Tuesday, May 10, 2016

River cruise provides impressive views of St Petersburg landmarks

After our visit to the Hermitage we had some time to explore on our own. The weather was perfect for wandering about. As we crossed the huge Palace Square military bands were practicing for the Victory Day parade on May 9, which celebrates Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

We boarded a trolley bus along bustling Nevsky Prospekt. At first we couldn't spot the bus conductor because she was sitting in a seat like everyone else but eventually she came and sold us a ticket for thirty roubles — less than fifty cents. One lady was dressed like a babushka with headscarf, long coat and crochet skirt. The next day when we asked our guide she suggested that the Muslim woman probably came from one of the old Soviet provinces. She wasn't very complimentary about these people saying they came to Russia and worked very long hours for next to nothing and basically that they were different from the Russians.

We window shopped along Nevsky Prospect before coming to a large and busy shopping mall that had the same stores you would find in any other large European city. The prices were reasonable and Seamus bought a very nice t-shirt in Marks and Spencer's. By now we were hungry so we went up to the top floor and ate at a Marketplace — similar to Movenpick — where we went around to the different areas and chose the food we wanted. I had very nice gazpacho, salad and a Russian dish with salmon, potatoes and a cheese crust. Later we had an espresso and some Russian cookies. The meal was good and the price reasonable.

After a quick stop for Seamus to buy some shoes we returned to our hotel by cab, which was surprisingly inexpensive. We were in a bit of a rush as we had decided to take a boat ride up the Neva. Members of the French World Hockey team mobbed us in the elevator in good fun so we snapped some pictures. Unfortunately they were all at least a foot taller than me so the pictures weren't the best.

Our boat ride was very relaxing, and gave us a different view of the city and its landmarks. We sailed right up the river to the Zenit Arena where the football World Cup final will be played in 2018.

Our hotel was the home for several hockey teams: French, Canadians, Slovaks, Finns and Americans. We are a little out of touch with hockey right now and didn't spot any players we knew. The teams had their own areas so we didn't see very much of them except for the French.

Later in the evening we took advantage of the hotel's spa, complete with a strange-shaped swimming pool. We sampled the hot tub, shared the hot water pool with members of the French hockey team and immersed ourselves in the bitterly cold plunge pool. We then moved on to the hamman, regular steam room, caldarium, soft Finnish sauna that wasn't too hot and then the ice cold room. Here there was ice on the floor and no wonder because the temperature was -15. It was too slippery to walk on without footwear. Every so often we would go to the shower area to have buckets of icy water dumped  over us. Finally, we finished up in the regular Finnish sauna where we sat on log stumps. It was a lot of fun trying all of these. My favourites were the caldarium and the soft, not too hot, Finnish sauna. All this made for a good night's sleep.

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