A few final photos from St. Petersburg

•June 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Our trip ended with four days in St. Petersburg. It was nice to plant ourselves down and stay in one place. Plus, I got a chance to sleep-in.

Todd, Temo and I went to a concert by De-Phazz at a place called GlavClub. It was an impressive venue, and the band sounded great. Wikipedia describes De-Phazz as “a downtempo jazz ensemble integrating modern turntablism and elements of soul, Latin, trip hop and drum and bass into a lounge music sound.” That just-about says it all. A fun show, and the crowd was into it!

Check-out a few pics here, which include the giant street celebration for St. Peterburg Day, the Grand Cascade fountains of Peter the Great’s Palace, the De-Phazz concert, and our two final train trips.

Overall I think the trip was a great success! I got to re-visit some old haunts, and see lots of new places, too. All this with plenty of surprises along the way.

My Russian was a little rusty at first, but it came back to me.

I felt like the boys got a good sampling of Ukrainian and Russian food.

The weather cooperated. No one got sick. Nothing got stolen. We boarded all our trains and flights. I stayed within budget.

I think my favorites were Yalta (stunning), St. Petersburg (such a friendly, pretty town) and Donetsk (so great to see things have improved).

Now, I’m back home… and it all feels like a jet-lagged dream…

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Video: Underneath the Grand Cascade at Petergof: fountains that run only on gravity

•May 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Had a little behind-the-scenes tour of the famous fountains.

I didn’t get as much footage as I would’ve liked, and the “grotto tour” was a bit short, but still interesting. The fountains were an engineering feat in the 1800’s.

They still run without pumps, to this day running only on gravity.

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Video: The Big St. Petersburg Day Festival

•May 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

We couldn’t have planned it better. We arrived in St. Petersburg just in-time for the city’s birthday celebration. There were TONS of people out-and-about.

St. Petersburg is my favorite city from the former Soviet Union. The people are friendly, the architecture is interesting, lots of history, and a bustling downtown area.

The big vacation is ending soon. I’ll be posting for a few more days, as I wrap-up photo and video posting and head home.

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Video: Inside St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square

•May 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Check-out this short video of the St. Basil’s Cathedral at Red Square in Moscow, Russia.

Choir voices make it even more awesome.

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36 hours in Moscow: Red Square, Cosmonaut Museum and more

•May 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It was wonderful to visit Ukraine. I’ll probably post about it more. But now it was time to take our adventurous crew to the great country of Russia.

We boarded our Aeroflot plane in Kiev, then flew a few hours, nonstop. Moscow is… how can I say this nicely? Well it’s not really a *pretty* town. It is, however, full of history and activity.

It’s also an *expensive* town. That’s why our stay in Moscow was relatively short; we stayed just one night.

Moscow is home to some of the longest subway escalators in the world. Each subway has a different theme and decor. There’s a couple photos here to check-out..

I really enjoyed the Cosmonaut Museum. There were 1:1 scale re-creations of satellites, and there was lots of artwork and newspaper clippings from the era of the space race. (Yuri, Yuri, he’s our man!) I also dug learning about Byelka and Stryelka, the celebrated dogs in space.

Walking around the Moscow Expo Center seemed a little intimidating… it’s a huge outdoor complex. So Todd suggested we rent bikes. What a great idea! We cruised along with bikes around the grounds, seeing some cool old architecture. We even hit the fun-fair to ride some coasters, eat shish-kabobs and have ice cream.

Later, it was time to head back to town. I’d been to Red Square before, but it still dazzles! The inside of St. Basil’s was under renovation when I visited last time in 1995; they did a wonderful refurbishment and the insides look simply amazing. We made a pit stop at McDonald’s. Instead of mozzarella sticks, they have fried Brie sticks here. (I had them. They were rubbery.)

I think cigarettes used to be more common in the former USSR. Now there are health advisory signs everywhere. The sign here says “Tobacco is poison. Quit smoking.” Ukraine just passed tougher smoking laws for public spaces. Yay.

After about 36 hours, it was time to move-on and catch our overnight train to St. Petersburg. More on that soon.

I’ll apologize for my plain (mindless?) writing right now. It’s late (and I’m typing on a phone!)

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The weather gods have been smiling upon us this trip; also have a video of a Russian roller coaster

•May 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The weather has been fantastic this whole trip. Amazing!

We chances upon a fun-fair at the Moscow Expo Center. We rode 3 coasters. The biggest one was Cobra. Here, watch it in action.

(And yes, we rode it.)

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Trip highlights: Yalta, Odessa Philharmonic, and the catacombs in Kiev

•May 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The adventures continue.

I think Yalta has been my favorite part of the trip so far. It’s gorgeous! Dramatic mountains and picturesque beaches. We’ve been calling it “The Yosemite of Ukraine.” (Well, Yosemite plus a beach, I guess.) The water is so clean and blue! Check-out some of the photos here. We had a lovely evening in Yalta, and the tours around Simferopol and Sevastopol were just awesome.

Todd and I stumbled-upon the Philharmonic Hall in Odessa, and as luck would have it, there were a few tickets left. $8 each! Score!!! I love live music, and hearing a symphony orchestra is always a real treat! I’m certain that my old friends Peter and Alisa have been to this hall. They were big fans of symphonic music, and spent a lot of time in Odessa.

Kiev was cool, though our time here has been short. It was cool to walk around Kreschatik Boulevard (the main artery) during a big street fair, on a delightful summery evening. Live music, beer, and celebration. Yay.

The tour guide at the Monastery of the Cave was a trip. She was local, knowledgeable, fluent in English, and got really animated when she told stories of the monastery grounds. I’m not sure if my fellow travelers were into it, but I enjoyed it.

The catacomb tour itself has been cut short over the years, and frankly was a bit underwhelming. I’m glad I got to see the catacombs 18 years ago. Back then, you could wander as you pleased. The sick and afflicted would go to a special section of the caves to be healed by a priest. (When I visited, the priest was performing an exorcism. That was quite a surreal experience.)

The overnight trains in Ukraine are almost exactly like they were 20 years ago. The compartments are grubby; the toilets empty-out right onto the track. The trains are actually exactly the same trains as back then, except now some compartments have something resembling air-conditioning. Kinda.

We’re walking a lot. We’re tired a lot. It’ll be nice when we get to St. Petersburg, because we’re spending 4 days there. We’ll get to enjoy a slower pace.

The Ukraine leg of the tour is about to end. It’s been good to be back. It’s kind of weird to see grocery stores full of quality food, and to see restaurants full of customers. But it’s certainly a good thing. Ukraine is moving forward, and its people just seem happier these days.

Next-up: Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Here, have a bunch of photos.

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