Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Russia with love

Today is our last day in Russia. M and I have booked another excursion into St. Petersburg, one fortunately with not too much walking as the exertions of yesterday are very telling on our feet. It is our final egg hunt are we are pleased that the cunning plan of our trip is to have a base in a large gift shop full of souvenirs, trinkets and crucially, sparkly eggs and then have a little time to explore the environs of the Nevskiy prospect (the smart designer shopping street) before returning to the shop and then back to the ship.

We also have time to hear more about St Petersburg’s sights from our guide as we make our way through the traffic and over the many bridges (I learn later that there are over 500 of them). The main streets are lined with Stalin influenced grand looking town houses, we see the odd enticing glimpse of a hidden courtyard and the living quarters beyond and are most intrigued to know what they are like inside. We also see Peter the Great’s not so great log cabin on the bank of the Neva.

Everywhere we look we have been spoilt with golden domed Russian Orthodox churches glinting in the sun, dramatic yet rather austere statues and classical elegant buildings. It is a beautiful city and deserves the much used title ‘Venice of the North’. I am so glad we finally have been able to see it in all its glory, as well as the odd egg I will certainly have many wonderful memories from this experience of a lifetime.

Prior our last passport control check, I procure a rather wonderful Russian hat that will be most useful in wintry times and walk between our ship and the well guarded little Russian sub for the final walk up the gangway with the Russian flags flying on our ship as it is customary to fly the flag of our host country whilst in port. As we leave we can see the cruise liner docked alongside us has many people waving and from the lower decks a pair of giant red hands appear to bid us farewell. It seems that a few of our crew know their crew and being here for three days has facilitated a few reunions. The stewards, waiters, busboys and many other crew are all Filipino and some have family and friends onboard. I was told that Filipino people have excellent seafaring skills and adjust much better to life on board than many other nationalities, I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve never been anywhere where the staff are so smiley and welcoming and they must work incredibly long hours whilst we’re enjoying ourselves.

Our steward, Ernie is an exceptional example of that. We see him several times a day as he services the cabin in the morning, delivers the daily news around lunchtime and then later the next day’s itinerary. And then whilst we dine in the evening he turns down the beds, switches on the lights and delivers chocolates. And at random times throughout the day if he spots you approaching your cabin he’ll rush ahead to open the door to save you fumbling for your own key.

I can’t imagine when he ever gets time to himself however he does admit that he was able to disembark whilst in St Petersburg and do for a MacDonald’s, he seemed especially pleased with this particular excursion. I reserve judgement on that treat!

Talking of treats M and I have somehow managed to amass 10 eggs between us, though 2 of my five are for presents and two of hers are earrings.

Here are my three glittery little ovoid darlings. I can definitely see this being a new obsession. Though at least they take up considerably less space than cookbooks!

And to continue the 'farewell to Russia' theme we have a Russian dinner tonight. And for starters I chose Osjotr s jajtsom I swjokloj, which in case your Russian is not so good is Stuffed Egg with Smoked Fish Mousse and Caviar on Vegetable Salad. The soup was Sweschijc Schtschi which translates as Cream of Cabbage.
As we'd enjoyed a Beef Strogonoff last night in Moscow, I selected "Chicken Kiev" Fried Crumbed Chicken Breast Filled with Garlic and Herb Butter, Green Beans, Carrot Sticks and Sliced Roasted Potatoes.
And for a Russian dinner finale we had Moskovs Kaya - Parfait with Chocolate Sauce.

I can definitely say that I departed from Russia with love, love for such a beautiful, intriguing and majestic place. I am so glad I've had the opportunity to make its acquaintance albeit only fleetingly.

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