This is how Olga, gets our attention. Olga is the name of our tour guide and Igor is our driver.  Could that be any more classic?

Russia has gone mad for the World Cup.

St. Petersburg on the summer solstice, on a Friday, while the city is hosting the World Cup (mighty Brazil vs. Costa Rica today), and it’s the annual graduation ceremony weekend, with concerts and parties – it’s exhilarating, and very busy.  Olga and Igor have us for two days, and decide it’s better to take us out into the countryside to see the sights away from downtown today.

A mosaic of Peter the Great, founder of St. Petersburg, decorates the Admiralty subway stop.

But first – a short ride on the subway.  Subways here are art galleries of communist pride as well as mass transport, and this subway has frescoes and mosaics and statues, and goes waaaaaaaay down deep.  Olga tells us this is because St. Petersburg was built on a swamp, and the geology demands it.  In Moscow they told us the subways go deep because they were intended to be used as nuclear shelters as well.

The church of St. Nicholas, SPB

My dear friends, here is St. Nicholas’ cathedral, still being used as a church and not a museum (which is the fate of most religious buildings in SPB – and Moscow, where some have even been turned into subway entrance points.)  Because it is a church, no photos are allowed.  A mass is in progress, and an exquisite small choir of six is singing the responses in a side chapel.  You can just barely see a priest in a huge golden cope that almost fills the doorway of the wall of icons which divides the congregation from the holy place of the altar.  An elderly woman dressed all in navy has thrown a cloth onto two steps leading up to it, and she kneels on the cloth, presses her forehead down onto the top step, gets up and does it again, over and over.

Lunch in Russia includes a shot of vodka for everyone.

My dear friends, enjoy your lunch, which includes herring on black bread, vodka, borscht, sausage and ice cream.

The many incredible fountains of Peterhof are all gravity fed. Not a single mechanical pump.

My dear friends, this is Peterhof, the summer residence of Peter the Great, The 6’8” founder of SPB – great in more ways than one.  He was a great admirer of Versailles, which was the inspiration for the gravity-fed fountains and gilded statues, many of which were saved from destruction in WWII by burial, and restored by an army of professionals and volunteers.

My dear friends, Catherine’s palace is also amazing – in that it was built in the first place, with SO MUCH gold leaf and an entire room’s walls covered in amber (no photos please, because that takes time and here are more people waiting to enter), and also that it was rebuilt after the war.

My dear friends, sleep well, because tomorrow you have more to see…