.  It was one serious party.  The food alone was worth $300 and the entertainment was excellent.

Believe it or not we had been scheduled to tour the Tsar's summer palace at Noon on the first of January so we made it to bed by 4am and got a little sleep.  Being together on that narrow little bed sure was nice after all those years of being single!

Tak.

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #27 on: November 13, 2007, 12:20:14 AM »
Thanks to this forum's good friend Olga, here is a link showing St P at night!


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #28 on: November 13, 2007, 12:25:19 AM »
Thank goodness her happy smiles returned and we could enjoy the time together.

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Re: Our Russian honeymoon
« Reply #29 on: November 13, 2007, 12:56:47 PM »
mendeleyev That Video is one of several Olga has made by herself for her website.