We got on BART on a perfect sunny Wednesday afternoon in Berkeley, heading for the San Francisco airport and about 17 hours of flight + layover to get to St. Petersburg. I wondered just why we do this, leave one of the most beautiful, temperate, pleasant spots on earth to spend thousands of dollars to go someplace else for awhile. Part of it must be the atavistic pleasure of exploration–despite the internet and travel tips, heading to a foreign country is an adventure: different assumptions, customs, money.
In the case of Russia, just walking around looking at a different alphabet (one I know, but not as well as English) makes me realize how much of reading is word recognition as opposed to reading letter by letter. How slowly and painstakingly I sound out the simplest words until I recognize them. Not to mention trying to decipher prices that are in the hundreds or thousands of roubles. A cup of borscht for 390 roubles?
But it’s also the pleasure of encountering the culture of another country. We spent several hours at the Hermitage Museum, yesterday. The grandeur of the hundreds of ornate rooms, gilding, parquet, mosaic, malachite, lapis, marble staircases, pillars, elaborate moldings and inlaid doors and tables, vaulted ceilings with painted frescos…there’s simply nothing like this on the American continent.
Not to mention the art itself, collections of masterpieces from every continent. It’s overwhelming. Spending hours there was just a beginning.
Here’s just one piece, the peacock clock, a gilded set of mechanical birds (including a rooster and a dragon fly), created by London jeweller and goldsmith James Cox and given to Catherine by one of her lovers 1n 1777. They turn it on once a week–we’re definitely going back for that.
But aside from cultural attractions, there’s something about walking ancient streets, stumbling along in a foreign language, being somewhere new, that’s exhilarating.