Crashing Catherine’s summer pad

St. Petersburg, Russia

Having spent our entire time in Russia within its two largest cities, we were excited this morning to spend our last day on a trip to the surrounding countryside. Our destination was Catherine Palace, designed by Rastrelli, the home that gradually became the favorite country estate of the royal family. In fact, in 1837, Russia’s first railway line was built between St. Petersburg and the palace in order to shuttle the imperial family back and forth.

Only appropriately, we opted to take the far less luxurious subway, followed by a 20-minute ride in a marshrutky, essentially a small mini-van that follows a set route.



We arrived just before noon and, unsurprisingly, joined the massive line outside. Strangely enough, entering after an hour’s wait, we found the palace lobby nearly empty. While we appreciate the Face Control that limits the number of tourists inside at any given time, could the Russians at least spare us and allow us to wait inside?

Our English-speaking tour guide explained that most of the exterior and 20-odd rooms of the palace were razed during World War II. Since then, they have been amazingly restored in the classical style in which they were originally built. We started in the huge, frescoed Great Hall, with its mirrors and fantastic gilded woodcarvings.





Next was the State Staircase, followed by the immense Picture Gallery. The Green Dining Room showcased a different classical style, with its many intricate wall carvings and inlaid floor.




The highlight of the palace was the amazing Amber Room, completely covered with exquisitely engraved amber panels. The room, which was destroyed in the war, was rebuilt with support of the German government. It took 25 years to restore the room to its pre-war brilliance.


We returned to the hotel and packed up. For our last meal, we decided to do what the Russians do now: get sushi. It has become all the rage here and we found a trendy spot down the street from our hotel on Nevsky Prospekt. Sitting down after midnight, we ordered about 15 rolls, and waited. And waited, and waited. An hour later, there was still nothing. We got up and walked out, only to be chased down the street by the waiter who then overcharged us for our drinks.

It was, we decided, a fitting end to the trip.

Derek and Burt fly back to the States tomorrow. I’ve got an 8-hour overnight train to Moscow, followed by an 11-hour flight to D.C. and connection to Raleigh. It should take just about 27 hours of travel to get me back to Carolina.

But after three weeks on the road, you can be sure that I’m looking forward to it.


  1. Kristina Thompson says:

    I really enjoyed reading your about your experience in Russia. even laughed couple of times. I am from Moscow myself, but lived in the USA since I was 20 (1994). I am sorry that you have to deal with that “concierge firm”. all firms like this is just money milking fraud. but the main thing, like you said, it is was a big mistake to go to Russia in winder time. Russian dont like winter, especially after a new year. (however you were present during ultimate Russian holiday – a new year party. (which is also a “Christmas” like). I would go to Russia in summer time and summer time only. St Petersburg looks wonderful during summer, I had a best time walking around gardens. in Moscow also, would be 180 degree difference. I dont remember anything interesting that ever happened to me in Russia during winter, all my fond memories related to late spring and summer time. You could also had a wonderful trip on the little ship along Moscow River, or visit different parks with fountains and so on. I am sorry you didnt see all that. After I lived in the USA for few years (I live at the South), I decided to visit my family back there during New Year. and it was absolutely horrible experience. I ended up sitting at home for 2 weeks. We made it once to Russian circus on public bus without heat, where I started to understand how people die from hypothermia. I stated to fall in sleep and didnt feel my feet. My mom had to take me to the nearest liquor store to have some alcohol and worm up. (Circus was so much more interesting after that).
    when back in the USA some Americans ask me why I am here, not Russia, and if it like to life in the USA better, and so on, I dont even know where to start to explain to them what life is really in Russia. just like you described, unorganized, unpredictable, chaotic.. you are basically on your own there since you are born. by experience that kind of training every day for 20 years, life in the USA seems like heaven.
    However, I want to notice, Russians always loved foreigners, especially during 1980s. I am not sure what situation there now, (last time I was there in 2005). when I was there last time, I have learned not to open my mouth, because like they said I speak with “American accent”, to avoid triple and + charges for everything. I let my friends to do all talking.
    If i had American friends to go to Moscow now, I would recommend them my cousin who is a history student and works as a guide in history art museums. she speaks English and Chinese!
    anyway, I guess I am writing all this because I still care what impression my “mother land” has on foreign people. Thy frustrated experience you had with that “service”, it is everywhere and for everybody, if you are Russian or foreigner you get frustrated there everyday, all the same.
    I like your post and your pictures and video, such a great quality! I do too, everywhere I go around the World, I take pictures of food.
    PS I found your post while I was searching for history of Catherine Palace. I am glad I found it.
    Life in the USA is great, but I sure miss the history!

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