Monday, May 03, 2010

Days 1 and 2: Arrived in Russia. Wish I had learned Spanish a little better.

All of my planes left on schedule so my only gripe about the trip to Russia is having to spend five hours in JFK. I can't really think of one thing I like about that airport. Arriving in St. Petersburg, I found a cold, unhelpful immigration official who stopped me for no reason I could gather. Her supervisor eventually showed up, made a phone call and cleared me. I suppose immigration officers all over the world aren't that different after all.

Getting to the hotel was easy. I took a minibus from the airport for just over a dollar and it dropped me a block from the hotel. The driver was a 22-year old Uzbek. He spoke English so we chatted for a while. He doesn't like the weather in St. Petersburg and hopes to move to America some time. I told him I couldn't employ him but I'd be glad to hear from him by e-mail if he ever makes it. He noticed I was carrying a copy of The Master and Margarita and mentioned it was one of his favorite books. And he told me that racism was in fact a noticeable problem in Russia.

I spend the afternoon at the Russian Museum. I thought I had three hours to spend there, but my watch being on Helsinki time deceived me, so I only got two hours there and didn't see about a third of the collection. In the evening, my hosts took me and a few other guests to a tango concert of songs and quintet pieces by Astor Piazzolla. The ensemble was good, although the amplification was a bit overdone. The singer had as much verve as one could ask for, but with all the singing being in Spanish, I thought about how nice it would have been to know better Spanish. I bought one of the CDs by the quintet though. Though I thought of getting it autographed, I forgot about that by the end of the concert. I suppose my tiredness got to me.

Day 2:
Got up at noon, which was disappointing. Definitely going to set my alarm tonight so it doesn't happen again.

It was sunny today and a bit less cold than yesterday so I headed out with a sweater but no jacket. After a quick visit to a cybercafe I caught a minibus to the palace grounds at Peterhof. Unfortunately the grand palace there is closed on Mondays, but the grounds were open and the fountains are the main attraction anyway, especially this one. That large Samson fountain on the right shoots water about 20 metres in the air. There are many other fountains in the park though. Also, there was a surprise appearance by a four-person mallet percussion ensemble whose rendition of the third movement of Vivaldi's Spring was surprisingly tasteful.

The highlight of the evening was a meal at the Armenian restaurant across the canal from my hotel. Now I'm off to bed.