To Russia with Mom – Day 4 – Parks, Palaces and Caviar
Our Sunday plan to go by boat to Peterhof was foiled: the indefatigable Maxas went online to get boat tickets and found that the entire morning was sold out – so instead he drove us expeditiously through empty Sunday morning streets and we arrived at Peterhof at least as quickly as the boat could have, parking with a good entry to the palace. A light drizzle reinforced our gratitude for the cozy car as opposed to the open-air boat ride.
There was already a line to see the Palace, and we decided to concentrate on the park with its gilded statues, fountains, benches, birch woods, more fountains, hide-away mini-palaces and more fountains.
I liked best the small mini-castle “pavilion” where Peter the Great could hang out with his young wife without a lot of pomp. It has a tidy kitchen with delft tiles around the oven. Martha Stewart would apporve the matchy-matchy wall-papered, draperied, bed-curtained bedroom. The bed is immense to accomodate Peter, who was well over six feet tall in an age where 5’3″ was the average; Peter’s heavily embroidered nightshirt is laid out on the bed ready to be donned. Off the bedroom a small office with some maritime-ish instruments evoke Peter’s maritime interests.
We walked a lot; finally we found a bench and sat eating our granola bars shared around. Good kind Maxas suggested that as Mom needed a rest, we could forego the upper formal French gardens and go over to the town of Pushkin to see the Catharine Palace and where Pushkin went to school.
This was a mixed success – Mom napped in the car, but it was windier and colder at Pushkin; the line at 4PM to get into the palace was 90 minutes long and the palace closed at 5; we went to Pushkin’s school which has four floors with no elevators – Mom made it up and down three but we gave up seeing Pushkins bedroom.
We said good-bye to Maxas at the end of the afternoon, tried to thank him but he would have none of it. He had given us two entire days of thoughtful guidance and would not even let me buy our tickets to the parks. I had been warned of Russian hospitality – this example shines.
We decided to splurge for dinner at the Grand Hotel l’Europe, just a few blocks from our modest digs. Their Caviar Bar is another ornate, mirrored, chandeliered venue complete with a blonde singer in a red satin gown to match the red-velvet and gilt decor. She was backed by an acoustic guitarist and string base; I was appreciating the Slavic folk tunes when I recognized “Granada” – maybe not so authentic after all.
Our two appetizers, two cocktails, and an amuse-bouche from the chef came to about $80, all worth it for the assiduous service and the baroque atmosphere – I kept expecting Lara and Yuri to step into the frame at any minute.
At the hotel, we were greeted wih a sign saying that we would be without electricity from 6AM to 10AM on Monday. No explanation, just smiles and shrugs from the suddenly non-English-speaking staff. OK, as long as we don’t have to use the elevator before 10AM. Tomorrow we board our boat!