Catherine’s Palace and a Storm on a Canal Boat

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We decide to go and visit Catherine’s Palace, Tsarskoe Selo, and jump a train and a bus in that general direction.  The palace gardens distract us for hours, they are beautifully laid out and filled with interesting diversions.  The pathways lead us through varied garden styles that are all bursting with life in the short Russian summer.  From the tall hedges bounding gravel paths near the front of the palace, to more wild forest near the edges, these gardens are glorious.  We pause by the lake a few times in different places to drink some water and eat ice-cream.

The temperature is in the high twenties and fairly humid as well, so we are all sweating in the sunlight; something none of us expected to feel in Russia.  We stroll down an asphalt walkway near a small stream and Don notices something on the ground.  He looks closer then starts taking pictures.  I crouch down to discover two bees having sex.  The three of us crowd around the strangest pornography show for a minute before continuing our stroll. 

Shush Lari

The pathways divide and merge, leading use through different areas of the extensive gardens.  We walk by a field of waist high grasses with flowering shrubs interspersed along the edge of the path.  It leads down to a tiny stream lined with tall trees shading the water with broad, rich green leaves.  The grass field gives way to an open lake with an island in the middle of it.  It’s possible to take a gondola ride on the lake, or take a punted ferry to the island, but we’re not inspired by either idea.  Apparently the island used to be where Catherine would place musicians such that she could hear them play from anywhere on or around the lake. 

We eventually make it back to the palace and realise we have only covered three quarters of the grounds during our almost three hour visit.  We notice you can get a ride in a horse drawn open cart that would take us through the final sections.  After some negotiations and bartering, the three of us board it and we are transported around the broad pathways near the palace buildings. 

Dear Miss Lari cooling herself in the carriage

It seems the right time to finally venture inside the palace buildings so we join the queue.  We wait for twenty minutes before really noticing that it isn’t moving very much.  I investigate further and discover that in the afternoon, tour groups on buses have priority on the palace buildings and anyone else must hope they have a cancellation or are not fully booked.  We decide we don’t care so much and head back to the city.

Because every palace needs a pyramid

On the way I start telling my erstwhile companions about my plan to get a private boat ride on the canals whilst we drink champagne and live it up a little.  Alisha is happy to help us realise it and Don and Lari think it’d be good to see the city from the boat in any case.  We meet Alisha in the city and hunt along the canals to hire a small boat.  After a couple of options and the best part of an hour it’s on.  Don and I head for a local shop to find champagne and snacks and the girls wait by the river in a small café.

We return half an hour later with bottles of champagne, plastic glasses, cakes, lollies and weird chocolate biscuits.  We jump on board, crack a bottle, give the pilot some and settle in for our journey.  We travel down all three canals and out onto the Neva river again, enjoying the iconic bridges and buildings passing by.  The pilot occasionally turns around to tell Alisha something about buildings we pass and she translates for us.  The history of this amazing city is once more proudly on show and once again I wish I had another lifetime to spend painting it.  We settle for drinking champagne and saluting random people passing by as the day begins to lose the sun’s warmth.

While we have been enjoying this expedition, black clouds have been rolling in and a chill wind springs up.  The pilot hands the girls some blankets and Don and I make use of the warming effects of champagne combined with the chocolate marshmallow biscuits.  As we turn the final corner to head back to the pier the rain starts gently.  It seems only a few moments before very threatening, ominous black clouds churn above us.  By the time we jump off the boat onto the shore it is going through a calm patch and we hurry off into the darkening city.  We only make it to the corner of Nevskiy Prospect when the thunder and lightning break out and a downpour is upon us

Our two babushkas sheltering from the storm

The buildings of St Petersburg are designed more to cope with snow and ice than summer storms, so there is no shelter on the streets anywhere.  We see a Japanese restaurant and charge into the door as thunder and lightning crash around us and the rain reaches the pitch of a tropical storm.  The three of us are at once elated by the run and the power of the storm, yet still cold, wet and miserable as a result of its effect.  We try to acquire some beers while we’re standing inside, but the waiters seem entirely uninterested in serving anyone.  After a healthy banter of comments about genuine Russian service, the storm rolls past us.  As our group returns to the street, Alisha asks me,
“Is that what you wanted?  What you thought about?”
“Yes to the boat trip….it was a lovely piece of decadence on holiday, but the storm was unexpected… but fun anyway.” 
I’ve always liked a good storm, growing up in Darwin and surviving multiple cyclones brings it out in you I think.  We resolve to head for home to get some sleep on our last night in St Petersburg; thinking what a curious farewell the city gave us.

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