We drove out to Tsarskoye Selo, just outside of St. Pete, to check out the Catherine Palace. For a time during the 1700s and 1800s, it was one of the summer residences of Russia's tsars.
During WWII, the Nazis completely surrounded Leningrad for 900 days. Half of the city's population starved to death or otherwise died, but the survivors refused to surrender to the Nazis. (Side note: for a short time during college, I lived with an elderly lady in Petersburg who survived the siege of Leningrad. She told the most interesting, horrifying stories of childhood under siege. Powerful.) When the Nazis finally withdrew from the city at war's end, they completely destroyed the Catherine Palace on their way out of town, and the Russians have been painstakingly restoring it ever since, using gold, amber and other original materials. It is truly amazing - though you can sort of see why the common folk might have been a bit irritated with their ruling family, when you consider how much money their rulers were tossing into these palaces while the commoners themselves were struggling to survive.
Just down the road is the also-under-renovation Alexander Palace, famous as the place where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were imprisoned before being executed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.
The best 15 vacation dollars I ever spent? Before we got on the train to Petersburg, I downloaded the movie "Anastasia," and the girls proceeded to watch the hell out of it. It's not the best cartoon ever. But the girls are now huge Anastasia fans. (For those of you not in the know: Anastasia was one of Nicholas II's daughters, and for decades after the execution of the family, people believed she may have escaped unscathed. It wasn't until the 1990s, I believe, when her bones were finally identified.)
Our ever-patient guide Valerii fielded about 327 questions per hour from the girls about Anastasia. Was this her house? Was this her room? What did she eat? Where did she play? And so on. He answered their questions quite well, though he admitted it was the first time he'd been so thoroughly grilled by anyone about the topic. After he pointed out the Alexander Palace (noted Valerii cheerfully "That's where she lived before she was shot!"), the girls were sold on the whole town. They loved it all.
They were a bit disappointed to discover that she didn't actually survive the revolution. But it didn't stop them from re-watching the movie every single night in our hotel room.
|Aidan in front of the Catherine Palace. Or, as the girls called it, one of Anastasia's houses.|
|Ain't my daddy so cute?|
|The gardens. Beautiful even out of season.|
|He's not that much taller than me! We're standing on a hill, I swear!|
|In front of Anastasia's garden.|
|That's all gold right there. And that's just one room!|
|K, dancing in the ball room.|
|Every door leads to a new and fancy room.|
|Down at the lake.|
|The family bathhouse in the background. My beautiful family in the foreground.|