There’s no place like Russia

We chatted with this lady selling paintings for a minute. She was so taken with Jane’s freckles and “red” hair that she kept hugging her. When we left, she insisted Jane take this painting and wouldn’t let us pay her anything for it.

We’ve had a few days in Russia now. Our apartment here is right on Nevskii Prospect–the main street in town. It’s always super busy on the street. The street is lined with little cafes, pharmacies, flower shops many of which are open 24 hours. But you step into the courtyard of our apartment building, and it’s really quiet. The apartment is quite nice. They all have been, not counting the first in Vilnius. One thing I did not expect is that they all have a washing machine–no dryer, but at least a washing machine. I think we would have packed a little different had we known this.

In the Baltic countries, we took rideshares/taxis to any place we didn’t walk. They all had public transportation, but it was mostly buses with a few trams. It honestly cost less to take the rideshares (for 5 people as opposed to buying 5 tickets on public transport) and was definitely much easier than public transport.

In Russia, we’ve gone everywhere on public transport. Mostly the metro. The metro here is great–pretty easy to figure out, clean, efficient, and has many lines and runs through most of the city. Because St Petersburg was built right near the sea and over wetlands, the metro has to be deep. It’s the deepest metro in the world. It costs 45 rubles (about 75 cents) to ride and Nolan and Margaret are free.

At the entrance to every station, you pass through a metal detector and past at least one policeman.

Once you pass the policemen, you scan your metro card and get on the steepest and longest escalator you’ve ever seen. It takes about 5 minutes to ride to the bottom. After that, it’s like any other subway system I’ve been on, but the stations are very clean and ornate, lined with marble, with busts and mosaics on the walls.

This was definitely something I wanted my kids to experience–public transport. And they definitely are. We ride the metro every day.

The picture really doesn’t show how long and steep the escalator is.
Riding the metro home after a long day

On Friday, we hit up the St Petersburg Zoologic Museum. It’s huge. One of the largest museums of its type. The museum has 17 million (!!) specimens although it only has enough room to house 500,000 of them.

One highlight is the complete skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal to ever live on the earth. It is huge. But looking at it, I guess it makes me think that some of the huge dinosaurs must not be as big as I thought they were.

Other highlights include an actual mammoth that was found in the permafrost. It has the skin and some fur intact, although it is missing much of its trunk.

This is really a mammoth–the skin and fur are real. Nothing has been added.

There were also several skeletons from extinct elephant lines that were ENORMOUS–twice as tall as African elephants today.

Today, we took a marshrutka to a place called Peterhof. A marshrutka is a kind of taxi bus that takes you to a destination, usually outside of the main city, with just a few stops on the way. They are basically, run down, private mini-buses where the driver lets as many people get on as possible so that half the load ends up standing the whole trip. The driver takes payment and gives change on the go.

As a side note, I took one of these with my brother Lance in Poland where we were so packed in and I was so jet-lagged that I fell asleep standing up but was so tightly packed that the pressure from the other passengers kept me in a standing position.

Anyway, we fortunately weren’t that packed today, and made it to Peterhof. Peterhof is a palace originally built by Peter the Great to commemorate a victory at war with Sweden. It is modeled after Versailles and is pretty incredible. During WWII it was taken by the Germans. Hitler planned to host a celebration there. Although it had suffered some damage from the war at that point, it was still standing. Stalin was so angry at the thought that the Germans were going to live it up at this place that he basically bombed it to the ground. They had to rebuild it after the war. It’s now a UNESCO heritage site. Here are some photos from Peterhof.

Nolan was pretty sure he was going to catch something, so it was hard to keep him out of the water in the garden ponds.

In any case, it was another great great day. It takes us all day to visit one site like this. Home school takes a bit of time as does getting to and from our destinations. So we spend 3-4 hours at one site and all come home exhausted. The kids are proving to be first rate travelers. No real complaints about the food and although they could be done after 5 minutes in the museums and other sites, as long as they get a little free time, they stay pretty happy.

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