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 money!

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


















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