Archive for October, 2008

October 30th 2008
Naked in Saint Petersburg

Posted under Russia

Brace yourself…this one’s a doozie.

Ever since that last day in Budapest, when a drama queen’s emotional breakdown precluded us from experiencing the public bath, I had been wallowing in regret. In the past fourteen months, there have only been a handful of things that we have missed for various reasons – the Everest base camp trek, the Ice Train to Tibet, the glacier hike in New Zealand and, most recently, the public bath in Budapest – though, for the most part, we have spared no expense nor waking hour to satisfy every curiosity and adventurous whim.

As I was sitting on the plane to Saint Petersburg, reading about things to do in Russia, I came across a blurb on the highly-recommended public baths and just about jumped out of my seat. Redemption was within reach!

But five days had passed in Saint Petersburg and we still had not been to the bath. Something about gray, windy, cold, rainy weather just makes the idea of getting naked in a foreign place unappealing. I was determined, though, and on our last evening in St. Pete’s – ironically, the week’s worst day of weather – we found our way to the Krugliye Bani.

The building was dark and uninviting but we found the entrance on the far side and walked into a dingy, smoky entryway with beer bottles and soda cans on the floor. There was no reception desk, just two cement staircases leading right and left. This was not at all what I was expecting. The bath house in Budapest was palatial in comparison, with its bright yellow walls, majestic white columns and sparkling pool. This was more like a 1970s YMCA.

We sat down on a bench to regroup. I decided to walk up the stairs to the women’s bathroom to scope out the scene while Aaron waited with our things. As soon as I opened the door, I was assaulted by nakedness and humidity. It was like stumbling into an orgy. Though there were no men present and no one was having sex, the shock value was equivalent. As I glanced around, trying to keep my bug-eyed expression in check, a middle-aged woman – the only other clothed person in the room – greeted me warmly in Russian. I don’t know why I was expecting at least some kind of English signage or an English-speaking person inside this place to guide me through the process – we haven’t had that luxury anywhere else in Russia – but I was nonetheless completely thrown off when I found myself standing in this room full of naked women and completely unable to communicate. After a few awkward moments, I smiled, said “Spasiba.” (thank you), and scurried out the door.

Ladies and gentlemen, I confess that, at that very moment, I faltered. I walked down the stairs to the bench where my husband was waiting patiently and said, only half-sarcastically, “Ready to go?” After all my tough talk, I was going to punk out once again. I sat down next to Aaron, explained what I had seen up there, and then sat, pondering. After a few minutes, we made a command decision. We were going in! After dividing the items from the backpack into two separate bags, we nervously went our separate ways, vowing to meet downstairs in an hour.

These are our stories.


I checked my coat with a dour-faced woman at the bottom of the stairs and walked slowly back up to the bathroom door, my uncertainty exacerbated to dread. Wearing my warmest smile, intended to mask my discomfort (however unsuccessfully), I paid my admission fee of 25 rubles (about US$1) and followed the attendant’s gesturing hand toward the lockers. When I saw that there were no locks on the lockers, it suddenly occurred to me that I was carrying every one of my credit cards and forms of identification on my person. I also suspected that this might be enough to make Aaron, the more sensible of the two of us, change his mind about the bath altogether. I hesitated for a moment and then decided to roll the dice.

There were naked women all around me, women of all ages and shapes, appearing relaxed and uninhibited and taking little notice of the bug-eyed tourist feeling like Eve in the Garden of Eden when she first becomes conscious of her nudity. Being inconspicuously naked on the edge of the locker room, though, was only the first step. We’ve all changed clothes at a gym or a pool at one time or another but that nudity lasts but a few seconds. Walking naked across the locker room to ask for directions really lifted me out of my comfort zone. Feeling (and surely looking) like a deer in the headlights, I sauntered over to the attendant, who pointed toward a door on the far side of the locker room.

The door led to a large dry sauna with several long wooden benches. The aroma of steeped birch leaves wafted into my nose – the scent was pleasant and relaxing, it smelled like Aveda. In this sauna, women were bent over round plastic tubs, lathering their bodies and washing their hair. Bunches of leafy birch twigs lay about. I walked through the dry sauna, through another door into the wet sauna. This was the smallest and most crowded room with an elevated sauna deck full of naked, sweaty bodies. Climbing the stairs, I found an open spot on the L-shaped bench, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with two ladies. The hot, steamy, birch-infused air was wonderfully soothing and, finally, I began to relax. I closed my eyes and let the steam engulf me in aromatic warmth. I could hear the sound of fluttering birch bundles as women gently whipped their flesh. This is nice, I thought.

I perked up to the soft, chattering of a group of young women ascending the sauna stairs. The sauna deck was now filled to capacity as those of us on the bench scooted closer to make room for the newcomers. A couple of the girls laid their towels down on the floor of the deck. As they were getting situated, I could hear the sizzle of the coals as someone increased the heat. The air was becoming unbearably hot and thick, as if birch bundles were being burned atop the coals. I closed my eyes again, trying to find my happy place.

When I opened them about thirty seconds later, one of the young women on the floor had begun a naked yoga sequence. This exercise took the word “uninhibited” to a whole new level. Now, let me be clear that this was a small sauna. This sequence of yoga postures was being performed less than three feet away from me. I was not bothered by it in the slightest – I was mesmerized actually. Yoga practice is quite beautiful to watch. I’ve just never seen it done naked and in such close proximity. It was, however, by this time growing excruciatingly hot. With my face on the verge of melting, I took my naked, sweaty self down the stairs and back to the lockers. With visions of naked yoga racing through my mind, I dressed quickly and walked downstairs. I had been inside for less than half an hour but decided that it was enough for today.

I needed a beer. I found one in a tiny snack bar just down the stairs and watched Russian television as I waited to hear about Aaron’s experience.


As I waited in the queue outside the men’s locker room entrance, my heart raced and my mind calculated how the scene would play out. With the locker room in plain view and scores of men unabashedly strolling around naked (and when I say naked, I mean the Full Monty), I was a little intimidated. When it was my turn, I approached the gruff attendant and with a meek smile blurted out, “I don’t speak Russian”. Followed by: “Locker”? “Sheet”? Clearly annoyed by either my lack of Russian fluency or my total ignorance of the proper etiquette, he assigned me a locker and handed me a sheet but refused to take any money.

I walked to the locker and immediately noticed that there was no lock and no way to secure the door. Refusing to let a little distrust get in the way of my Russian bath experience, I removed my money belt (which contained my passport and a wad of US Dollars) and my wallet, and stuffed them into the bottom of the locker. As I scanned the locker room, I saw dozens of men sitting on benches, mostly naked, reading, drinking beer, and engrossed in conversation. It was a very social affair. While slowly stripping down, I devised a game plan.

With no signage that I could decipher, I walked, stark naked, in what appeared to be the right direction. For anyone who has ever been in a locker room, you understand the awkward nature of walking around naked, when everyone else is naked, while trying not to make eye contact. But looking down to avoid eye contact all you see is privates. It’s a no win situation.

I opened the door and found a huge hall filled with more naked men and at least thirty open shower stalls arranged in the middle of the room. Sinks and benches lined the outer walls. Men vigorously soaped themselves using big plastic Tupperware bowls as wash basins. Most of the shower heads were free flowing, which I found baffling. Isn’t that a waste of water? Are they reserved? Do I just pick one or is there some sort of system? Still clueless, I found a stall that appeared to be unoccupied and took a quick rinse.

We had read about a wonderful, heated outdoor pool at this bath and I wondered where it was. As I stood just outside my shower stall, a man motioned for me to follow him. Thinking that the outdoor pool might be behind door number two, I followed. Unexpectedly, we entered the sauna. I climbed the short staircase and sat my naked bottom on the wooden L-shaped bench. In front of the bench was a small area where bathers took turns energetically whipping themselves with leafy, wet bundles of birch twigs. We had read about this phenomenon beforehand but it was still entertaining. I sat there watching in wonder as men stood up in succession and performed their cleansing rituals, beating themselves with handfuls of birch. I had missed the chance to buy my own leaves so I simply sat there, sweating.

I walked back to my locker, primarily to make sure that my stuff was safe, but also to cool down. I hadn’t brought any drinks or snacks so I simply sat there, trying not to look awkward. As I sat, I couldn’t help but relate the experience to what it would feel like being a newbie in prison. Now, I’ve never been incarcerated, never been arrested, but I’ve seen enough movies to have an idea of what prison life is like. Sitting in this foreign bath, with only one word in my Russian vocabulary and no idea about the bath etiquette, I couldn’t help feeling like fresh meat – the new kid on the cell block who has no idea what the unspoken rules are, who to trust, and who to fear.

In the midst of this train of thought, the man who had earlier beckoned me to follow him into the sauna, appeared (naked, of course) and handed me a brand new, sealed bar of soap with pink and blue bunnies on the wrapper, and said, “Present.” with a heavy Russian accent. You’ve got to be kidding me! What should I do? Uncomfortably, I accepted the soap and quickly went for my clothes. My prison survival instincts were screaming that that was my queue to get out of there – pronto – before I became someone’s bath time buddy.

One of the best parts of our trip has been to experience the local cultures in countries around the world. The experiences are often good, sometimes bad, and sometimes they are just plain shocking. One thing is for sure…with an open mind and an adventurous spirit, life is always interesting.


October 29th 2008

Posted under Russia

For a taste of something different, we decided to take a day trip from Saint Petersburg. Petrodvorets, or Peter’s Palace, was located 30km west of the city, overlooking the Gulf of Finland, and reachable by a suburban train. Negotiating the Cyrillic-labeled signage in Russia has been challenging and the train station was no exception. There was no English-language signage but we had figured out the Russian word for tickets: Kacci. The ticketing agents did not speak English but, through trial and error (getting shooed away in curt Russian by several window dwellers), and with a series of gestures that resembled a hopeless game of Charades, we secured a couple of round trip tickets.

The highlight of our one-hour journey was the steady stream of vendors who arrived at the head of our car, recited a brief commercial, and sauntered down the aisle hoping for a sale. In addition to the magazines, pirated DVDs and snacks being sold by previous vendors, one man was selling an odd assortment of dish-washing sponges, drill bits and hand-held back massagers. Capitalism is alive and well in Russia.

We arrived at our train station knowing only that Petrodvorets was a long walk away and that local buses ran frequently to the palace complex. We stood in the cold at a bus stop near the station until one of the friendly locals helped us find the right bus.

Petrodvorets is a vast estate containing several stunning palaces, manicured gardens, and an impressive array of fountains and bronze statues. It was founded in the early 18th century by Peter the Great, who, on a visit to France, was impressed by Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles and aspired to build his own, grander version. We entered the upper gardens at the rear of the estate and strolled through the clearly out of season gardens. The magnificent Grand Palace, its beautiful white and yellow façade flanked by two golden-domed chapels, was an impressive sight in the distance. The original palace was almost totally destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Russia in WWII and the Palace that is seen today is a reconstruction of the original.

As we approached the front of the Palace we saw the water features for which Petrodvorets is most famous. The Grand Palace sits atop a hill, overlooking the magnificent Grand Cascade – a multi-tiered fountain stepping down the hill, enabling the water to cascade brilliantly downward into Water Avenue, a canal extending all the way to the Gulf of Finland. Petrodvorets has more than 150 fountains adorned with gilded statues but, unfortunately for us, none of them were working. I tried to envision the grandeur of Petrodvorets, but fountains without water are simply not very impressive. Disappointed by the fountains and uninspired by the photos of the interior that we saw in the gift shop, we decided not to go inside. Instead, we strolled leisurely around the palace grounds and then headed for the bus stop, stumbling upon a beautiful onion-domed Orthodox church along the way.

When we finally reached the train station it was late afternoon. We had just missed the hourly train back to St. Petersburg. We had an hour to kill and we were starving. Our only option appeared to be a small restaurant/bar/discotheque just outside the train station. Unable to decipher the Russian menu, we ordered the few things that we recognized: shawerma sandwiches, a blini (Russian crepe) and beer. Our cashier, as uncomfortable with the language barrier as we were, eagerly obliged. We sat down at a table in the smoky, circular room (complete with dance floor and disco ball), watching and being watched by everyone else in the room. It was an educational hour.

As we sat there eating, our surrealistic day began to take focus. Russia is such an interesting place. It’s a place where there is no tourism infrastructure for foreigners, but friendly locals will still do their best to help. It’s a place where you still struggle to visit a top tourist destination – the “Russian Versailles” – as an independent traveler. It’s a place that has been open to the West for nearly twenty years, but remains shrouded in mystery. There is so much that we do not understand and so much more than meets the eye. Communism may be dead, but the intrigue remains.

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October 28th 2008
Searches for Churches

Posted under Russia

By Russian standards, the gray windy, drizzling, cold weather of late October is a mild prelude to a harsh northern winter but, to two traveling vagabonds who have spent the past fourteen months chasing the warm weather around the globe, it’s freezing! While the initial blast of cold wind in your face may invigorate you, walking around in it for extended periods of time quickly depletes your energy reserves. We have already noticed how much less we can see and do in a day before retiring early to hot drinks and comfort food.

On day three in St Petersburg, we bundled up and set out with an ambitious program of sightseeing. We intended to walk quite far across the river to the historic St Peter & Paul Fortress and then catch the metro back to Nevsky Prospekt. Not realizing how far the fortress was when we had spotted it in the distance the previous day, we decided to check out some of the beautiful old churches around our neighborhood on the way.

Heading toward the Church on the Spilled Blood, we stopped at the Kazan Cathedral, built in the early 19th century. From Nevsky Prospekt, the main shopping street, the cathedral’s long colonnaded arms reach around into a semi-circle, creating a lovely courtyard with a green space, park benches, and a fountain. From this angle, you can hardly tell that it is a church since the chapel extends from the rear.

Behind the Church on Spilled Blood is the city’s best souvenir market and we wandered through the colorful stalls to check out the matryoshki (Russian nesting dolls) and wood-carved figurines for which Russia is famous. The wares were lovely, though priced to haggle. Not surprisingly, it was here that we heard the most English spoken. Each vendor had a small cart and wanted to show me every detail of every item that I glanced at, whispering so many things into my ear that I couldn’t think straight. Finally, I went berserk (but kept it on the inside) and high-tailed it out of the souvenir market with pockets full of rubles and no treasures. We have been in Europe for so long that I wasn’t prepared for the high-pressure sell.

St Isaac’s Cathedral, built between 1818 and 1858, was the largest church in Russia at that time. It was built on the plan of a Greek cross with a tall gold dome that later inspired the design of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. During the Soviet era, the church was closed down and re-opened as a museum of atheism. The gold dome was painted over in gray during WWII to conceal it from air raiders. Today, part of St Isaac’s is used for regular church services while the main chapel is only used for feast days. I suspect that this is largely due to the fact that, while the vast majority of Russians classify themselves as Orthodox Christians, only a small fraction reportedly practice their faith.

After St Isaacs, we finally headed to the river, across the bridge toward the St Peter & Paul Fortress. It was a Thursday afternoon so we were pleasantly surprised when we came upon several small wedding parties on the Strelka (tongue of land) on Vasilevsky Island. The young brides wore pristine white furs around their otherwise bare shoulders. The happy couples were surrounded by musicians and boisterous revelers. We observed two interesting wedding traditions as we discreetly watched from above. At the river’s edge are several granite spheres and the couple must simultaneously throw two glasses against the sphere, smashing them to pieces and inciting cheers from the crowd. Then they light the wick of a small cannon, which shoots firecrackers over the Neva to the sound of more applause.

From the Strelka, we walked another half-hour or so before finally reaching the walls of the St Peter & Paul Fortress. It was built in 1703 to protect the city but was mainly used as a prison until 1917. We walked around the sandy shore of the Neva River, along the tall fortress walls, looking for the entrance. The grounds of the fortress were free to visitors and, inside, we saw many people enjoying a stroll around the quaint old buildings. The primary attraction is the St Peter & Paul Cathedral – a small yellow baroque church with a needle thin spire. It houses the tombs of all of the Russian tsars since Peter the Great.

Tired and cold after our busy program, we walked briskly toward the nearest metro stop. On the way, we spotted some blue mosaic onion domes protruding above the tree line. We detoured a few steps to get a closer look and realized that we had stumbled upon the Saint Petersburg Mosque – the most northerly mosque in the world. When it was built in 1913, it was the largest mosque in Europe.

When we finally reached our metro stop, we were beyond ready to get back to our warm cell at the hostel. Imagine our disappointment when we found that our metro stop was closed. Our hearts sank but it was simply too cold to dwell on our misfortune so we quickly headed in the direction of the next closest stop as drizzling rain began to fall. The metro stops in Saint Petersburg are very spread out and, by the time we reached the vicinity of another stop, we were already at the river and determined that walking the rest of the way would be just as easy as navigating our way through Russian signage to the metro stop.

By the time we reached the door of the hostel, I was overcome with love for our little communist era cell. We don’t need much these days, just a warm place to lay our heads so that we can recover enough from the day’s exploits to run ourselves ragged yet another day.

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October 27th 2008
The Hermitage

Posted under Russia

On a gray day in Saint Petersburg, we found ourselves walking toward the city’s premier fine arts museum – the Hermitage. Located in Palace Square and partly housed inside the Winter Palace, the Hermitage dominates the impressive skyline along the southeast bank of the Neva River. The green-and-white baroque façade blends seamlessly with the city’s massive baroque and neoclassical architecture, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Since the weather was mild and our legs were fresh, we decided to walk over the bridge to check out the view from both sides of the river. Again we found a frustrating lack of crosswalks over many-laned streets, buzzing with traffic. We ended up taking quite a detour just to cross the street safely and once played Frogger with speeding traffic. The river views were superb. The Neva was wide and industrial with beautiful old buildings lining the banks on both sides.

Back at the Hermitage, we bought our tickets, checked our backpack and coats in the cloakroom (every place has a cloakroom and its usually free), and began to explore. We had a list of recommended highlights and decided to search them all out before concentrating the bulk of our culture-absorbing energy on the European paintings.

The Russian Culture wing of the second floor included some opulent rooms of the Winter Palace and a portrait collection of both the royals and important military men. There were some other Russian paintings, though the country’s most famous collection of Russian art resides at St Petersburg’s Russian Museum. One room – a richly decorated hallway – was an exact replica of a hall, painted by Raphael and his pupils, inside the Vatican Papal Palace.

The Hermitage is remarkable for the sheer size of its collection, the number of well-known paintings, and particularly for the number of works by famous European painters. The collection was mostly amassed by Catherine the Great. Among the famous artists represented are Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rubens, Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Picasso, Pissarro, Gauguin, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rodin and Michelangelo. In the Hermitage’s collection, you don’t see one or two Picassos or Matisses or Rembrandts but rather entire rooms full of Matisses, Picassos and Rembrandts. The works, themselves, are brilliant, of course, but we were simply gobsmacked by the volume of famous work in the museum. It was impressive.

That said, while the collections of art and artifacts were on par with other world class museums, the Hermitage fell short of the bar in the “user-friendliness-for-foreign-citizens” category. The best example of this is the lack of English-language captions in almost all galleries other than the European paintings. In this age of globalization, in which English is the international language of business, we found it both disappointing and telling that such a prestigious national museum has failed to modernize. The European paintings were the highlight for us – they did have English captions – and Hermitage was still a great experience.

In many ways, Russia is still very raw and that makes it an interesting time to be here. Eventually, travel to Russia will become easier and people will rush to visit – because there are amazing things to see and learn here – but, for now, we are fascinated by the little differences. However frustrating they can be sometimes, they are all part of the adventure.

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October 26th 2008
Mother Russia

Posted under Russia

Famous for vodka, oil communism and gangsters, we felt confident that Russia would be a powerful conclusion to our round-the-world adventure. With our knowledge of the world’s largest country limited to its political history, its reputation as a bureaucratic abyss, and its recent cameos in the world media, and, of course, Hollywood, our illusions of Russian culture were mysteriously opaque.

Finding our way from the airport in Saint Petersburg to our hostel in the city center was, ready or not, our first opportunity to test the infrastructure. We caught a bus from the airport to the city center and quickly concluded, as we looked for our stop, that Russia has less English-language signage than any other country that we have visited. The Russian alphabet, known as Cyrillic and adopted from Bulgaria, seems to be a hybrid of Greek and Roman characters. Though most of the signage is in Russian, one can, with a basic knowledge of the Greek alphabet, decipher just enough of it to survive.

From the bus stop, we struggled a bit to find the metro station but eventually found ourselves descending into the cavernous recesses of the underground railway system. Disconcerted by the lack of metro maps around the stations, we did find one map that listed the stops in both English and Russian characters. We were astonished by the frequency of the trains – arriving every minute-and-a-half or so compared to the five-to-seven minute intervals in other busy international cities – and also by the masses of riders on each train.

Our hostel was located a few blocks off of Nevsky Prospekt – Saint Petersburg’s main shopping thoroughfare. It was several blocks walking from the metro stop, during which we immediately noticed the inadequate number of crosswalks over the busy six-to-eight lane streets. By the time we reached the wrought-iron security gate of our building, I was cursing the albatross on my back. Once inside, we climbed a single set of filthy cement stairs that reeked of sewage and stepped into a tiny, warm reception area. Thankfully, the check-in process was brief and we were soon shown to a small cell with two metal twin beds and some other plain furnishings. The place screamed communism and seemed both frighteningly and delightfully appropriate. It didn’t take us long to spread out our meager but warmly familiar possessions and make ourselves at home. It was already late afternoon but, as it has been on our first day in almost every new city, we were anxious to get out and explore.

Often called the “Venice of the North”, Saint Petersburg has a super-sized European feel with large Italianate mansions and juxtaposed buildings along wide canal streets. It is Europe on steroids.

People-watching on Nevsky Prospekt was fascinating! Largely due to the “pain-in-the-ass” factor of getting a Russian visa, there are very few foreign tourists on the streets. Add to that the fall-that-feels-like-winter weather and you have Saint Petersburg almost all to yourself. Upon first walking around the city, one cannot help but admire the beauty of the young Russian women. They all seem to have gorgeous long hair, ice-blue eyes, and never-ending legs with tall stiletto-heeled boots. You don’t see an athletic shoe on anyone – only black or brown leather dress shoes. Fashion is highly embellished with stones, studs and shiny accessories. P.E.T.A. supporters beware: fur is very much in vogue. Everyone who can afford to wear it, does.

There is a noticeable military and police presence in Saint Petersburg. We must have seen five different types of uniforms on our first day alone. Naturally, I wanted photos of all of the officers but their cold, serious facial expressions and rumors of corruption have so far left me uncharacteristically timid. We have already heard stories from other travelers about police harassment and, for the first time in fourteen months, we are wearing our passports on our persons. So far, we have not received even a sideways glance but are keeping our heads down nonetheless.

That afternoon, we were headed toward the Church on the Spilled Blood, constructed on the spot where Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, was mortally wounded in 1881. Built from 1883 – 1907, the colorful, onion-domed church contrasts the city’s overwhelmingly baroque style though it manifests the quintessential style of Russian Orthodox churches of the 17th century.

As we turned the corner from Nevsky Prospekt onto the canal street that ran along the church, we spotted a handgun sitting unattended on the outside window sill of a gift shop. We looked around, suspiciously, but no one else seemed to notice it. We certainly were NOT going to touch it! “Welcome to Russia!” we laughed, as we walked on toward the church.

The sun was already setting and a third of the church’s magnificent façade was already cast in shadow so we snapped a few quick pictures outside and then walked around back to the entrance.

At first glance, the interior walls looked to be covered in soft, golden murals but we soon realized that the medium was mosaic. Scenes from the New Testament in beautiful, bright-colored mosaic ran from the semi-precious stone base to the ceiling, covering every window frame, support beam and arch. The arrangement of the subjects in the mosaics corresponded to the canons of Orthodox iconography. The southern wall portrayed the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ. The northern wall was devoted to scenes of the miracles performed by the Savior. The western wall featured scenes from the Passion. The iconostasis was a masterwork of lace-cut Italian marble. The floor, made from various kinds of Italian marble, was designed to look like a mosaic carpet.

Prior to 1917, the church was used solely for commemoration services for the departed Alexander II. In 1917, it became a regular parish church but, in 1930, it was closed and used for storage. For forty years, this magnificent church was used to store potatoes! Oh, the humanity. Finally, in 1970, restoration work began and the church was opened as a museum in 1997. The Church on the Spilled Blood is truly an awe-inspiring masterpiece and it is unfortunate that a place of such divine beauty is not used for religious services, though, in judging by the admission price, its current use is the more lucrative one.

So far, Russia is every bit as intriguing as we dreamed it would be. With five more nights in Saint Petersburg – the country’s cultural capital – there is just no telling what other discoveries lay in store.


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