Howdy! Since I’m still not doing the travel thing just now, I’ve been contenting myself with watching videos of trips past – and I came across this grainy tableau (sorry – more graininess to follow…):
Basically, that’s me and a guy. There’s Mum’s shoulder on the right. And Dad’s behind the camera, capturing what looks like a pretty normal scene.
But it’s actually one of the occasions in my life where I remember feeling the most – well – alive! So what made a seemingly ordinary moment add up to something so special? It’s been a real pleasure to travel back in time to try and do the math!
The first little fact that makes this moment extraordinary is that I’m standing on the deck of a boat in the harbor at St. Petersburg in Russia – which doesn’t happen every day! But I found myself there in 1995 when the folks and I met up to vacation in Finland (home of Mum’s ancestors) and we tacked on a three night side trip to the Venice of the North.
Our boat-away-from-home was seaworthy – if slightly more spartan than we expected (calling it a “ship” seems a tiny bit too grand). Its pool and jacuzzi had no water in them. Late-ish sleepers like myself tended to miss the chance to drink out of clean coffee cups. And a ceiling panel in our cabin liked to tease us by making a terrible rattling sound just when we’d settle down to rest.
Even so, we came to feel a real affection for “our” boat. Swimming wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway as the tea towels we were each issued for bathing would have made drying off a challenge. Since neither getting up earlier nor putting my face under the dining room samovar spout really worked, I discovered I could actually pour more leaded (and much needed) coffee into a cereal bowl than a regular coffee cup. And because an ashtray in a cabin of non-smokers was simply in the way, turns out wedging it in just the right spot amid the life jackets on top of our closet/locker canceled the ceiling noise perfectly. In the end, we had all we needed for one fantastic adventure!
“WELL” AND “SO”
Ah, it’s all coming back to me! Before that moment on the deck, I’d enjoyed two fantastic days exploring the storied city of St. Petersburg! We toured this collection of islands by bus, taking in major historic sights as well as an array of buildings that stood in various states of splendor and decay. Some majestic structures still looked their splendid fairytale best, while others seemed to be waiting in stoic silence for a magic spell to restore them to glory.
Our guide the first day was a woman named Galina who gave us a great, super-detailed commentary, with each historical and informational nugget prefaced by the same word:
“Well, here you can see the Aurora. In 1917, a shot was fired from this cruiser as the signal that the October Revolution had begun.”
“Well, over there in Senate Square is a statue of Peter the Great known as the Bronze Horseman.”
”Well, we will be going next to the Winter Palace which is now part of the Hermitage Museum.”
We only had time to see a tiny fraction of all the art treasures housed in the Hermitage – and only two days to absorb as much of St. Petersburg history and culture as we could. But thanks to Galina, I’d say we did quite well!
On our second day, we had another good tour guide named Catherine who also helped us make the most of our limited time in her city. She made certain too that if we hadn’t bought enough souvenir nesting dolls, scarves and painted boxes the day before, we’d definitely get more chances! Also, Catherine had her own word of choice for kicking off each morsel of knowledge:
”So, from our bus, you can now see Peter and Paul Cathedral which contains the tombs of many emperors and empresses.”
”So, over there is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.”
We were also dazzled by the decor inside Menshikov Palace! As we shuffled along in floor-protecting slippers, an enthusiastic curator proudly showed off all kinds of furniture and art acquired by the city’s Governor General back in the day. We’d listen politely as the woman went into a long and painstaking description in Russian of every facet of some ornate object, then we’d eagerly turn to our guide for the English version – and we might get:
“So, this is from Spain.”
Like I said, Catherine was good – don’t get me wrong. But when it came to faithful translating? She wasn’t always – you know – Great…
CHAMPERS AND CHERRY HEERING
A bit before Dad took the video, our brief but beautiful stay in St. Petersburg was capped off by a late afternoon cruise on the Neva River! On top of the intoxicating view, we were also treated to champagne (my favorite!), vodka and caviar, and were serenaded by folk performers in traditional dress!
Before the sun finally set on our visit to Russia, Mum, Dad and I fit in a toast in our boat’s lounge with a little drink that was recommended to us and had become a favorite: Cherry Heering. It sounds like “cherry herring” but thankfully, I don’t think any fish are killed in the making of this tasty, cherry-flavored Danish liqueur!
WIND AT MY BACK
Okay, so I do recall that – yes – I’d had a bit to drink before toddling up to the top deck that night as we cruised out of the harbor, getting our final view of St. Petersburg. And I was talking to a boy which was fun too! But I think the moment was truly special because it was the culmination of all the wonderful little moments from our Finnish/Russian rendezvous that came before! Happy moments. Enriching ones. Funny ones. Surprising ones.
And ultimately, cherished ones.
As I stood there with the sea breeze on my face and the gentle patter of rain on my shoulders, I felt like a giddy conduit for all those moments – and for all the wide world’s possibilities too! And like a fine wine (maybe a sparkling one!), the memory gets richer and sweeter as the years go by.
A far more memorable boat than a luxury cruise. I haven’t been to Russia but it is exotic in my imagination and I would enjoy hearing the Russian commentary as I love the sound of the language with it’s dangerous Cold War edge. A few days’ travel does provide a lifetime of memories.
Yes, those travel memories are the best! And I loved hearing both Finnish and Russian on my trip. I learned a tiny bit of Finnish but felt bad that all I picked up is Russian was “thank you” – but I tried to say it a lot! And thank YOU for reading!
That was a great trip. Where would you like to visit this or next year?
Yes, it was a wonderful trip! Still just lying low – but if I could go anywhere, I’d love to hit the theaters on Broadway and in London! How about you?
My wife and I go to Cape Cod most years. We will be there later this year. I’d like to go to Europe too, but it’s hard to say when that will happen.
I’m with you on Europe… But Cape Cod sounds nice – enjoy!
It is so great to have memorable travels to look back on during this period. Thanks for sharing Amy. Allan
It sure does – and I’m incredibly fortunate to have trips like this one to look back on! Thanks as always, Allan, for going along with!
What fun trips you’ve had! I can’t imagine.
I’ve been very, very lucky – that’s for sure!
Great trip! You reminded me my numerous trips to St. Petersburg long time ago, when the name of the city was Leningrad by the Soviet time. I spent hours on the streets, at museums and around the city where there are a lot of beautiful attractions. Thank you for sharing.
It was great, indeed! We didn’t get the chance just to wander around like it sounds you did – bet it was fun just to explore! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!
Hi Amy – enjoyed this post. St Petersburg is on my bucket list, but whether I’ll ever make it there – who knows? Years running out. I’d like to visit not only for the beauty and history of the city, but because there’s a very famous agricultural institute there named after one of the greatest ever geneticists: Nikolai Vavilov. I’m sure your dad must have known about Vavilov, who searched for sources of disease and pest resistance in crops and their wild relatives all over the world – before suffering at the hands of Stalin and dying in prison in 1943. I wrote about him here:
Keep the good posts coming!
Interesting post about Vavilov – and yes, I’ll bet my dad would have been aware of him. Thanks for sharing – and do hope you get to St. Petersburg to pay your respects!
Another great memory awakening blog. Your first picture reminded me of my mother’s trip to Helsinki on the Silja Cruise Lines. Well, I was close. Our next coincidence involves that picture with you, Jack and Dick at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Although I never made it to St. Petersburg, I did get to see the traveling collection from the Hermitage at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Of course it’s nothing like being there. I always wanted to see the changing of the guard at Lubjanka Prison and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Tourist. I hope you had chai and piroshki! Пока!
Thank you, Mike! So does your not having gone to St. Petersburg mean James Bond never went there? You have an interesting list of things to see – but I do hope you get there one day!
So Catherine wasn’t a you know, great translator.
Thank you! Either that or she was really into brevity. 😉