Tatiana geets us in the hotel lobby with flutes of champagne. It’s a lovely surprise to begin an evening in this inviting, exciting city. Interpid Travel contracts with two local families to host small tea parties.
We visit a young family in the northeastern part of the city. They live in a fourth floor walk-up in a poorly maintained, but gloriously Rococco building. They are in a single room apartment that shares a kitchen and bath with other families. Ceilings and spirits are equally high as our hostess provides tea from a large pot and from a shining samovar. Her cobalt tea cups are inherited. The stack of pancakes resembles large, thin crepes and they are are lovingly prepared. We enjoy them with home-made fruit jams made in summer from berries foraged near the family’s dacha (summer house).
The family’s nine-year old daughter is still in her costume from her dance lesson, and like children the world over, enjoys a tender moment at the table, conferring with dad. I enjoyed seeing fathers with their children at every turn, every day. A dad roller-skates (badly) with his daughter. A young boy travels the subway with his father. An working father lunches with his school girl daughter.
It’s an interesting glimpse of how families make the domestic transition from Soviet times through perestroika. Our subway ride home gives us a look at austere but beautifully made tiled stations. This is different, too, from Moscow’s revolutionary days when bold, patriotic artistry was the rule for public areas.
During another day, several gather to do some sport shooting at an indoor range. The appeal for the new shooters is to handle the fabled Kalashnakov. The range is managed in a professional, safe way. A poster reminds shooters to pick up their spent rounds.
On another evening, we visit the Aurora Theatre just across the Neva River from the Hermitage. The theatre lobby overlooks the City as well as the docked Aurora submarine, now also a historical point of interest. The Russian Ballet performs an abbreviated “Swan Lake.” The balletic technique is perfect, though the sight line is interrupted by glare from a light in the reed section of the orchestra. The light aims at the first rows as much as it illuminates the sheet music. Luckily, there’re seats available to reseat anyone finding themselves in the inadvertent spotlight.
Time comes to catch a flight home. There is a short-lived panic after being denied boarding. In the early morning, I am told I am in the wrong airport. Judi cleared just fine for her route to Colorado, but my flight destined eventually for Florida is another thing. A compassionate fellow traveller re-translates. I discover that I am in the wrong terminal, about a twenty-minute cab ride away from where I should be departing. St Petersburg says it has two airports. They are coded the same: LED. One is for domestic flights and one is for international flights. Except the same named airport for domestic traffic now has a few international flights. Go figure.
I borrow Judi’s last rubles to pay the cab driver to take me to the new airport slash terminal slash domestic slash international for my outbound flight to the States. I do not give up. I do not panic.At the security check point, a family passes through inspection. The guard waives the wife through the scan as her husband pushes a pet carrier across the security belt. The woman cradles the largest, most gentle and beautifully silken, Russian Blue cat that I’ve ever seen.