Eric - whom I have written about before - often drives me home after our lessons. He loves St. Petersburg. and He knows a lot of the history and he really enjoys talking about Russian history and St. Petersburg in particular. Well, last week while he was driving me I asked him about one of the historical buildings we passed and he told me about it. Then all the sudden he said, "Hey! What if I organize a tour for you and Sam with my car and I can hire an English-speaking guide to take us on a tour of the city and tell us about the history. Then I can have more practice with my English and you and I can have even more to talk about." He was really excited, and to tell you the truth, so was I. I have been to a number of the sites in the city, but I don't know much of the history and its a lot different and more interesting to see with a guide and a native of the city telling you things about it.
We arranged to go on Sunday, which turned out to be Navy Day. (You see, during Soviet times, practically every profession was given its own holiday and these holidays still are celebrated today. So on Sunday there were many people in the city, especially along the Neva River where there were a number of Navy ships and a submarine and there was a big parade. It made navigating the city a bit more difficult, but it was kind of cool to see the special ships in the Neva.) So, on Saturday Eric arrived to pick us up at 11:00 and we drive to the city centre to meet our guide, Sveta. We got there a bit early, so we found a place to have some coffee while we waited. Let me tell you a few things about Eric - he loves coffee and he is extremely generous. he ordered coffee for us all (cappuccino for Sam and I) and he and Sam chatted about life in communist countries - seeing as they have both lived in them: Eric here and Sam in Angola.
At noon our adventure began. We spent the most part of the day seeing the sites: St. Isaac's Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, The Neva, Marinsky Ballet Theater, and my favorite cathedral: The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. The day was so much fun. The basic idea of our day went something like this:
* Eric and Sveta told us all kind of things about the city and argued all day between the two of them (very good humoredly) about the correct perspective on the history
* We drove all over the city, in circles sometimes, because of so many streets being blocked for Navy Day
* we got to do things we probably wouldn't have because Eric paid for us without even so much as a word.
* we got to park places we shouldn't have because Eric is very...Russian. Let's just say we got a primo parking spot, and as Sveta was saying, "I don't think we're allowed to park here..." Eric was getting out to have a nice 'chat' with the guard, then came right back smiling and saying, "see...immediately we have reached an agreement."
After our touring around we said goodbye to Sveta and Eric treated (AGAIN) to coffee and amazing freshly squeezed orange juice that we got at this restaurant beside the Church of Our Saviour. While we talked, Eric called his wife to see if she needed him to come home and as the phone was ringing he was saying, "i hope she doesn't pick up!" (I guess Sam and I weren't the only ones who were having a pretty good time). It turned out that she didn't pick up, so Eric turned to us and said, "Let's go get something to eat!" we ended up at this place called Hemingway, after the famous poet. It was a really nice-looking place and it's one of those places that judging by looks, Sam and I would never even think about going. Because to me, it just looked too nice! But we had some great food and more great conversation. Sam and Eric both had steak and we all shared some fresh veggies, I had tacos! (they were quite fancy tacos, and they tasted great) and i got some hash browns with sour cream. and to give you the feel of the place, it happened to be the birthday of the restaurant so they brought us each a free glass of champagne. After dinner, Eric offered, "desert? coffee?" We were both full, but assured him it was fine if he got more coffee, which he did.
After dinner he brought us home and along the way invited us to go to Petergoff and Pushkin next weekend. (these are two quite beautiful, old suburbs of St. Petersburg that I've heard a lot about) We eagerly accepted, so that's in the plan for the upcoming weekend.
We thanked him profusely for the day (I can't even imagine how much money he must of spent on us that day) and he simply said, "Well, I got to speak English all day, and that was my aim." and he smiled. It is really cool to see someone as excited about learning English as he is!
Below is a link to a slide show on Flickr of all my photos from the day. It was a beautiful day weather-wise so the pics look great. Enjoy!