St. Petersburg holds a very special place in my heart.  A few of my favorite memories took place there in the summer of 2010.  I find it contains so much curiosity and surprises.  Some parts resemble the epitome of a communist region, dry and monotonous; yet others sectors contain buildings of gaudy royal stature and grace.  Honey buckets and overfilled trash bins greet visitors to the renowned Hermitage, previously Catherine’s Palace which now holds one of the greatest art collections in the world.  Grunge meets purity.

To most the lack of complete cleanliness around such amazing monuments would be a turnoff but I feel it to be intriguing.  Unfortunate, yes, but fascinating.  It’s like the Russians of St. Petersburg are not trying to prove anything.  They know they got it going on but don’t need to impress outsiders.  Of course this is just my interpretation of what I’ve seen over many overnight visits.

Fascination and intrigue greeted me once again as I returned for the first time in two years.  For the most part, nothing has changed – it’s dark for only maybe 90 minutes a night (not year round); people are out until the waking hours of the morning; open drinks fill the hands of pedestrians; and the driving makes me want to hurl.

To make the most of our first visit of 2012, Rob and I pitched the idea of a riverboat cruise to watch the bridges go up.  Well, word spread fast and before we knew it, twenty of us were stood opposite the Hermitage at the side of the Neva River, in awe of the fire show performance on the bank.  Hippies twirled, spat, and spun fire to the soothing beat of nearby bongo drums.  It happened to be a Sunday (which didn’t change a thing), and St. Petersburg’s birthday, which meant extra crazies roaming the street.  Three hundred dollars, or ten thousand rubbles, bought all twenty of us admission to what we that was a private boat.  At least that’s what we deciphered from the Russian-English charade Rob and I danced to at the ticket counter, and in the past that’s what we received.  Not this time.

The company tried to put our large rowdy bunch onto a full boat with families and older folks, overall, not our demographic.  As I stood arguing with the lady, 19 friends flanked around me, the woman degradingly grabbed my hand and gave me a face full of attitude before running off to check the facts.  As a result in an effort, to calm our disgruntled mob, they thought an upgrade to a lavish fine-dining dinner boat would suit our fancy and mellow our mood.  It didn’t please me but luckily no one besides Rob and I had any other Russian nighttime river cruises to compare this one to.  Once we all made our way out to the upper outside deck tension eased up, but I would not have wanted to be a patron that night with our noisy bunch, distracting and perhaps slightly vulgar.  We faced dirty looks, snide comments, and overall displeasure from other guests aboard the MS FancyPants.

I even lost my cigarette case-turned-wallet off the side, however it luckily stopped on the rim that wraps around the outside of the boat.  A show of dancing, pointing, and gesturing finally resulted in the retrieval of my goods, all there and accounted for thank goodness!  It just backs up my reasoning to leave my credit card and license on the ship.  Unfortunately, during my wallet rescue, I missed the largest bridge going up but luckily I have seen it before and I will probably see it again.  It’s a sight that doesn’t get old.

After the mess turned success boat ride, three of us stuck around town, wandering and taking photos, not to mention narshing on a delicious Subway sandwich, while the others hit a club.  The sun rose, the bridges went down, and the taxis dispersed.  Finally we found one to get us back to the ship by five in the morning.  We survived another overnight!

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