17 PICTURE ALBUM
Sunday, August 17
Steve: We convinced Sasha to let us sleep in today, and
spent the morning catching up on e-mails, thinking about our plans after St.
Petersburg and having the kids start writing some of their thoughts and impressions
of Russia. Our first order of business with Sasha was to buy tickets for the
Swan Lake ballet at Mariinsky Theater. There are several "babushkas"
that sell same-day tickets, and after watching Sasha go through two sets of
negotiations (the first one didn't quite work out
), we were thrilled
to find that we'd be sitting in the front box for tonight's performance! Sasha
joked that this box is normally reserved for dignitaries or the KGG, and that
we may get some interesting glances
He also told us that Mariinsky is
the "real thing" - on any given night, there are up to three performances
of Swan Lake all over St. Petersburg. Tourists fill these performances, but
in reality they're not seeing the really top dancers. Sasha wanted to make
sure we saw the Mariinsky ballet, and from the best seats in the house!
We then went to the Russian Museum of Anthropology, located immediately across
the Neva River. This museum is filled with items that Russian scientists have
collected from all over the world. Generally, the scientists would travel
and acquire these items at the direction of the Czar - this started with Peter
the Great in the early 1700's. The museum was filled with Russian school children,
and the most popular display was Peter's collection of preserved mutants -
humans and other animals. After seeing a few of the two-headed and otherwise
disfigured fetuses, we had had enough! It was interesting to see the rest
of the collection of artifacts from all over the world, with some coming from
Indians living in N. America.
We left the museum and walked along the Neva River toward the Peter and Paul
Fortress. Along the way, on the spot where St. Petersburg's original port
and customs house stood, we stopped to take in the wonderful view of the city.
This is also a spot where wedding parties traditionally come for pictures,
and we watched another bride and groom celebrate their marriage here. There
are a couple of men who stay here
for the day, playing wedding music for couples as they approach the area.
Of course, they expect to get paid for their services, and Sasha informed
us that if payment is refused, the "musicians" play funeral music
for the wedding party - we thought this was a very innovative way of making
We walked to Peter and Paul fortress, which was where St. Petersburg was
originally founded in 1703. The fortress was originally built by Peter as
a defense against the Swedes, but it was never actually used for battle. Its
primary function over the years has been as a prison, and many famous residents
have been kept here including Dostoevsky and Lenin's older brother Alexandr.
We started in the main cathedral with its impressive gold bell tower. Inside
are the tombs of all of Russia's pre-revolutionary rulers including Peter
the Great and Catherine the Great. We sat with Sasha and got a lesson on the
evolution and use of the fortress throughout the years, and enjoyed looking
at the pictures from several of his albums.
We had to rush back across the river in order to have time for dinner and
to make it to the ballet by 8:00. The Mariinsky Theater is absolutely fantastic
and extremely elegant, and we were thrilled when we entered our front-row
box seats right beside the orchestra and looking directly onto the stage.
Mariinsky is actually fairly small - it is built with several upper levels
of seats creating an atmosphere that is deceptively intimate. It's the perfect
setting for a ballet, and we enjoyed spending the 10 minutes before the performance
just looking around and taking the whole scene in. Most of the people in attendance
were well-dressed Russians (it was
hard not to feel at least a little out of place as a young family with kids),
and there were no empty seats anywhere. The ballet was wonderful. Katie loved
it, and even David had to admit once it was over that the show was spectacular.
We were extremely close to the dancers, and could see their expressions and
all their movements very clearly. We also had a great view of the orchestra
which was located right beneath us. The quote of the night was when David,
referring to the male dancers' costumes, said: "Wow, there are some serious
wedgies out there!"
After the show, Sasha met us and we walked outside to where the performers
leave the theater. It was fun to see the dancers in street clothes - they
definitely all have a certain "dancer" look about them. Sasha told
us that the person who played the role of the Prince is currently recognized
as one of the top dancers in the world. We realized that we had just seen
something very special, and thanked Sasha for making it happen - there's no
way we could have pulled this off on our own!
By now it was well past midnight, and we agreed with Sasha that we'd start
again tomorrow at 11:00. Our plan is to take a day trip to Pushkin and Pavlovsk,
palaces created by the Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine the Great.
Distance Walked: 3.52 miles