Friday, October 31, 2014

The Russian-Turkish wedding and a tour

Wedding flowers littered the entry of the wedding building.

 As always, click on any image for larger view.

Riza and Alena

The driver arrived at the stern of our boat around 02:30 to begin our trip from Marina di Ragusa on the southern coast of Sicily to St. Petersburg to celebrate the wedding of our Turkish friend and his lovely Russian bride.  First there was a 2-hour drive to Catania airport; followed by flight to Rome; wait a couple of hours; then flight to St. Petersburg.  The flight arrived in St. Petersburg a little early and we waited for our friend to collect us.  

Riza's younger brother.  Quite the ladies man.
A fun loving guy.
Passport clearance into Russia looked and felt like being booked into a jail!  There was a bright light directed into the face of the person standing in front of the glassed-off official and a tilted large mirror placed overhead and behind the standing person (me).  Slide the passport under the glass partition and stand for several minutes while official goes through my entire passport.  And my passport is very thick as I have had pages added to it twice. Finally the passport was slid back to me; never a word said; and we were in.  When Riza arrived we learned that he cousin would be arriving in another hour, so we waited for his plane.  Why should Riza have to make 2 trips into the city!  

One of hundreds of ornate buildings

It was dark and raining during the drive into the old city and we could not see much.  Riza and Alena were hosting wedding guests at the Demetra Art Hotel which was centrally located.  We enjoyed our stay there very much and would recommend this hotel to anyone visiting St. Petersburg.  The wedding would be the following day.

The beautiful new grandmother and bride's sister
A bus arrived at the hotel promptly at 11:00 to deliver us to the municipal building where weddings are held.  I do not know if religious marriage ceremonies are held in Russia or are common in Russia, but a religious ceremony is not a legal ceremony.  The legal wedding or marriage ceremony is held at a municipal building dedicated strictly for weddings.  A government registrar officiates.  The registrar and the bride and groom are required to sign a huge book registering the marriage after the ceremony is completed; and the best man and maid of honor also sign the book as witnesses.  It was all quite officious.

Riza's mom and little Mikail in his tuxedo

First the wedding guests were gathered in a large corner room for a half hour or so.  This gave everyone time to visit and become acquainted.  This time was a very special time for Riza's mother to meet her first grandchild.  Riza and Alena have an infant son born in July and this was the first opportunity for his Turkish grandparents to meet the baby.  It was very touching and Riza's mom's face glowed as she held her first grandson.

Riza's mom and dad with
Vicky and Peter Forbes from England

One thing I noticed throughout the building was that everything was immaculate.  And I do mean immaculate.  No fingerprints or hand prints on any doors or walls and not a speck of dust anywhere -- not on any of the many very fancy crystal chandeliers or on any of the many stone carved mantelpieces or statues.  I was most impressed with how clean this ornately decorated building was maintained.

Guests of the groom and his family.  Turkish, English,
American and French Canadians in attendance.

There was one wedding right after another, constantly all day.  Soon all the guests were shuffled up a very ornate stairway and through a gilded room with multiple crystal chandeliers, ending in a corner room where chair were arranged for about half of the guests for the ceremony.  The others stood behind the chairs.  

Groom, Bride and the registrar officiating

The bride and groom walked into the room together.  There was no 'here comes the bride' music.  They stood in front of the registrar, a trim blonde woman with a soft voice.  The registrar conducted the marriage ceremony in Russian (obviously!).  There was an English translator but the translator only translated a few sentences.  Darn!  I would loved to have understood what the registrar said.  I loved the tone of her voice but understood nothing.  At the appropriate point in the ceremony, both the groom and the bride answered "Da" (yes) rather than 'I Do.'  

Exchanging rings

Ornate gilded room
After answering "Da" in the ceremony, they walked to the left to a flowered covered pedestal and exchanged wedding rings.  I noted that the Russian custom is to wear the wedding ring on the right hand rather than the left hand.  (Wonder if this is customary in other European countries?)  

Next they walked to a large pedestal on the right side and signed the official marriage book.  The best man and the maid of honor also signed the book as witnesses. 
Gorgeous flowers.  Huge!
More of the ornate gilded room.  Bill in center.

Newly married!  Maid of Honor on right.

Then the registrar signed and the marriage was official.   Next, everyone stood quietly while the national anthem was played over a speaker system.  Made me wonder how many countries have this as a wedding custom.  It was new to us.

Wedding party on mid-landing.  Note the ornate statues
and decorations.

The bride cried and everyone clapped.  The parents from both sides were brought forward and photos taken.  Then everyone lined up and each person went forward to congratulate the bride and groom before they were whisked away to another room.

Close up of the wedding party

All guests were shuffled back through the ornate gilded room to the top of the ornate 2 staircases which overlooked a platform where the bride and groom and their parents had gathered for photos -- along with baby Mikail in his little tuxedo.  The baby's tuxedo outfit was the cutest thing!

Looking back up from the mid-landing.  Very ornate.
One of many unbelievable
ceilings.  What a fancy
municipal building!
Guests were then instructed to go to the cloak room and retrieve their coats and go wait outside on the sidewalk.  Once there someone passed around baskets of rose petals for us to toss on the wedding couple when they exited.  We were taught to say something in Russian; told us to yell it loudly 3 times when the couple came outside.  I do not remember the Russian phrase but was told that it translated to, "We wish you a good life."  

Bride's parents.  Guests getting ready
to shout and throw rose petals.
And out they came to be showered with flowers

They came out; we shouted; we threw rose petals; they beamed happily.

That mink stole was a popular dress item in Russia.
They still wear furs with no PETA objections.

Then the guests were instructed to again board the bus for a 2-hour tour of St. Petersburg while the bride and groom handled obligatory legal paperwork for the marriage.  After the tour we were delivered to another hotel for the reception.  The reception will be covered in another blog posting.  It went on until almost midnight.  This wedding started when we boarded the bus at our hotel at 11:00 and went on until midnight.  A very long wedding!  And a lot of fun!

Here are some of the photos taken during the bus tour around St. Petersburg.
Church of  Our Savior on the Spilled Blood
Does this not just scream RUSSIA!

Link to info on the church

Another view of Church of the Spilled Blood

One very detailed statue.
Churches built by Peter the Great.
Top of St.Isaac's, national church of Russia
Cute structure. No idea what.
Me and Bill behind Church of the Spilled Blood

St. Isaac's, National Church of Russia.
Currently under renovation.
Link to info on St. Isaacs

The Hermitage.  Statues all around top.
More about this later.
McDonald's --there were many.

No idea what this traffic sign means.
Closer view of Hermitage.  Statues all around top.
Ugliest thing we saw
2 Rostral Columns, were oil lit beacons
used for navigation in the old days

Link to info on Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns

Stock Exchange
Looking back to the first university in Russia
Fort used as a prison and some churches
The Peter and Paul Fortress

Link for info on the fortress

One of the 2 sphynx beside river

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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Another sailor in Turkey

Recently I became aware of the following blog.  It might be of interest to anyone planning to visit Turkey, as the author is now sailing there and tells of his experiences.