The kids had a week off of school. (Again! They are forever getting holidays over here...) All of their friends were planning to spend the week touring exotic places like Thailand, Prague and Morocco. We are in save-for-the-states mode, so we're not going anywhere that fancy any time soon. We decided that a quick trip to St. Petersburg would be more in the financial realm of possibility, and so, two days ahead of the holiday, we swung into action and bought train tickets.
The Sapsan train is great. It's a high-speed train, hitting speeds over 200 km/hr, so it only takes 4 hours to get to St. Pete from here. It's clean, it's comfy, it's easy - so much better than the overnight trains we used to take all those years ago - and it costs a bit over $100 per person.
B has some friends in St. Pete, and when we told them where we were planning to stay, one of them said, "No, no. let me make the reservations for you. I know a place." And that is how we ended up forking over about $450 dollars for one night in a two-bedroom suite at the Astoria, a 5-star hotel directly across the street from St. Isaac's Cathedral.
Okay, so $450 isn't cheap. But we would have needed 2 separate rooms at the other hotel, which was perfectly serviceable, if a bit less conveniently located. So we were already planning on spending around $250 over there, plus cab fare to get around town. We decided to splurge, because when will get a chance to do this again? And it was just one night after all.
Well, perhaps because it's slow season for tourists over here and the hotel wasn't full, or perhaps because B's friend is more well-connected that we know, we showed up at the hotel to discover that we'd been upgraded. Same price, but they put us in the presidential suite.
You guys. I've been in exactly one hotel room ever that was fancier than this (the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco, if you must know, for a business trip, when I was also upgraded to some crazy fancy suite because of how much money my company was spending to be there one week long ago). The room was beautiful. Correction: the rooms were beautiful. An entry hall, a dining area, a sitting room, and two bedrooms, each with an amazing view of the city below.
|K feeling posh as she admires the fruit platter and chocolates in one (yes, one) of the living areas between the bedrooms.|
|The view from my bedroom in our suite. St. Isaac's, the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the largest orthodox cathedral anywhere.|
More to the point, the hotel staff were awesome. Seriously awesome. When they did the turndown service in the evening, they left milk and cookies for each of the kids, plus little stuffed dogs on all of their pillows. They were so kind to the girls, bringing them chocolates and chatting with them as we waited for our ride back to the train station the second day.
Totally worth the splurge. Except I wish we'd stayed long enough to try out their spa. It was definitely different from the living accommodations in my old dorm, just a few minute's walk down the road.
So anyway. Stay in the Astoria if you get a chance. You will love it. On to our trip, though.
We left our bags and ventured out. ("Why can't we just stay in the hotel, mom? Pleeeease??")
We walked and walked and walked some more, down the canals, past my old dormitory and on into Starbucks, because it was seriously cold and I needed tea! Then on to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, and then still further, to a vegetarian restaurant that we discovered the last time we went to St. Pete. There was a serious lot of walking involved.
|Kids at the beginning of our walk, in front of St. Isaac's. Still smiling.|
|A, in front of Kazanskii Sobor, trying to recover from the massive meltdown she had when I wouldn't buy her a gold coin in Starbucks. Seriously, kid. Isn't cocoa enough?|
|Made it to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. K isn't in the picture because by now she was angry about some random thing. Isn't traveling with kids fun?|
After an early dinner, we walked back along the canals to the Faberge Museum. We didn't get tickets in advance because somebody didn't get her act together to buy them before they sold out. I'm not going to say whose fault that was, but let me say in her defense that she had an appointment to get her hair cut for the first time in months and she figured she could buy the tickets when she got back from the appointment but apparently the museum is super popular so it sold out by mid-morning but her hair looks great so it all worked out in the end.
(Unless you count the fact that we had to stand in line for an hour to buy tickets to get in. Bygones.)
The museum is not big - it takes longer to buy tickets than it does to walk through it. But it is so worth a visit. They have a collection of jeweled Faberge eggs, which were made for Tsars Alexander and Nicholas before the Russian Revolution. The museum also houses dishes, silver and other interesting items. And the building itself, the Shuvalov Palace, is amazing - a pre-revolutionary mansion that was beautifully preserved.
The next day, we walked to the (mercifully much closer) Central Naval Museum. We'd never been before, but it was recommended to us by some colleagues at the Consulate. And it was great. We spent the whole morning there and could have stayed longer. All of the kids were riveted. The museum houses Peter the Great's own boat - the first boat of the Russian Navy. It continues on through the centuries, exhibiting weaponry and uniforms from Peter the Great's time up through modern times. It was a huge space, with multiple galleries. If you ever get a chance to go, do it. But note that there is no signage is English. If you don't speak Russian, you'll be guessing at what you're looking at. It's tricky even if you do speak Russian - some of technical language in the displays was a bit beyond my reach.
|Peter the Great's boat.|
|There were huge figureheads from ancient boats displayed along the walls of the main hall. Creepy and cool.|
Four-plus hours later, we were back to reality here in Moscow. No more fancy china. No more homemade chocolates. Just grilled cheese, veggies and a pile of laundry before bedtime.