“Dfk3j gq3ig.3jhd3afb3v oy3wrt gvn3q be3lrg3f qr3wtl3 wuy3vgv3p2h3jtr3gi----insk” said Seamus. “Jrt3hg t3o8 q73 yw3gtb3 ljv3avd3 rp ug3er 3uyga3j dc3vk a3ye3rhgu3 ia3fovlh----insk” replied Eamon. We are now fluent in Russian. When we arrived in Russia this was all we saw, a different language with an alien alphabet. There was backwards “r’s” and “E’s”, “o’s” with lines through them, and the occasional “><” (all connected). However getting to the hotel was a breeze because we had a van pick us up right out of the gate exit. We had booked with a “Travel Service” that specializes in trips to Russia. We got a tour with the “Travel Service” of St. Petersburg; we visited many sites such as the Peter and Paul Fortress, The Church of Christ Resurrection, St. Isaacs, a quick glance at The Hermitage, and Palace Square. In Peter and Paul’s Fortress a canon goes off every day at 12 p.m. When we were touring around the grounds we noticed a beeping sound alerting us of the canon firing. I snapped the video camera on the capture the faces off my dad and brothers. BOOOM!!!! I played back the video a few moments later (after I calmed down). I had captured the faces of my brothers, but a second later you see the camera shaking rapidly after the shot was fired. I hear my voice yell out “HOLY CRAP!!!!!” Dad said, “Now what did you say about capturing our faces?” I was bewildered; I was looking the wrong way and did not know exactly when the canon would fire. My dad said that some guy on the other side of the river hates 12 because there is a new “divot” everyday in his front lawn.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
St. Petersburg here we come!!! The first day we were traveling on Seamus’s birthday. The next day we were on a 4 hour tour. AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! It took FOREVER. We visited lots of cool places like The Peter and Paul Fortress, The Hermitage Museum, The Church of Christ Resurrection it was amazingly awesome. It has been very hard here because the water is not very clean. So we have been buying bottle water for brushing our teeth. In the Peter and Paul fortress there were 2 cannons at 12 o’clock in the afternoon every day. The cannons went off and we were standing right in the back of them and then poooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOLY CRAP!! Said Eamon watch the video of that it was funny as heck.
For the past few days my family was in St. Petersburg Russia and we have done many things; such as the Hermitage Museum, Peter and Paul’s fortress, St. Isaac’s church, one of the top five biggest churches in the world, and also The Church of Christ Resurrection. The thing that I like most about St. Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum. The reason why it was my favorite is because it wasn’t just one thing but the many things we were able to see. It was really diverse. For example in one room there were things that were Egyptian and in the next there would be a room full of Greek Mythology stuff like sculptures and artifacts. We saw a very famous picture by Leonardo DaVinci - it was called “Madonna and Child.” It was a picture of Mary the Virgin Mother of God holding Jesus Christ. The details were fantastic. I noticed that the painting was more important than the others because there were three tour groups in line to see the original painting; we had to weave through people so my mom could get a good picture of painting. I hope that it will not be like this when we go to see the Mona Lisa in Paris.
March 1988 – a group of college/grad students in winter coats, a very “regulated” tour, no “shopping” and few places to eat, and snow still on the ground. Fast forward 21 years – a family, only one scheduled tour, tons of shops and restaurants, freedom to roam around, and the ability to attend mass in a Catholic Church. To say that St. Petersburg has changed is an understatement. You still have the same beautiful churches, many that have been or are being restored; the Hermitage Museum with its wonderful collection of Impressionist Art; and the many picturesque bridges that light up at night and also open during the middle of the night. If you are on the wrong side at the time of opening you are out of luck for a few hours. We took advantage of the freedom to move around any time of the day and met many wonderful people: very helpful Russian shop workers, a struggling artist attending College to learn languages, and many, many folks from the US who were also visiting the Hermitage. Next on to Moscow where I know the size of the city and the metro will be overwhelming to the boys!
St. Petersburg is a magnificent city in Russia. It is the place of kings, Czars or Tsars. Until my visit to St. Petersburg I didn’t truly understand the significance of St. Petersburg to the Peter the Great nor its place in the history of the Romanov’s (My apologies to Mr. Stroud the Haverford School World History teacher). St. Petersburg has a dynamic history up to and including the Russian revolution and its significance is now better understood as we visited and observed the canals, rivers and Baltic Sea throughout the city. The influence of the Swedes is apparent and now I understand why so many Russians have “blond hair”. From the Black Sea came the Turks and I learned a great deal about the “Orthodox” Church and how it came to be the “relevant” religion in Russia. The Churches are magnificent and the post card images of The Christ Resurrection Church or the Church of the Spilled Blood simply don’t do it justice. The Mosaic Portrait walls are almost beyond words. The Old and New Testament stories are captured beautifully in the colored glass so carefully placed. From the “Calming of the Galilean Sea” to the “Washing of the Feet” to the “Raising of Lazarus” and “The Last Supper” there wasn’t a wall, column or ceiling that wasn’t depicting some story or symbol of Christ or God like significance. The cupolas were magnificent in their breath and depth, lit wonderfully by both natural light and carefully placed lamps. We finished the day attending Mass at the Church St. Catherine’s which didn’t begin holding Mass until 1992 after being shut down in 1918 due to the Russian revolution. One of the Crosses in the Church was held in a parishioner’s house hidden from the revolutionaries so it wasn’t destroyed. She hoped to see it back at St. Catherine’s one day and her prayers were answered as it hangs in the Church where we prayed tonight. Amazing story. All in all a stunning experience that makes me want to expedite the visit to Rome.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
We landed at St. Petersburg local time 3:00PM which means it is plus 8hrs from east coast USA. It made Seamus happy because he said "My Birthday isn't over til 8:00AM tomorrow St Petersburg time, so you all have plenty of shopping time left."!
The trip thru "passport control" felt like something from the Bourne Identity. The agent looked askew as we handed over 5 passports and it seemed like an eternity while she scrutinized each document, visa, immigration form and whatever else she needed. Naturally the lads felt that it was a good time to crack jokes and play the "American kids". A stern look from the trip planner, AKA, their mother/teacher/nurse, calmed them down pretty fast. The woman handed the passports back to us and if we were waiting for the "Have a great time in St Petersburg" we would have needed to pack a lunch because there's a chance she still hasn't said that phrase.
The hotel rooms look like dorm rooms from college but the location is excellent. 2 quick turns out the door and we're on Nevsky Prospect. It is the main drag that puts us in proximity to the Winter Palace, The Hermitage (the picture on the right), St Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral. The kids can't wait to get started on castles and Churches tomorrow. No, REALLY!!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Monday morning arrives and we saunter on over to the building marked Orale Chirurgie, now that we know where it is. There is plenty of action and a quick step in most of the folks walking to and from the building and not a drool to be found, which I take as a good sign. We walk in and begin the search. A placard says "Orale Chirurgie" stage 1. I chuckle to myself as it reminds me of the 3 stooges line "Exit stage left". I'll bet Eamon wishes he could "exit stage left". Naturally, nothing is as it seems and we have to go up the stairs to get to floor 1, you see in Europe they count the ground floor as "0", who knew?
The door opens to a reception desk and like most doctors offices and clinics, and I've been to 1000's of them, the receptionist shoots the universal "What do you want glare?" and to her delight she gets to be even more annoyed when I say "'English?" An abrupt "Wait I get English guy?" I don't think she meant someone from the British Isles? A few minutes pass and I have a chance to look around at the folks waiting, a fidgety kid here, a pained teenager there and the pale middle aged white guy thinking "I should have brushed more" written on his face.
A young guy pops into view and says in a happy, German accented voice "Who needs English?" Eamon shoots his hand up like he has the answer to the most difficult Algebra problem in class. The fella helping us has 1/2 dyed blond hair and is quite helpful if not a bit giggdy. The receptionist shoots us the "glad its him and not me look" and after 10 minutes of pointing to gum lines and teeth we discover "Gotta register" and we need to be seen by a dentist first. I say to the youngster, "Right Church wrong pew?" He looks confused, mission accomplished, now he knows how I feel most of the time.
We get the dreaded "map" from the translator and he draws a few arrows on it to direct us to the building that is next on the Dental odyssey. My heart rate rises and Eamon laughs "Should I call mom?" choking back his chuckles. My map reading skills are now becoming stuff of legend and even the teenager likes to jab at me now and again.
Back out to Wharinger Strabe we go and it's left, left, left right isn't it? I've been lost here before so I am quite comfortable as I think, "Fool me once shame on me, fool me twice..." We're looking for the building marked "Ambulance." Honestly, you can't make this stuff up. The arrows on the map did lead us to the spot marked "X" and only time would tell if there was a treasure buried there or not. There was certainly plenty of drilling and digging going on... yuk yuk yuk
Now this is a clinic in all its imagery. Mismatched chairs, crowded, some flakes here and there and I mean both the walls and the patients and a couple of offices with glass windows and 2 receptionists, oh goody. Naturally the glass windows are shut tight, you wouldn't want to actually see patients coming into the clinic. There is a deli counter "number machine" and like a good drone I amble up and "pulled" the numbered ticket. I couldn't read the sign but I've always been good with pictures! Here's to hoping #33" is lucky, it was my high school lacrosse number if you believe in omens.
Since we couldn't understand the "call over the loud speaker", my number 33 really is a nice souvenir. Up to the window I go, naturally "out of turn" and risk the ire of the gatekeeper. I bring Eamon along as moral support and hope that she will take pity on me or at least the boy who has to be escorted by his dad all day. We're in luck, a normal, caring health care worker. If only she spoke English it'd be a twofer. A quick sentence or 2 and the ever present clipboard makes its way out of the cubby. 36 questions and I am pretty sure one of them is "Are you pregnant?" but I am not quite sure. I ask Eamon loudly, "Are you pregnant?" he gets mad because it was too loud and someone in this Star Wars bar scene might actually speak English? Teenagers!!! It is the last time he'll make fun of my map reading skills.
The receptionist went to the same salon as our translator over at Orale Chirurgie as she got the other 1/2 of the blonde dye job. She asks "How you pay?" and I whip out my Maestro card. No, I don't belong to a band, it is the Austrian equivalent to a MAC machine card. She writes "privit" on the paper. I am not sure but I think the next few sentences were something like "They got money let's help'em before they get away." I can't be sure because it was all in German, but come on, how many guys show up at a dental clinic with cash?
The wait isn't too long but you can only watch so much German TV reruns and read 6month old German magazines before going stir crazy, you know what I mean? We keep tabs on the folks waiting and keep asking ourselves "Were they here before us?" We must have missed our name being called as the lady from behind the glass sashayed over and said "they meant you", oops that's what "Herr Umon meant." Who knew?
The creaky door opens to the dental opratory. It is a ant farm of activity and I see a pesky fly or two. How are those flies getting into a lab? Oh it must be the 4 open 3'x3'windows in front of me. There is obviously a hierarchy as everyone has different outfits with some variant of white. Our dentist says "Halo", guess no one mentioned we don't speak German. He sees this as a great opportunity to practice his English. I come to find out that that's not all he's practicing today as he is a "resident" dentist. Hmmm best not mention that to Eamon. The lab is a bit different than at home. This is more like a MASH. There are 5 chairs lined up 3 and then 2 making a mutant triangle. There are people everywhere, spouses with husband, mom's with kids and the solo teenage girl yelping each time someone touches a tooth. It is surreal. I am scanning and wondering "Did I make a mistake here?" The girls in the striped shirts are the folks that supply the tables and sterilize the instruments. They are chuckling and enjoying the brisk pace of things. After a few minutes I locate the head of the team. She is the "certified" dentist. How long before the guy poking around in Eamon's mouth consults her? The guy 2 chairs over jumps and I'm pretty sure the resident said "Did that hurt? in German. His response was universally understood F*** Yeah!
Once the head of the ant farm came over we were on our way for a panoramic x-ray. She is great, speaks perfect English and knows what we need in about 30 seconds. Where was she 2 weeks ago? Down to the X-ray room we go. It is a straight line so "no map required", hee hee haw haw. 4 minutes later I am looking at a black and white skull with a whole bunch of teeth in it. Don't see a brain in there but that's a different doctor isn't it?
Back to the dental chair we go and the x-ray is up on the screen. The verdict "you don't need surgery!" And to think I spent all that time finding the Orale Chirurgie. At least we know Eamon isn't pregnant so the trip wasn't a total waste!!!