Too much of a welcome.
On our first evening in St. Petersburg, we wandered into a local restaurant which seemed to have a lot of young Russian people in their clientele, and shortly after sitting down were joined by a drunk Russian man who informed us his name was Sergio and he was a former member of the Red Army. Great. Don and I both flashed back to shortly after we were married, in fact on our honeymoon when we were basically stuck in India after the Bombay airport burned down. We became the object of attention of a man who looked like a Russian weightlifter who wanted to arm wrestle Don and kept flicking lighted matches at us, while shouting "Americanski". Sergio could have been the weightlifter's reincarnation. Think the blonde giant who wrestled James Bond in From Russia with Love.
I'm giving Sergio a wary look. He has just plonked down his leftover food on the table announcing he was contributing it to our dinner. He's flashing the 5000 ruble note which he insists is going to pay for everything.
Slurring in his limited English, Sergio insisted that he was going to buy us drinks. We kept refusing. Ignoring our protests, he ordered a round while sliding off his chair and barely catching himself before hitting the tiled floor. We looked over to the bartender, but he had turned a lighter shade of pale and looked like he definitely did not want to be involved. So we tolerated Sergio while quickly finishing our late night dinner snack. Meanwhile, Sergio wanted his picture taken with me. The guy was as strong as an ox. I kept flashing that he had probably twisted people's heads off, but maybe I've seen too many James Bond movies. Managed to get out of there with all limbs and heads intact. We did end up paying for Sergio's drink.
I will note that most encounters we have had with ordinary Russian people have been very satisfactory and nothing like this.
More civilized company:
Next morning met our traveling companions at their hotel for breakfast. This is Inez, her friend Helen, who lives in England, and Andrew.
Love this picture: Andrew with Paula's grandson, Sheldon, who is doing an internship here in St. Petersburg.
Royal treatment at the Hermitage. Ushered into the director of the State Hermitage Museum, Prof. Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky. Loved the piles of books everywhere. He seemed to be a very decent man and sent his warm regards to Chuck Close, who had had an exhibition there.
Mikhail's office filing system - elegant disorder
Guided thru this beautiful Egyptian room a little too quickly for my taste.
And into the astounding Diamond & Gold Rooms. This is the curator who has been assigned to us; very knowledgeable and efficient. I am not good with names and Russian names are really a challenge; can't retain them very well.
Not very crowded on our tour.
Scythian gold. Scythians were a nomadic tribe who seemed to almost live on horseback. Originally conquered by the Chinese and driven out of the Eastern steppes, they rode west and loosely occupied a large area of what is now Russia and surrounding areas. They wore loose trousers and later clashed with the Slavs, who we saw in paintings depicted in full armor.
As you can see, they did lovely work in gold. There were cases and cases of this beautiful gold work.
Moving forward in time, a gold crown, woven from gold thread and studded with rubies and pearls.
Beautiful solid gold pocket watch. You might have to have one of your retainers carry it for you, though. Probably rather heavy, we weren't allowed to heft it.
One of the curators said that an empress (name?) thought these jeweled flowers were vulgar. Perhaps so, but I rather like them.
By the way, I believe that photos are normally not allowed in this room. There were signs around to that effect. We didn't ask.
Inspecting the goods; Sammy, Era, Inez, Andrew, Paula and the curator.
One of the goodies.
Next we were taken into a narrow hot stuffy corridor and shown what seemed to be an endless supply of wardrobes of clothes belonging to Andrew's grandmother Xenia, great-grandmother, great-aunt Alexandra, etc., etc. until we all felt a little woozy. Inez and Paula had to sit down outside. We felt it had to be endured, as this was a special privilege. They do not bring these clothes out for anyone, but since Andrew was part of the family, they were breaking precedent.
The young man with the giant camera is a Hermitage photographer who was assigned to follow Andrew around.
Inez finally had to play the bad cop and get us out of there. Hopefully not too many feathers were ruffled.
Much more later, but I'm going to bed.
From Russia with Love,
Era and Don