i have adventures (sometimes)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

In Soviet Russia, Cold (Secretly) Catches You

Em's gran was delighted to learn that I, unlike her granddaughter, find grocery shopping exciting, and so on Saturday morning we accompanied the family on the grocery outing.

Uh oh.
I hadn't realised that it would be The Most Stressful Shopping Trip in the World. I knew Em's grandparents could fuss (in the Russian grandparent Olympics, all my money's on them in the 100m fuss), but grocery shopping was a whole new experience. There seems to be an ongoing fear that we'll starve, despite all evidence to the contrary, and so we were being constantly instructed to choose things and read the labels and choose more things, all at high speed. In a supermarket the size of Makro full of so many people that we could barely move, it stopped being fun surprisingly fast, and we quickly learned to just nod and agree to everything.

We escaped as soon as we got back, and went to explore the park and the creepy cemetery which haunted Em's childhood nightmares. It's ok - we wore hats (otherwise we'd get pneumonia and die).

Beware of ZOMBIES.
Stride boldly across the road.
Armed with a large bag of food (of course), and with Em's uncle as our guide, we then took the overnight train to St Petersburg, which was exciting, in a scary Russian check-your-passport-and-look-serious kind of way. It turns out that having no ventilation is another particularly Russian thing, so I spent most of a fairly sleepless night trying to breathe deeply and think airy thoughts.

Let's just pretend that window opens.
St Petersburg greeted us with lovely sunny weather, which I would once never have called warm, but I guess I've been living in England too long. It was easily above zero in the sunshine! And to think I didn't pack any shorts!

After dropping off our bags at our creepy, dark hotel (apparently it's also a Russian thing to have perfectly reputable hotels that look as if they belong in a horror movie), we set out for a big day of touristing.

We started out at Kazan Cathedral with a little This Guy Looks Like You. The cathedral, like most of St Petersburg, looks very European, because apparently Peter the Great was a fan of Europe. Em maintains that his greatest achievement was saving Russia from the pudding bowl haircut, but he also built some things.



After that, we went to see the Winter Palace, which made me wish I remembered matric history, because I'm sure important revolutionary-type things happened there, but I couldn't quite remember what. We decided to buy it anyway, and spent our tour around planning how to use the various rooms ("This one will be for board games!" "We'll have swing dancing in here!" "This room? ONLY CAKE."). We figure that with our degrees, we're about as likely to own the Winter Palace as we are to own any property at all, so we may as well dream big.

Or marry money. But mostly dream big.

This is where we'll keep the battle unicorns.
When you see it...
Being big-r Romantic by the Neva.
Frozen river (and one of our future homes).
Next we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress, which was built as a measure against the attacking Swedes (the people, not the vegetables, Em explained - I was disappointed). We saw some dead Tsars and had a look around the prison, which was better in most respects than Em's room in halls ("They have bedside lamps! This is so unfair!"). Interestingly, Em overheard a woman telling her daughter that when she was young, all the old prisoners, now mostly described as members of terrorist groups, were then described as heroes, unfairly detained for their revolutionary beliefs.

History is funny.


With matching small heads, next to a famously bad statue of Peter the Great.
By the time we reached St Isaac's Cathedral, we'd been walking all day, we were tired, my feet were sore, and I was starting to feel the cold that had been creeping up on me since the flight (please note that I say "the flight", not "being hatless in the park"), so an epic grump threatened, and I was relieved when we made it back to the hotel that evening.

St Isaac's and Peter the Great. He's on a horse!
We woke up the next morning to another day of sunshine, but also another day of having a cold, although luckily for everyone, I'd got over my grump after a night's sleep.

The view from our hotel window.
We switched seasons and took a secret bus (apparently you have to be Russian to know where the buses go from) to the Summer Palace. It was all about a string of badass Russian empresses, so it was pretty cool in its own right, but we nevertheless figured we could improve on it by carrying on our tradition of fantasy tours. Catherine the Great was a totally awesome ninja who kept her courtiers in training by having a daily drill in which everyone would dash to the nearby emergency shelter, and never went anywhere without her vampire-slaying sceptre and at least half a dozen weapons strapped to her person. It was pretty cool.

(We decided to buy the Summer Palace too.)

The Summer Palace.
Catherine the Great made all the courtiers wear noisy shoes so her ninja-trained reflexes wouldn't cause her to kill people she believed were sneaking up on her. As a result, museum booties were hugely fashionable in Russia during her reign.
The large windows were a threat to invading vampires.
Pushkin looks like you.
These guys look like us.
In a sort of lawyers who are also angels situation, we ended up at a Japanese restaurant which was also an Italian restaurant for a late sushi and pizza lunch, and then spent our last few hours in St Petersburg wandering around in the spring evening sunshine. Then some perfect movie snow began to fall, which demanded singing and Christmas and family reconciliation, but didn't get any from us, which made us realise that we were only extras in someone else's movie.

Oh well.

Lenin looks like me! This is one of my all time favourite LLTG/TGLLYs.
Cathedral of the Resurrection.
This is the part where we start singing, right? Right? People of St Petersburg?
Our train back to Moscow was much more Murder on the Orient Express than the last one.

Why hello there.
But fortunately, no one got murdered. The closest anyone came to death was me with my cold. My secret cold, I should point out, because if Em's grandparents were to find out I was ill, we might never be allowed near an open window ever again.

We would certainly not be allowed near a puddle. Everyone knows that puddles make you get pneumonia and die.

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