Scandinavian Holiday:  Summer 1999
St. Petersburg

For many years, we've been hoping to visit St. Petersburg.  On this trip, we knew we'd be so close that we could not possibly pass it up.  We went on a "Visa Free" cruise from Helsinki that allowed us to pack a lot into just a couple of days.  One of the half-day options was to the Hermitage.  We found the museum to be even more magnificent than we'd imagined, but also much more crowded.  
There are many positive things about having everything arranged for you on a visit to a city such as St. Petersburg which still retains many of the controls and inconveniences of its Soviet past.  But there are also some negatives.  We were able to see the Peterhof, Peter the Great's lavish palace a few miles outside St. Petersburg, but because of the tight schedule we had to maintain, we were not able to take a leisurely walk through the gardens.  This visit was one of our favorite options on the trip.  First of all, the drive out allowed us to see some of Russia outside a city, and secondly, because we were not inside the city, everything was so much cleaner.  There was not the covering of urban grime that pervades everthing inside St. Petersburg itself.
On our trip to the Peter and Paul fortress, we encountered this group of musicians.  They had selected a great stage with the Neva directly behind them and St. Petersburg itself as a backdrop.  So many of these groups in St. Petersburg strike up an American song as soon as they spot the busloads coming.  What I liked about this group is that they played nothing but selections that sounded distinctly Russian.
What do you do with all the surplus military equipment when the Cold War is declared over?  Pound it into "plowshares," of course, or use it to water all the flowers in the city.  St. Petersburg is really a study in contrasts today.  The richness of the treasures of the city vs the poverty of its people, or the beauty of it's green areas vs the grimy ugliness of its crumbling infrastructure.  
The first night in St. Petersburg we visited the ballet, a beautiful production of "Swan Lake" performed in one of the great old buildings downtown.  It was so hot that I thought some of the dancers surely might collapse.  But on the second night, we sat in air-conditioned comfort at a modern hotel auditorium for the folklore show.  Brenda was selected to be one of the Cossacks and did a terrific job in her stage debut.

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