Friday, April 22, 2011

The surprising loveliness of St. Petersburg

On day 4 of our Arctic expedition, the five of us hopped a night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, expecting it to be miraculously warmer at the other end. I even formulated some scientifically shaky theory involving the Baltic Sea, rouge breezes and an imaginary warm front coming to envelope us all. It is notions like this, and a myriad of other reasons really, that would make me a crap meteorologist. We had travelled straight north. Of course, it was colder...much, much colder.

But it was also sublimely stunning. The streets were exactly what a winter dream should like. Thanks to frequent snowfall, and believe me, it gave new meaning to the word 'frequent', the snow stayed white and pristine, not having time to turn into the usual snirt (snow dirt) I am accustomed to finding in big cities. The architecture, mainly neoclassical giving way to Art Moderne, rivals anything found in the grandest cities of Europe. The light has this crispness that is hard to put into words and even harder to capture in pictures. From the moment we stepped off the train, I was shivering in awe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Country #86: The Magnificent Madness of Moscow in March

Question I have heard a number of times in the last week: Why would you go to Russia- a place created solely for bears and snow monsters- in the still frigid month of March?

Answers I have given : Because I can. Because it is there. It won't be so cold, really- statistical averages put in the high 40's and 50's during this time of year. (Note: Turns out, statistical averages lie like a bitch.) Because I found a fare for $199 RT from NY to Moscow ($411 with taxes). And finally: because I've never been.

To be both obvious and honest, one of these responses carried more weight than the others. I've been watching fares to Russia for ages, and combined with the hassles of acquiring a visa beforehand, have found much to be discouraged about. But now, with this cutthroat rate and enough time on my hands to follow the comedically-dictatorial process necessary to obtain a Russian visa, (ie. sample rule of many: Visa application photos must show the applicant with a neutral expression- no frowning, no smiling) I figured I could just layer-up and ignore the cold. This line of thinking must have had some merit to it- or I have successfully surrounded myself with like-minded travelers- because four friends, Amy, Laura, Diana and Georgiana also signed up for this snowy adventure.