2013 0806 St. Petersburg:
Last day here. Two of the four ships that share this port area departed last evening and two more appeared this morning docking before we got up.
Some thoughts: All the history is interesting. Marina has lived through the whole post-war period onward and has seen all the changes in Russia from Communist state to what it is today. Interesting to hear her perspectives. And the history of the czars and who murdered whom and the plots. Of course, there is the sad ending of the last czar and his family who were originally to be left in exile in Siberia, but the Bolsheviks executed them. Then there is what the Nazis did to places like Peterhof … pictures show the burned out buildings, unexploded bombs and mines, and the restoration. If you saw the pictures from the end of the war, you’d be amazed it could be restored in any way, not to mention how it is today. Untold funds and millions of craftsmen hours. That in itself is the most amazing. There is also all the effort that goes into keeping all these places up. Besides huge facilities, there are the grounds … the lower garden at Peterhof is 250 acres, for example. All to the great credit of Russia.
Meeting Marina at 10:00 today, so could get up an hour later. Breakfast in the room, of course. Got picked up and went to the Fortress of Peter and Paul which also has the Peter and Paul Cathedral (there are a couple of cathedrals with the same name) and the remnants of a prison that was there in the 1700s and later. The last czar and his family and servants are buried in this church. So, we toured the church, walked around the grounds, looked into the prison to see a cell, when out onto the pier to see the fort from the waterside.
Rejoining our driver, we went around the center of the city stopping once for another view of the Church of the Spilled Blood. I was beginning to tire mentally. While Marina is a great guide and extremely knowledgeable, there comes a time when you cannot absorb any more. And she tries to give a running commentary on what’s around you as we drive or all the history, architecture, and art when in or outside a building. There is almost no pausing for breath. Charming and interesting and including quotes from poets and statesmen, but So, I was drifting away by the time we ate lunch, which was at a place owned by the same people where we had lunch the first day … good salmon pie and plum pie for me. Marian had mushroom pie.
Back in the van, we did some more driving before arriving at the Choral Synagogue, the only one in St. Petersburg. Marina not only gave us the full history of Jews in and around St. P., but also wove in personal stories about her grandfather, her mother, and herself. We sat dutifully in the front row of the synagogue listening. Again, I experienced a “blah, blah, blah, Ginger” moment. No criticism of Marina. I just could not grasp any more. And I didn’t think we had enough time to just sit in the synagogue to reflect. This was the only time I’ve really felt hurried.
We were asked if there was anything else we wanted to see or do. We really did not want to walk down Nevski street or see another church. We did go into a local grocery in the base of a shopping mall building and that was nice. Don’t know about Marian, but I was fried. Glad to get back to the ship about 3:30. Ah, tea at 4:00.
At 6:30, we went up to the same place where tea is served on Deck 10, Horizons, for a reception hosted by Go Next for the various alumni groups aboard. Altogether, we were told there are about 150 or so through alumni associations. We sat with three other Washington University alums. Now the six degrees of separation. First one of the men had taken his MBA starting in 1978 at SIUE’s Westport campus. I told him how lucky he was he didn’t have me! And his wife talked to Marian and we found out their son (Patrick Huber) teaches drama at MICDS and the son and his wife are friends of Tracy.
Left there about 7:00 to meet Carol and Ken West for dinner in the Grand Dining Room. They are the couple with whom we’re sharing a guide in Berlin. He’s an attorney and she’s a speech pathologist, both still practicing. Lovely dinner and conversation with them for almost three hours. She had recently lost her mother, so some other things in common other than all of us being Jewish. And we will see them in Riga on the Jewish tour there. Nice people. Fun to be with. I returned to the suite while Marian went to play the slots. She was not a winter. Time change tonight … set clocks back an hour.