Saturday, May 06, 2006

Russia - Day 4

The morning of day four was pretty much a blur (see "White Lightnin'" on day 3). We visited the American Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg first thing in the morning. The speaker told us about some of the challenges of doing business in Russia (some of which where dispelled by the day 5 speaker) and was all-in-all a very animated and pretty funny speaker.

The morning talk was followed by a boat tour around St. Petersburg, the way Peter the Great meant for people to see the city. It was great to see the city without a window between me and the sites. However, despite the relative calm waters, it was quite an exercise in now losing any food remaining in my stomach (see "White Lightnin'" on day 3). The only saving grace was the cool breeze coming off the water as we navigated the canals and the Neva river.

The boat cruise was followed by another tourist lunch (ala day 2) and included what else but borsch. I think I've had my fill of beet and cabbage soup for one lifetime. The main course was mystery meat Stroganoff, of which I was able to stomach about three bites (see "White Lightinin'" on day 3).

The afternoon was spent in the Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace. The museum was huge, and definitely ranks up there with the Louvre and British Museum. We had a short, 2 hour tour that hit the highlights of the museum which had works from Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rafael, Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso, etc. Although it wasn't our tour, I was also able to break away from the group and find probably the last remaining Caravaggio painting that I haven't seen (thanks, Mom!). The palace itself was as interesting as the art it contained and I can see why the Bolsheviks were pissed-off at the royals.

At first I was hesitant to head out for dinner (see "White Lightin'" on day 3), but we ended up making a hike across town to Aquarel, the same place I ate and loved on our first night in St. Petersburg. Under compulsion, I had a couple shots of vodka as we toasted our trip, but otherwise stayed away from anything other than water. As the night wore on, our party increased from 6 to around 16 and the vodka flowed like water. I called it an early night, paid my bill and left only to find out the next morning that the $7/bottle of vodka was actually $70/bottle. I'm sure I owe someone money, but since I spent most of the night avoiding the vodka rather than drinking it, I don't feel that bad.

- Tony

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