No need for the former, and most glad I brought the latter.
The Background. Tony needed to schedule a work trip; and Anna Grace wanted us out of the house during the school autumn break to knock out a couple of IB essays and otherwise enjoy the silence. Plus, Tony’s rationale was that the possibility of snow in October far outweighed the certainty of soul crushing tourist hoards and cruise ship day-trippers in a more pleasant climate month. Smart man.
The Flights. Rossiya, the little sister carrier to Aeroflot. We enjoyed all of the luxuries of this €230 flight: a fully booked plane; one sad cream cheese-laden sandwich each way and a small and meager cup of beverage to go with. But at least Rossiya checked my 22kg bag for free.
Though, one could purchase Russian Ramen on board the plane.
The Lodging. Not on our Euro cent so I will limit my commentary to the hotel room heat being tropical, and lamenting the flannel jammies I had packed. We actually had to turn the heat off and open the window on the -3C overnights just to keep the room temperate.
The Itinerary. Of no matter, for it went “POOF” within the first couple of hours upon arrival. See, The Weather.
The Weather. On the departure morning the forecast (on the official Saint Petersburg tourist website, which should begospel truth) called for three days of “Sleet and Snow.” Gospel truths are open to interpretation, we learned. Our arrival and the first two days offered cold, cold sunshine with intermittent clouds against a late autumn sky, adding a brooding effect to my snaps that Dostoyevsky himself would be impressed with, but also upending my scripted plan. Our final day was more like the forecast suggested, but that was of little matter since we were indoors touring the Hermitage. Overall, thank goodness for the fur-trimmed hats I inherited from my Babushkas to wear on this holiday.
The Wardrobe Malfunction. Bracing for the Hermitage I packed a favorite skirt, tights, and my trusted ballerinas with urban trekking soles. On Hermitage Day I pulled the tights from my Tumi to discover that I had somehow packed DD’s footless tights instead! (Note to self: never, ever, ever again share a laundry load with DD). A quick run to the 24 hour-market down the street came up empty, too. A bleak sadness fell upon Room 812 and I was eventually resigned to a 6,4km hike through the great palace in heeled ankle boots and jeans. Sigh.
The Food. Overall I estimate that I devoted a good work weeks’ worth of time to reading, researching and otherwise planning this trip. Along the way I had also read that Saint Petersburg is known for its gastronomic offerings; a good fraction of the planning time was hence devoted to what we would eat. Being of Polish heritage I know my way around pelmenis, pierogis, and all of the stuffed dumpling variations on this side of the former Iron Curtain; and our meals in the many seriously good Balkan restaurants in Vienna have earned Tony his Shashlik street cred, so we sought “something more” than the stereotypical Russian dishes one might enjoy. I set the bar high with my restaurant selections, and scored a perfect 10.
Not Vienna. Saint Petersburg.
Our airport driver was in the mood to take the slowly, plodding, getting-stuck-behind-the-trash-truck neighborhood streets to reach the main road leading to the Autobahn and the airport, and so we arrived at the terminal to meet a check-in queue longer than a Soviet breadline. I suggested to Tony that he queue in the “Priority” line while I held a space in the Cattle Class line; because he was traveling on his official passport, perhaps that would count as “Priority.” It worked, our cases were tagged and we were on our way. Little victories.
The hotel driver’s name was Vladimir and he drove like a maniac. But after surviving the ride to the airport in Minsk (“At one point I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best”) I was calm, taking blurry snaps as we sped and wove through traffic to our hotel.
At this point the sun was setting in between the clouds, completely in contrast to the forecast. DH and I dropped our cases, tore up the carefully planned itinerary and made haste to The Palace Bridge, where I captured the pale green of The Hermitage against the steel blue skies.
The cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress sparkled from across the river, too.
On our way to dinner, St. Isaac’s Cathedral glowed brilliantly. The hours for touring had passed, but we would return later.
The cheese from the sandwich no longer sustaining me (the bread was too cold, and the meat (?) too weird to eat) dinner was the first of two important activities for the balance of the evening. The second would be to reconfigure the itinerary before we retired for the night.
Gogol was our restaurant. This former apartment of the noted author has been turned into what became the coziest restaurant of our culinary journey, and dining here was like dropping in on your Babushka on a Sunday, your taste buds anticipating the Stroganov you know she has been preparing since dawn.
We did not begin with the “Frosted Sliced Lard in Three Different Ways Complemented with Garlic Rye Sippets” but instead with the Pelmeni, silken morsels filled with “minced meat of two kinds” in a shallow puddle of aromatic broth. With dill, the Parsley of the East.
The bread and herbed house butter, homemade, naturally. When I remarked to our server that the bread was especially delicious, she only replied, “Yes. I know.”
The Stroganov, so much unlike the preparation that I know that I have relegated that recipe to the recycling bin. Even my mushroom-loathing husband agreed that I should devote kitchen time to creating this masterpiece, from just one taste!
And Tony’s canard with pear sauce? No words. About that Russian wine we ordered I have a few words, but they are not kind words. Going forward it was Georgian whites, which we adore, and a crisp New Zealand when the Georgian varietal was not available.
Who could pass on the (shared) Green Apple Tartine with Thin Caramel Crust for dessert? Not we. We were informed that we must wait 15 minutes for dessert because each tartine is made to order. The wait was worth it, in case you wondered.
The concierge had told us the following day would be sunny, with “No snow.” So, with happy tummies we strolled back to the hotel and reconstructed the following day’s plan to capitalize on the nice weather.