Day Eleven — Epic Odyssey
St Petersburg, Russia — Russia is our last and largest country on the World Tour itinerary. It will take us approximately 20 flight hours and eight legs to cross its vast expanse of 6,000 nautical miles. Russia comprises about 40% of our entire world journey!
Our first stop was St. Petersburg, the most European of all Russian cities, founded by Peter the Great in 1703. It is a quick two-and-a-half-hour flight, but on final approach, we suddenly lost our GPS due to a military blackout. This unexpected technical difficulty was surprising! Thankfully, the Garmin avionics stepped up and allowed for an easy transition during a critical phase of flight.
The St. Petersburg Airport is busy and big, but the welcome may have been a bit lacking in the “warm and friendly” department. In fact, one burly Russian official, who spoke little English, abruptly handed his phone to Guff; the screen bore the terse warning, “Take another picture of me and I will arrest you.” So, cameras and phones away, oh my!
The Four Seasons Hotel, located across the street from the beautiful St. Isaac’s Cathedral and just blocks from the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum, and Mariinsky Theater, was originally built in 1820 as the palace for Princess Lobanova-Rostovskaya. It is impressive. After checking in, we were introduced to Victoria’s charismatic friend, Eugene, a St. Petersburg native and opera singer by trade and talent. He will be our ultimate tour guide for the next two days.
Eugene escorted us to what appeared to be a private apartment, accessed through a small side alley. We were warmly welcomed and then ushered into a small dining room containing two tables extravagantly set with dishes, glassware, flowers, linens, and an assortment of beautifully prepared foods! Salads, rolled appetizers of eggplant and hummus, chunks of chicken in a ground walnut and olive oil sauce, whole platters of fish loaf with vegetables, olives and pickled red cabbage. Earthenware carafes contained homemade red wine, with bottles of juice, water, and of course, vodka!
Eugene explained that his friend, our host, prepared for us a traditional Georgian feast: a special treat in celebration of his homeland. He described each of the dishes and we sat down to a spectacular feast! What we didn’t at first realize, is that the spread was just the appetizer course — after which we would take a brief intermission to attend a Russian Folk Performance, and then return for the main course after the show. The rest of our group finally joined us and we had a truly memorable Georgian evening, distinguished as much by the warm hospitality as the fabulous food and highly entertaining folk dancing and singing!