Is Starshower the new Honey Cowl? Only time will tell (but it looks good).

St. Petersburg and Its Many Ресторанs

Dear Kay,
Here we go with the lighting-round final dash through the city. I wasn’t sick of being totally illiterate, but I did wonder what would happen if I had to leave our guide behind. Talking louder does not, I discovered, make the words come out sounding any more Russian, no more than using a Russian accent helps, either. I was sounding like Natasha on Rocky and Bullwinkle to very poor effect.
By the third day, Hubbo’s game of figuring out the Cyrillic alphabet meant that he could show me how “Ресторан” meant “restaurant.” Total Helen Keller moment for me–as we drove around, there were Ресторанs ALL OVER THAT PLACE. Pectopahs everywhere you look.
petersburgpirogi.jpg
Cafe Stolle . . . we loved these lush pies so much that we kidnapped a cherry pie.
petersburgmarket.jpg
The fruit man really does balance a watermelon on his head all day long.
OK not really, but this market gave us a glimpse into Russian butchery of a mundane sort. The fellas—OK, we, OK, I—didn’t last long once we found the displays of meats that still looked pretty much like the thing they used to be before they got caught. This entire trip has left me realizing what a nonrevolutionary, comfort-seeking, unable-to-gaze-upon-a-skinned-rabbit WIMP I am.
(Maybe it was the story our guide told us about why they leave the furry paws of rabbits on the otherwise skinned carcasses. OK I’ll tell you: it’s to prove that it’s not cat.)
I did have a heroic moment when one vendor of slurpy things in white plastic buckets handed me a thing on a toothpick. It was dark, shriveled, and damp. To my amazement, I ate it without a blink. Either a pickled mushroom or pickled . . . something.
I quickly headed for the solace of the fruits. Fruit can’t be weird, no matter what language it speaks.
petersburgfruit.jpg
sausagesign.jpg
Kay, this is the Russian word for sausage. Do you know how it grieved me to see my favorite savory treat turned into this unrecognizable word? Even SAUSAGE was lost from me? If it hadn’t been for our guide’s translations, I wouldn’t have even known there was sausage in the BUILDING.
petersburgdostoevsky.jpg
“One day, children, you will thank your mother for doing something as superpretentious and boring as taking your picture by this plaque at Dostoevsky’s house. Remember, sons: you need to read at least the first three chapters of at least two Dostoevsky novels in order to pretend that you have read Dostoevsky.”
Ah, how I treasured this glimpse of the street that appears in Crime and Punishment, one of the world’s great novels and certainly Dostevsky’s finest, in my opinion.
Having read SO much Dostoevsky. Of course. Достоевский, I mean. Because at this point, I’ve got my Russian DOWN.
Artillery Museum AKA Costume Institute of St. Petersburg
At this moldy old arsenal, we saw many weapons of mass destruction.
petersburgcokemachine.jpg
Russian mortar versus American Coca-Cola. We all know how this one ended.
I don’t like military uniforms. I LOVE military uniforms. This place was lousy with them. I could have stayed here all day long.
petersburgreduniform.jpg
peterburgartillerybraid.jpg
petersburgshell.jpg
petersburgbugleribbon.jpg
petersburgbelt.jpg
petersburgredtrim.jpg
petersburgbugle.jpg
petersburggoldtrim.jpg
And then it was time to go.
Back on the ship, I put up my beTsuboed feet for a rest, and when I opened my eyes, expecting to see the Gulf of Finland, I saw an apartment building, CLOSE, not fifty yards out my window. Wha? I ran out to the balcony and discovered that Captain Dag, our supertall Norwegian captain, was taking us out of town through a narrow canal, not the open sea that I had thought would be the logical exit route. Crazy Norwegian hotdogger cruise ship captain!
I was looking straight into a ninth-floor apartment window, and a man stood on his narrow apartment balcony looking at me with an expression as surprised as mine.
I made a timid wave, and he nodded.
The apartment dwellers watched us from the shore, and children ran along with the ship. An old woman in a house dress pointed at us as if she wanted to make sure the children playing beside her didn’t miss the 13-story-tall, white cruise ship that was casting a shadow on them.
In our own apartment building, somebody up on Deck 12 was lobbing ice cubes into the water, which looked like hail. Somebody below yelled up, “Who’s throwing ice?”
petersburgfarewell.jpg
Love,
Ann
PS Much crazier Russian touring can be found in Ian Frazier’s brill two-parter on his road trip from St. Petersburg through Siberia to the Pacific coast. Part I begins in the August 3 issue of The New Yorker. Reminds me of my brother Clif and his wack travels to wack destinations.
Next up: Helsinki On Some Unrecognizable Amount of Finnish Kroner A Day.

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Finnish Kroner? Oh my. Sorry to tell you, but we’ve been using Euros from 2002 and before that our currency was called “markka”… so my guess is you were actually in Denmark or Norway all the time while being mislead into believing you visited Finland. Cunning people, those Scandinavians! ;)
    Thanks for the travel stories – it’s been so much fun to see places I know well through the eyes of someone to whom they’re new and exotic :)

  2. Ha! First!
    That “leave the paws on” remark remionded me of our old neighbour in Germany who told us about the rationing after the war. “Get a cat. Take the head off. Take the tail off. No-one will know.” According to him that was called “roof rabbit”. Well, if you’re hungry enough…

  3. Saw skinned rabbits in the Boqueria in Barcelona, made me come over all unnecessary, so I feel for you! It was the whiskers, eyeballs and teeth that did it for me though, not the furry feet.
    Love the uniforms.
    You would have been struggling in Helsinki on Kroner though, surely they’ve Euro’d? We have friend who is off to Copenhagen for the weekend, sadly she has bought Euro and not Danish Kroner. Like the good friends we are, we have fallen about laughing.

  4. It looks as if the food has improved since I was in St P. in 192. We used to sit in our room in the evening and drink Californian wine with Finnish potato chips, dill flavour, both of which were on sale in the hotel shop, along with Irish spring water. I do’t think I saw a piece of fresh fruit the whole time I was there. It was worth it for the Hermitage, but I’m glad you’re having a better time :)

  5. Just had to add my own bizarre travelling experience (I remember the Pectopaht well, but this was better)… We went on a trip round bits of Europe, and planned to head from Hamburg to Copenhagen. Only then I looked at a map, assumed that the train would head north up the spur at the top of Germany, and east from there, making the journey rather long. Oh well, I thought, we’ll make it shorter, and we’ll go to Odense instead. The surprise? The train headed straight north to the sea, boarded a *ferry*, and it would actually have been slightly quicker to get to Copenhagen! Train on boat… interesting!

  6. “Remember, sons: you need to read at least the first three chapters of at least two Dostoevsky novels in order to pretend that you have read Dostoevsky.”
    This made me laugh out loud!! And it reminded me of something hilarious I read on The Onion recently…
    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/film_adaptation_of_the_brothers
    Which made me feel a little better about thinking The Brothers Karamazov was so boring even after a lifetime of my mother telling me it was the best novel of all time. I wonder if she actual read it?

  7. Kolbasa is pretty much like kielbasa, right? Sausage is not totally lost? I’m happy you at least had a guide to point you in the right direction.
    It looks like such a wonderful trip, by the way.

  8. After your military uniform display, one must assume it was the opulence of the uniforms, not all the crazy cathedrals, halls, and palaces that hoovered up the national spare change, nyet?

  9. The good people of St Petersburg made a complaints choir. Their biggest complaint seems to be that the whole place is a swamp naturally, and that women can’t get good programming jobs.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdlpxOw86xA

  10. Oh my, you were on a cruise with Captain Dag? He’s got quite a following it seems. I don’t count myself part of that group, but have simply had him drive me around a bit of an ocean somewhere recently as well.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading about your travels – and we *still* call them pectopahs in this household!

  11. OK, I want to go to Cafe Stolle now!! Those pastries looked glorious. I’m really enjoying your trip.

  12. Ahh… I LOVE the pic of the coke machine!

  13. That last photo was breathtaking.

  14. Ann I am loving this. You are hilarious and the pictures are gorgeous…or maybe it’s that you are gorgeous (great shoes!) and the pictures hilarious (Coke machine vs. Russian artillery). Either way, thanks!

  15. I did a double take when I saw the engraved “shell” (??). My maiden name was Botkin and here it was in a Russian variation. Not a common name, but actually mine was changed from Budka when my grandfather entered the US at Ellis Island. Still, it felt odd to see that! Looks like the boys are punishing you now, but will appreciate it all later! Have fun.

  16. Just don’t get any bright ideas about cutting up old uniforms and turning them into quilts or something…:D

  17. O.K. Natasha, next time you ‘kidnap’ cherry pie, give me some, or I tell Fearless Leader!
    LoveBoris

  18. What were the bumpy cucumber like things???? Love the story of the man nodding in the apartment building, for some reason I picture the old man in Under the Tuscan Sun, but I’m sure he was quite different!!
    I really DID love Crime and Punishment though, even if I couldn’t keep all of the names straight at first.

  19. wonderful my bedtime stories just keep
    getting better every night and the
    pictures full of ideas and wishes
    what kind of camera did you use
    the pictures are so clear

  20. The pears! The PEARS! They are GORGEOUS!
    That image looks like a quilt. Kay? You need to make a Pear Quilt!

  21. ‘helen Keller moment’ I love that ! I’m learning Yiddish and have them every year or so !

  22. Glad you survived St.Petersburg anyway… Can’t wait to read your tale of Helsinki + Finnish kroner.

  23. Glad you survived St.Petersburg anyway… Can’t wait to read your tale of Helsinki + Finnish kroner.

  24. Glad you survived St. Petersburg anyway… Can’t wait to read you tale of Helsinki + Finnish kroner.

  25. Pardon me messing up!

  26. Between the 2 of you gals I’ve done so much traveling on Blogocity this summer I should get an actual passport before I log on. Enjoying the tour.

  27. Another wonderful report

  28. The last photo is perfect.

  29. Just set the last photo as my screensaver so I can savor it a little longer!

  30. Ann, I think you missed your calling. Your photography is wonderful. Traveling vicariously through you, I really appreciate your detailed photography!

  31. Ann, I think you’ve missed your calling. Your photography is wonderful. Traveling vicariously through you, I really appreciate the detail in your pictures!

  32. Ann, I think you’ve missed your calling. Your photography is wonderful. Traveling vicariously through you, I really appreciate the detail in your pictures!

  33. Your trip report is wonderful, and those cherry pastries are amazing. My favorite part so far is describing ‘an old woman in a house dress.’ My mom wore house dresses, my mother-in-law was slow to give them up–what a blast from the past. Happy Landings!

  34. I wish we’d had your guide for St. Petersburg. I was part of the cow herd and it was a totally different experience.

  35. Ah…Crime and Punishment…I think this winter would be an excellent time to go on a russian literature bender. What an amazing trip!

  36. I can hardly wait to see your photos from Helsinki and compare them to what we saw earlier in August! Enjoy!

  37. I’ve been known to sing “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Pectopah.”

  38. in Russian, restaurant” translates into, phonetically, “pec-to-pan” – that last letter in Russian that looks like an H is really an N. It sounds better as “pectopan”. In Russian it’s “res-to-rahn”. And that sausage sign does say in Russian “kolbasa”. some words don’t change. Nice to hear what it’s like over there these days! Thanks!

  39. Ann, thank you for taking us along on your European cruise!

  40. Ann, thank you for taking us along on your European cruise!

  41. I’ve been lurking for a couple years now, enjoying your blog a lot. This particular one has been fun for me, especially the ринок, or bazaar, or market. My husband and I live and work in Ukraine where the national language is Ukrainian but our part of this country speaks mostly Russian. My first experience at a market was very similar to yours and I still can’t buy meat there – the little furry feet and the pigs’ heads…. :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We find beauty here where we can – and your examples of the military uniforms are one such place.

  42. I’ve been lurking for a couple years now, enjoying your blog a lot. This particular one has been fun for me, especially the ринок, or bazaar, or market. My husband and I live and work in Ukraine where the national language is Ukrainian but our part of this country speaks mostly Russian. My first experience at a market was very similar to yours and I still can’t buy meat there – the little furry feet and the pigs’ heads…. :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We find beauty here where we can – and your examples of the military uniforms are one such place.

  43. Ann, you are such an engaging writer! I’m really enjoying this, as always on your blog. But I wonder why you are surprised to find Russian words written in Cyrillic while you are traveling in Russia?

  44. I loved Ian Frazier’s articles about travelling to Siberia. He is such a good writer. I will never complain about a campground again (anywhere) after reading that article.

  45. Went to Former Soviet Union in 1989 for 3 weeks with a group of students and because we were all in HS, thought we were brilliant and hilarious for calling them pectopahs. Sadly misnamed because there was in fact very little edible food in them. Many hilarious, wild, poignant adventures, most of them involving monuments. (u think St. Pete has a lot, u should see the rest of Russia and its former republics).

  46. I love Dostoevsky. It’s been ages since I’ve read either Notes or Crime and Punishment. I should fix that (or finally read the Brothers Karamazov).

  47. Wonderfully enjoyable post! So refreshing to see your lovely pictures and read all about your adventures in your inimitable way!