Thursday, October 23, 2014

An unexpected trip to Russia!

Russia was never on our radar as a possible place to visit during our circumnavigation.  We certainly would never sail there (remember, we do not *do* cold weather); and one certainly would not want to do land travel to a cold place during winter months.  Summer months are our only sailing months in the Med so would not go to Russia during the only good weather time for that travel.  Russia simply was not a country we thought we would ever visit.  But life has a way of changing perceived ideas.

One of the reasons we wanted to arrive early at Marina di Ragusa, our winter home this season, was because we needed to get to Palermo to apply for visas to visit Russia.  This was sort of unexpected.  A Turkish friend was marrying a Russian woman and had invited us to the wedding.  We thought there was no way we would be able to put this trip together within the time allowed.  Bill contacted the Russian Consulate and was told that if we could gather all the required information and personally submit the applications in Palermo quickly then the visas should be ready in time for us to make the wedding trip.  

Bill had fallen on our boat and injured his leg in di Leuca.  It seemed okay although extremely swollen.  However, ten days later, the day we arrived at Marina di Ragusa, the sole of his foot began to turn purple and the swollen bruised area began to become more tender.  So, first order of business was to rent a car and visit an orthopedist specializing in trauma.  The doctor diagnosed an infected hematoma and phlebitis; not a serious problem but required injections for a couple of weeks.  Lucky Bill, I was the one giving those injections.  That treatment was successful and after a couple more weeks his leg was back to normal.  We needed that rental car right away anyway in order to get to Palermo and submit applications for those visas for Russia. 

The day after we arrived at the marina we drove 5 hours to Palermo and submitted the visa applications along with all the attendant documents required.  Did the little interview and paid several hundred dollars for the visas.  The sign on the wall stated that Italian citizens pay only 26 Euro for a Russian visa.  We Americans had to pay several hundred dollars each for that same visa.  Oh well, it is what it is.  The Russian Consulate was located in the old financial district of Palermo.  Extremely crowded!  We found a spot to park (illegally) and walked 2 blocks to the consulate.  The entire way there was car window glass crunching beneath our feet.  Obviously from thieves breaking car windows to steal whatever they could steal.  This made us very leery of leaving the rental car unattended...although we had parked right at the front door of a hotel with a doorman who would have seen it happen.  We were worried about the rental car the whole time we were being interviewed.  Rushed back to the car and got out of Palermo.  Palermo looked like such an interesting city.  Would have loved to explore it but we saw no place to park the car that looked safe.  Such a shame because the parts of old Palermo looked beautiful.  We missed it because of the obvious crime.

They would not courier the passports to us after the visas were issued, so 2 weeks later we again rented a car and returned to Palermo to collect our passports.  This time we took a different route and it was only 3.5 hours each way rather than 5 hours each way on the first trip.

Driving in Sicily is a real trip!  We could never have found our way without the iPhone.  Streets often are not marked with any signage.  We rarely know the names of any streets.  And there are hundreds of round-abouts.  These are good because the traffic flows much better than using stop signs or traffic lights.  But it is also very easy to get confused as to which direction one is going after a dozen or more round-abouts.  Love the iPhone for driving instructions.  Could never navigate here with regular maps since roads are not named.  Felt like we had really accomplished something after successfully navigating those 2 long trips.

On 17 October we flew from Cantania, Sicily, to Rome to St. Petersburg, Russia.  We were only in St. Petersburg for 6 days and it was a whirlwind of activity.  I will write a few more blog postings about each event or place visited.  It was a wonderful trip and we felt honored to be invited to celebrate our friend's wedding. 

Longtime readers might remember a blog posting mentioning a Bloody Mary that was served to me in Hue, Vietnam several years ago.  The hotel bar menu listed a Bloody Mary as being available.  It had been years since I had enjoyed a Bloody Mary and it sounded like a good drink in the heat of the day.  The waitress and the bartender pulled out an instruction book and made that drink for me.  It was the most horrible thing ever.  But I drank it anyway because they were so proud of themselves for managing to make it.  With fresh squeezed tomato juice!  A very pale pink, thin and watery Bloody Mary!  Truly disgusting.  Well, while in St. Petersburg I ordered a Bloody Mary at the hotel bar.  Another guest had recommended this drink at this bar.  Here is what I got:

A double shot glass Bloody Mary.  First a big splash of Tabasco is poured into the shot glass.  Followed by about a tablespoon of tomato juice.  A hefty shot of very good vodka.  Topped with a dash of salt and black pepper.  Unexpected.  And so good that I had 2.

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