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Friday, August 15, 2014

My Visit to Russia

Before going to Russia, I didn't know much about Russia except what I was exposed to on TV. As a result, I thought the usual male attire was being shirtless or at least wearing shirts that were always unbuttoned and open.

So, I was a bit surprised (and disappointed) to go to St. Petersburg and find the men fully clothed.

When we marched up the stairs of the Hermitage, one of the most well known museums in the world (which was built to display Catherine the Great's art collections), my expectations started to drop a bit. You see, there is no air conditioning in most of the building and it was 90 degrees outside, making it rather hot and stuffy inside. As we climbed the stairs, most everyone was drenched in sweat from the heat.

I realize there was no air conditioning in Catherine the Great's day so perhaps my expectations were a bit out-of-whack, but I also thought masterpiece artwork required temperature and humidity control, but apparently not in most of the museum (however, the small gold room DOES have temperature & humidity control).

Our cute young Russian-male-English-speaking tour guide (see arrow) led us around the museum to view what he considered as the treasured masterpieces. I couldn't help but notice most the pieces he showed us were of naked people, which told me that subconsciously he was wanting to remove his sticky and sweat-drenched t-shirt or it was his way of trying to help us get cooled.

One couple in our tour group was pick-pocketed in the Hermitage, which we learned is a rather common experience for "older" tourists in Russia and the security system is having mostly older ladies (like me!) sitting in a chair in each room.

I was also surprised this world-class museum appeared a bit run down and shabby in several areas. (We joked how the funds were probably being diverted to take over the Ukraine).

St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, their former capital, and considered the most beautiful of all the cities in Russia. The side of the city that we saw in our tour did not lend itself to seeing a beautiful city. We saw a lot of those typical communistic architectural design apartments you see everywhere in eastern Europe.

However, we learned that others on the ship saw many places in the city that were much more beautiful, like this

and this

and they even took hyrofoil boat rides to see the city.

Our St. Petersburg experience was a tad disappointing in comparison with the other places we visited, but much of this was based on the tours we took. Others on the ship raved about their experience and many of them took private tours they got through websites like TripAdvisor. This was a good lesson learned - do your homework and make sure your tour is highly rated and covers the specifics of what you want to see and do.