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Travel Advice \ Travelers' Feedback \ by Margaret Van Meter

by Margaret Van Meter

An example of that is our waiting in line for a ticket to the Kremlin Museum, waiting then to get in the gates, and then getting to the door of the actual museum only to find the attendant was on a 90 minute break! Total waiting time was 2.5 hours, but we finally got in, and learned about how things are not always done in Russia with the tourist in mind!

Having our son as a guide was fabulous as he is very comfortable in the language and culture, and he is a very diplomatic and patient person, so he handled anything that was confusing or difficult with confidence, even the employee at a bank who, after an hour waiting for her to be free to help us, at first refused to change our crisp US bills for rubles and swore at us and ignored us for whatever reason before completing the transaction. Matty just calmly repeated our request until she complied.

Very interesting experiences on the trip were the little museum about the horrible siege in St. Petersburg when the Germans blockaded the city; going to a ballet (Sleeping Beauty), walking into a neighborhood off the tourist paths and discovering a vast farmers' market with beautifully displayed produce, meats and fish, honey, and cheeses. We bought honey, bread, cheese, and fruit from smiling, gold-toothed vendors, one of whom cheerily took a large bill and went to five other vendors to get change for us. We went to the Hermitage, of course, and lingered on the third floor, seeing for the first time many wonderful Impressionist paintings. One day we took the metro to the museum that houses 20th Century Russian art. The works there were very exciting and, again, art that has not circulated in museums in the USA.

We found great coffee and blini places, and went to different ethnic restaurants each night. The best of those was an unlikely one with an African theme, called Congo, with delicious spicy food and excellent ambience. We got used to vegetables with breakfast and waiting for unhurried waiters to come to our table. The Nevsky Prospect places are more tourist-oriented than the ones on side streets, but less interesting.

Our train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg was great. We were very comfortable and had a marvelous traveling companion in a 60-year old retired Russian Air Force colonel who chatted with us over beer. He was forthright and witty, so we laughed a lot and felt glad to have such luck as to end up with him in our compartment.

Both hotels were fine. The Marriot was new and very accommodating, though the small room was overpriced. I would say the price is driven by lack of competition in the center of the city, so in that sense, $299.00 was a fair market price. The hotel in St. Petersburg was just perfect for us as it was a very large space with a high ceiling and three beds and private bath for $165.00. The hotel was peopled by Russian and European tourists, and the staff did not speak English for the most part, but with Matty there, all our needs were communicated and met.

Our Delta flight over went very smoothly, and because it was overnight and non-stop, we never experienced jet lag. The return trip, predictably enough, had a long delay in Paris as it was Air France, but at least we made it home the same day!

I think our next trip to Russia will be to Irkutsk and Ulan-Uday so we can see where Matty has called home for a year. Although we will not be able to do that until the boys have graduated from college, I am already looking forward to the adventure of the Trans-Siberian Railway excursion, meeting Ludmila Alekseevna, Matty's host mother in Irkutsk, and seeing beautiful Lake Baikal.

Thanks you for your help in making our trip go smoothly, and I hope you are well.


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