Russia Day Five

Hearty greetings comrade from Leningrad, I mean St. Petersburg!

Today was to be our last in Moscow. But first, before we departed, there was a group tour of the backstage of the Bolshoi Theatre, which just completed six years of renovations in 2011. We had considered at one point getting a couple of tickets to a performance at the Bolshoi, just to say we did. But this ambition foundered on the shoals of completely unbelievable pricing, as apparently most of the Bolshoi tickets are bought by scalpers and the minimum you’ll pay for Swan Lake is $1200. Now, I’m all for filling my head up with culture-type stuff, but using Mike-Calculus I find that I can go and see World War Z sixty times for the same amount of money and that’s with a small popcorn and soda thrown in for each visit. Plus – zombies! Now a Swan Lake with zombies, that might be something to see. The backstage tour thus became a good way to get a taste of the Bolshoi without having to pay the exorbitant prices, plus for bonus points, I don’t have to worry about staying awake during a ballet performance.

Afterwards, we repaired back to the hotel to gather our things, and meet up with the Exeter supplied transportation to the train station. Along the way to the train, Anna, our guide, decided that we still had time to catch one more sight. In this case, it was a Stalinist era hotel, the Hotel Leningradskaya, for the use of the representatives of the people from the outlying regions, who might be in Moscow on Party business. The hotel has been largely kept up to its original design and is a fine example of Imperial Stalinist architecture, or so I am told. As the pictures below attest, the adage that some animals are more equal than others held true. It’s also now a Hilton, which is, I think, the definition of irony.

On to the train. We were taking the Sapsan from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Relatively recently put into service the Sapsan is a high speed train that reduces the journey between these two cities from eight hours or so on the older trains, to four hours. People were telling us that the Sapsan is actually faster than flying, because of security, baggage, and transportation to and from the airports. Also, Sapsan means Peregrine Falcon which is, just, cool.

We enjoyed the train, it’s a very similar to other high speed trains in Europe. We were served a lunch on board, as Exeter had booked Business class seats for all of us. The meal was served airline style from a trolley, and consisted of the now usual meat starter, followed by meat main. If they could figure out a way to get meat into the dessert, I’m sure they’d do that too. Plus – meatshakes!

Upon arrival at St. Petersburg, Exeter reps met us on the platform and drove us to the Hotel Astoria, a historical hostelry in the center of the city. Location-wise, it was as good as the Ritz Carlton was in Moscow.

The evening was taken up with another group event, a vodka and caviar tasting in the hotel restaurant. Fortunately, even though there were a fair number of group events, we had a great time in all of them, because we found our fellow travelers quite simpatico. Especially when accompanied by multiple shots of vodka, including our old friend Russian Standard Imperial, and caviar. Nom, nom, nom.

I think the tasting was supposed to last a couple of hours but we ended up, all of us, pretty much closing the restaurant. After the original vodka and caviar were gone, some wine was ordered and additional snacks. I think it goes without saying that we went to bed around midnight in a pretty mellow mood.


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