I enjoyed Russia so much more than I anticipated. Don’t get me wrong- I was very excited to go, but I knew it would be cold. I knew it would be busy. And I knew that work trips always have a way of… well, being work.
The opening reception at the Grand Hotel Europe was amazing. It was a great opportunity to network and see colleagues who I hadn’t seen for awhile. A men’s Russian choir sang for us while we ate, an experience I’m not sure many would have. I sat with some of my favorite people within the company. They didn’t even mock me too much when I had Sprite instead of wine. 🙂
After the first day (which consisted mainly of meetings, ugh, work), we broke out into small groups for dinners. Our dinner was within walking distance, so we set off for this place called Terrassa. It was snowing, but very lightly, so it wasn’t enough enough to get pissed about. The walk was nice because it allowed us time to check out the sights of St. Petersburg. It also gave me time to catch up with my friend Chandru, who I had not seen in a very long time.
The restaurant was very nice– and the menus were absolutely ridiculous! The menu was more like a magazine, I think it had around 20 pages and it gave all the food and then the corresponding images bordered the outside of the page. We quickly made it into a matching game, trying to guess which item was what. When the food arrived, we were also impressed with the taste. I had some sort of seafood udon noodle dish. The Indians had ordered round after round of food, then realized the portions and that they couldn’t eat it all. It was kind of humorous.
Our dinner ended and a group of us… well… the women…. decided that we were going to go shopping. There was a giant mall across the street from our hotel and everyone had a different mission. Diane wanted a soccer jersey for her fiancee’s son. Marsha wanted a coat like Diane had bought the day before. April wanted a Russian hat for her husband. And I- I wanted nesting dolls. The mall is actually very different than malls in the United States, because all of the rooms are connected. You walk into a store and then you immediately walk into the next, there’s no division. I found the nesting dolls almost immediately and then tagged along with everyone else while they made their purchases, which was extermely helpful. It made me remember why I hate shopping malls.
I got back to the hotel, went to the bar to say hello, but stayed away from any tasty beverages. I was still tired and recovering from the nights before.
The next day was potentially my favorite day in Russia. After the sessions were over a bus took us to the Hermitage, which is one of the most famous and prestigious museums in the world. Oh, and the most BEAUTIFUL. For real. I mean, words cannot even express how Impressed I was with the museum. The Hermitage is so large that it would’ve spent days upon days to see the entire thing, but because we had local tour guides, they were able to show us the best of the best. We were able to see some VanGoghs and some Picassos. We were able to see beautiful, elaborate designs and rooms so breathtaking I was literally was letting out contented sighs while I was in them. We also got to do a bit of goofing around, because I was with a fairly fun group who knew how to have fun.
At the end of the tour we were able to see the peacock clock. It’s a very famous clock that has a peacock, an owl, and some other naturelike items in its mechanisms. When the clock is wound the creatures “come alive” and the peacock even makes some… peacock-esk noises. The sounds aren’t pretty, but they are pretty cool. The clock, which is now very old, is only wound up around once a month or for “very special guests.” I assume we were in that latter group, and it doesn’t go unappreciated.
We exited the museum portion of the Hermitage to the sounds of a string-quartet and was greeted in the reception area with champagne waiting on the tables. I wasn’t going to have any, but my arm was twisted (rather softly) by my colleagues and I gave in to the bubbles.
The rest of Russia kind of went by in a blur. It definitely became more… worky. I attended more sessions. Worked. Stressed out. Relaxed. Drank. Socialized.
We did get to see Catherine’s Summer Palace and also take a horse sleigh ride around Alexander’s park. The palace had an extraordinary exterior, but the inside was less impressive than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, for a house, sure, it’s pretty amazing. But after seeing the Hermitage I think I expected more. As for the horse ride- well, we have horses and we have snow in Iowa. Granted, we also have dogs in Iowa and I was still excited to pet the dogs in Russia, so I can’t really talk.
On the last day in Russia I finally got to take advantage of some sight seeing opportunities. Originally I had planned on going out on Sunday, but after that Saturday night, I didn’t end up making it out of the hotel. Lucky for me, Jim and Frank also had nothing to do and were ready to do some exploring.
The first stop was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood- the only thing that wasn’t on the agenda that I really wanted to see. The outside of the church was beautiful and iconic and I felt immediately drawn to the building. The church itself was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated, which I think is where the “blood” reference comes from.
The interior of the church was even more beautiful and intricate than the outside. The inside was comprised completely of mosaics. 7,500 square meters of mosaics– more mosaics than any church in the world.
After we left the church (which I think Jim and I would’ve been content to hang out in all day), we moved on a bit farther to go see St. Isaac’s Cathedral. At St. Isaac’s you can pay to enter the church, but also pay to walk to the top of the cathedral and overlook the city. Well, of course we would like to. Oh, what’s that you say? It’s 622 steps? Um, yeah. I guess we’d still like to.
Breathtaking views. The weather was brisk, but I felt good after jogging up the steps. I was also very contented at the top of St. Isaac’s- I’ve recently discovered that I like places where I feel calm, but slightly out of my element. Those are usually high places, or places where the land meets an ocean. But I digress. Feast your eyes on this.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: A Rumor in St. Petersburg (Anastasia Soundtrack). Does a soundtrack song from a Disney movie really count as a song? Regardless, when my roommate Sarah had heard I was going to Russia, she couldn’t stop singing “Have you heard, there’s a rumor in St. Petersburg…” over and over. Then, when I got there, I couldn’t stop myself.
BUDGET: This was a five day work trip, the costs were covered by the company.
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: If you’re drinking Russian vodka, the typical “chaser” is some sort of pickled treat. It’s a really interesting palate cleanser… not that you notice after the fifth or sixth…
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: The Cathedral of Spilled Blood. It’s my favorite cathedral (and I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals), and absolutely spell-binding.