Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nothing Exceeds like Excess

What can you do that doesn't pale by comparison after you leave the Hermitage? The next day we drove an hour outside St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo or Pushkin. The luxurious Catherine Palace, another tsarist wonder, was built by Peter 1st for his wife Catherine 1st then rebuilt later for their daughter Empress Elizabeth. Few people were visiting and we congratulated ourselves once again on choosing the off season for our visit. 

We donned our elfin shoe covers and set off once again to gasp and gape. 

What a court Elizabeth presided over! She is reputed to have owned 10 - 15,000 dresses and several thousand pairs of shoes. She makes Imelda Marcos look like an amateur. Known to never wear the same dress twice, she would change outfits several times a day and have the dresses stamped so there was never a repeat. I detest trying on clothes so I cannot imagine someone choosing to get dressed over and over again in this kind of gear. I suppose she went through doorways sideways and stood up a lot. She loved champagne and lots of french wine which means frequent trips to the loo...I'm sure it took several people to hold up all that dress and train while she tinkled. They never washed these clothes nor did they wash themselves so I opine that under the gold brocade and jewels, there was a lot of ickiness. 

The fashion shenanigans weren't confined to the fairer sex at court. Men at court were known to wear diamond buttons, own jeweled snuff boxes, and adorn their servants in uniforms made of gold. 

Women carried tiny jeweled boxes in which they stashed their beauty spots. The spots were used to signal a woman's intentions...if she wore one glued in the middle of her forehead, that meant something. If she wore it near the corner of the mouth, perhaps the spot was signaling a lover that the coast was clear. 

Elizabeth’s extravagance was displayed in the food she served.  A thousand bottles of French champagnes and wines might be served at an event and she loved to have pineapple at all of her receptions, despite the difficulty of procuring the fruit. Thanks to Elizabeth’s incredible extravagance and consumption of exotica she ended up greatly benefiting the country’s infrastructure. The need for shipping goods all over the place necessitated modernization of the postal system and roads in order to fulfill the Empress’s many needs. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Living La Dolce Vita

Before joining us in Copenhagen, Debra and Zouzou were hiking the Haute Route from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, one of the most spectacular and challenging hikes in all the Alps. They hiked up the Pas de la Chevre (9,875 foot-"pass of the goat") where they had to climb up two sets of vertical ladders. Here's a couple of their photos of the spectacular scenery and Zouzou realizing a personal best by climbing the ladder (which dangles over nothing) and completing the hike, feeling wonderful and in the best shape of her life. 

And then the wonderful cruise......

Zouzou on the ladder!

In the Oceania dining room!

Cruising the Baltic

The Oceania cruise on the Baltic had only one day at sea. We were in port for the remaining days: Copenhagen, Warnemunde, Gdansk, Tallin, St. Petersburg (3 days), Helsinki and Stockholm. Every day we got off the ship, enjoyed a full day of sight-seeing returned to the ship, dined well, had a few laughs and slept soundly while we glided on painlessly to the next port.  To see certain parts of the world, in my opinion and at our age, cruising is the best way to go.  We chose the last Baltic cruise of the season (that I could find) to avoid the crowds and luckily we had splendid weather.
In port, Tallin Estonia

Gliding through the Swedish archipelago just before dawn. 

The ship doing the hard work at night.

The Hermitage

150,000 works of art on display here with another 150,000 in storage; they say it would 9 years to see the current exhibitions, spending a 40 hour week and taking 6 minutes to look at each item. It's wonderful and overwhelming and exhausting and a peak experience. 

We spent our afternoon in the Hermitage at a near trot rushing agape from place to place under the watchful eye of Alex, our guide for three days in St. Petersburg. He told us how lucky we were to be visiting late in the season. The crowds and lines during the summer are horrible.

Before the museum visit we were fortified with a russian lunch (I envisioned pierogies, borscht and the like). Instead, we stopped at a fast food joint and gulped down a pancake thingie. 

Who cares about food when this kind of splendor is ahead? We would have eaten mud sandwiches if that was the price of admission. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stockholm - Icy Cold and Red Hot and Colorful

One of the corniest things we've ever done - having a drink in the Ice Bar in Stockholm. I couldn't fathom as a escaped Canadian, that I'd pay for such a freezing experience, but for the four of us together, it was fun. 

Richard looks like some sort of weird priest. I'm straining a smile, hand clutching my $25.00 pomegranate beverage.

Zouzou and Debra stretched up as high as they go, on tiptoes.

People looked like penguins in the smurf ponchos you're given at the entrance. Or members of a strange cult.The glasses are made of ice and stick to your fingers if you don't use the issued gloves.

The next day, window shopping downtown, we found ourselves in a hot situation. Some kind of demonstration and counter-demonstration was on. Nazi's and everyone against the Nazi's. We just stumbled into it. Zouzou was walking along ahead of us when the mounted police began herding everyone in another direction. We got separated but fortunately she has an excellent sense of direction and found her way back to us. 

Earlier that day we ran across some people on a "girl with the dragon tattoo" walking tour. They took our pictures on these oddly colorful chairs. In cool, sophisticated Stockholm, these looked rather strange. The "Lisbeth Salander" apartment building is just behind the trees.

The very cool shopping center, "Mood" has this fashion statement presiding over the front door. Indoors, it's all great design, wonderful shops and up-scale casual food, like pinchos ala San Sebastian. 

Colorful mail boxes in Gamla Stan, old town. Stockholm means "log island". 

We passed by a "secure" area where the personal belongings of 17,000 people running a half marathon were being stored. A sea of blue plastic bags. 

We ended our colorful day at the oldest restaurant in Stockholm, Den Gyldene Freden. In a lovely old building, it's one of Sweden's most well-known restaurants and the oldest restaurant in the world to have the same surroundings.  The surroundings and environment are more or less unchanged since the day the restaurant started in 1722 and it is a unique example of an 18th-century tavern. We enjoyed what else? Swedish meatballs. Richard had a potato pancake with bacon and lingonberries. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I left my shoes in Copenhagen

I left my shoes in the hotel: my black shoes, which were to be the dressy shoes I'd wear for dinners on the cruise. My foorwear choices were now limited to sneakers or the stretchy blue nylon jobs with the rubber soles I purchased at WalMart a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I have an narrow foot and cannot just pop into a store and buy shoes even if we did have the time to do so, which we didn't. I had to live with my mistake.

Nobody sees you, waist down, at dinner so for the most part my inappropriate foot wear wasn't on view. Entering the dining room was always a bit of a strain. The Maitre d' would greet us warmly and then I swear, his glance would drift down to my shoes after which he'd sneer every so subtly and pass us along to the wait staff. Zouzou, Debra and Richard kept assuring me that it wasn't so bad. Debra had eight pairs of shoes with her; Richard actually polishes his shoes everyday...I mention these facts to illustrate that I was not traveling with shoe illiterates.

Zouzou, the fashionista of our little group and always kind about my absent fashion sense, declared the combination of my little black dress and the stretchy blue shoes "iffy" which amused me to no end. In fact, I looked ridiculous.

The Oceania cruise line is actually quite casual..."country club" casual is the dress code. My shoes bothered me only when we entered the restaurants, after that....I just ate.