Saturday, November 22, 2014

Last week in Marina di Ragusa for 2014

Looking toward the sea from the
Piazza of Marina di Ragusa

Piazza of Marina di Ragusa
(the town, not the boat marina)

Ladies at the Tuesday night Happy Hour
Heads buried in phones rather than chatting
Happy Hours can be weird here sometimes
Our beverage choices for
happy hour.  If one does
not want alcohol or caffeine,
the choices are limited.
Immediately after publishing my last posting stating our less than stellar opinions of life among the cruisers wintering in Marina di Ragusa, things immediately began to improve.  Within a few days we were invited to share sundowners aboard 2 boats.  Both evenings were very enjoyable and we enjoyed chatting with new sailing friends.  When we return next March then we will reciprocate and invite those folks to sundowners or dinner aboard BeBe.  We are too focused on whittling down provisions aboard and preparing to leave the boat unattended for the winter to even think of having guests aboard this week.  

A bridge seen when we drove to Palermo

Bridge seen when drove
to Palermo recently.
Pretty view.
This week we joined a shopping trip arranged by the marina.  They rented a bus and each person paid 15 Euro to participate in an all day shopping trip to several locations.  Each participant also was supposed to receive a 10 Euro voucher to use at a large supermarket, but management of that supermarket changed the day before our bus trip and the vouchers were not available.  But the marina yacht services offices came up with several other options to give participants choices for 10 Euro vouchers for other things -- such as discount on refilling cooking gas containers or discount on use of the fitness center or discount on renting cars.  That is fine with us!  We surely will be renting cars again while berthed here.

Day outing for the retirement
center folks.  That is how it
feels sometimes in group
activities for cruisers.
First stop on the shopping trip was 
the weekly market in main town of di Ragusa about 20 miles distant from the marina.  This was the first time we visited this weekly market.  It was about the 
same as the weekly markets in every village and town in Turkey, but with higher prices.  Lots of 
fresh produce and lots of stalls of clothing and textiles of all sorts.  Since we are leaving for the winter in just a few days, we were not interested in purchasing any foods; and we were not in the market for any clothing or textiles.  But we were there for 2 hours on the bus schedule for the day, so we walked round and round the market looking at things.  Talked to a few African guys and they were interesting.  Like, how does a young man get from his home country of Senegal to operating a vendor stall in a weekly market in rural Sicily.  Communication was limited but we enjoyed chatting a few minutes with that guy.
Weekly market in di Ragusa

Even though we were not in the market to buy anything, we did find a jacket that looked like it would fit our 5-yr-old grandson; so we bought that as one of his Christmas presents.  I wanted to buy something for the new infant granddaughter but the few infant things I saw were priced ridiculously high.  So she will not get an Italian outfit from this tight-fisted grandmother.  Bill found a Polartec-type fabric jacket for only 10 Euro.  He can always use another jacket.  Bill found a purse (handbag) for me.  We bought it and switched the contents to the new bag and tossed the old one with the torn lining.  As we were walking toward the exit of the market Bill noticed a nice jacket on a table that we had to buy.  Only 5 Euro and I now have a nice warm jacket to wear in Rome next weekend and for our trip to Houston for the winter.  Who could turn down that price!

A wood stove at the hardware store.
Do not know why this caught our attention.
Made me wonder if these are sold in Houston.

Next destination on the shopping spree was the Lydl discount supermarket.  I had been looking forward to visiting a Lydl to see if they sold the same products we purchased at Lydls throughout Greece and Cyprus.  Specifically, I was looking for the good German yellow mustard and the various Mexican food products that Lydl normally sells.  Nope; those things are not sold by Lydl here in Sicily.  Darn!  Double darn!!  We will miss those things.

Next destination was a shopping mall with a large hardware store nearby.  Since we all live on boats, the hardware store was of interest to almost everyone on the bus.  We bought a few things and then walked over the the mall.  Shared a serving of calzone at a pizza place and then browsed the large supermarket.  
Uncle Ben's??? Mexican foods?  And what the heck is
Salsa Messicana!  Bet this stuff is tasteless.
Again, we were not looking to buy food since we are leaving soon but wanted to know what was available for the next shopping trip.  But when we ran across these 3 items I had to buy them.  The folks back home should get a chuckle to think of me buying Mexican food under brand name of Uncle Ben's.  No way anyone back in Texas would buy something like that!  But it is all that is available here, so when in Rome.........

Then we shopped an electronics store; that is always fun.  How is it possible to go into any electronics store and not find something needed.  Added a few more things to the shopping bags.  For 2 people who did not plan to buy anything on this day of shopping, we managed to buy quite a few things.  We felt so American.  You know, buying things you really do not need.

The following day I attended the weekly Ladies Coffee.  That really is not something in which I normally participate.  Last time I attended a weekly Ladies Coffee was in Marmaris and I vowed never to do that again.  Guess that shows how bored I have become in this marina because here I was trying this once again.  And this time was ever-so-much-better than the last time in Marmaris.  Every woman at the tables was knitting or crocheting or doing needlepoint except for me and one other woman.  The conversation over most of the tables seemed to center around knitting and crafty projects, not something of interest to me.  But at my end of the tables the conversation wandered over many topics.  It was fun.  And...the marina bar serves Prosecco by the glass!  I'll sit and drink Prosecco and chat any afternoon.  It was a fun afternoon and I will participate in the weekly Ladies Coffee again once we return to the marina in March.  What is Prosecco?

An American woman on a boat here in the marina has arranged a Thanksgiving dinner celebration.  That is the day before we depart for the winter so this will provide an excellent opportunity to not let any food go to waste.  Whatever food is left in our freezer on Wednesday will be cooked and brought to share at the Thanksgiving dinner.  Might make for a strange assortment of food dishes, but that is what I am going to do.  But, just to have something at least somewhat traditional, I also will bake Pecan Cheesecake Bars.  I do not have enough pecans to make pies to feed 62 people; but do have enough to make a single batch of the pecan cheesecake bars.  Pecans are not sold here so this will be a sort of traditional dish but also maybe a little treat for some people.

The following morning we will catch a bus to Catania Airport and take a flight to Rome where we will meet up with Bill's brother, John.  John is a retired Catholic priest and has been to Rome many years ago.  We  have rented an apartment for a few nights and will tour the sights before flying onward to Houston on 3 December for the winter.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Passing time at Marina di Ragusa

We feel a bit like lost children at this marina.  We came here for the social camaraderie of the cruising community and we have yet to find it.  
As always, click on any image for larger view.
Marina shortly after construction.  It is now filled with boats.
Photo taken from a local newspaper archives.
BeBe is now berthed on the wall on the right side.

This basically is a horseshoe shaped marina with an entrance extending eastward that shelters the opening of the horseshoe from open seas to the south.  BeBe is berthed way out on the inside of the western wall, right at the entrance to the boat yard which is situated on the western tip of the horseshoe.  Strange place to put a boat yard in my opinion -- out on a concrete yard well out into the water rather than utilizing land space.  Guess that makes sense considering the land topography here; there really is no land space suitable for a boat yard.  

But...because we are berthed way out here, we are very isolated from the other cruisers living aboard this winter.  They are all berthed out on the docks in the center of the marina. The only other cruising boat berthed out on the western wall is a small German boat about a block away from us and they do not speak English.  All other boats out here are locally owned boats.  Therefore, we are very isolated from the cruising community.  They are not even aware of our existence.

We attend the weekly Friday night Happy Hour gatherings at the marina bar; and the Tuesday night Happy Hour gatherings at the Stella Marine bar at the top of the hill; and often eat at the special marina liveaboard dinners at the marina bar on Wednesday nights.  Bill walks around the marina much more often that I do and he has met a few people.  But they really do not know us.  I am beginning to wonder exactly why we came here for the winter rather than berthing at Nettuno up near Rome as originally planned.  Friends on 3 boats were here earlier and we enjoyed socializing with them.  But they returned home for the winter weeks ago.  Will not see them again until April.  So...not sure exactly why we came.  In hindsight, we would have enjoyed exploring Rome more than sitting here.  But we are here so that is that.  There are people on 2 boats whose company we enjoy.  All others, when I speak to any of them, I get the distinct feeling that they wonder why I am talking to them and wish I would not.

The management at Porto Touristico Marina di Ragusa is wonderful.  They could not be better.  Note that the term 'marina' in Italy does not mean anything relating to boats.  The word 'marina' is used in Italy to designate any community or structure built near the sea. Sailors have to careful of this when reading their charts as a 'marina' on a chart might have nothing there for boats.  But it there is a Porto Touristico, THEN there is a boating marina located there.  Got that?  Still confuses me when reading a nautical chart.  Every time.

There is a VHF radio net in this marina every morning except Sundays.  The monitors like to start the net each morning by playing music and sometimes attempting to make jokes.  When I understand what they are saying, the 'jokes' are never the least bit humorous and often insulting to one group or another.  These 'jokes' would never pass muster in PC America.  And I guess none of them know that it is illegal everywhere in the world to transmit music via VHF radio signals. We often have no idea what the people on the net are talking about.  Cannot explain why.  But neither Bill nor I understand 70% to 80% of what is discussed on that radio net.  This morning there was a discussion of a group getting together and the marina providing a van to take people to shop at Lidl and to a mall.  Neither of us understood who, what, when, where or how.  So we will rent a car instead of participating in this group activity.  This is not the first time this has happened here.  

There is something some of them are doing calling themselves on the radio as 'Sickness' that we do not understand either.  It started off over a month ago when one guy identified himself as Sickness when he made an announcement on the radio net one morning.  Soon there was a Sickness 2.  Then a Sickness 3.  As of today they are up to Sickness 5.  All 5 of them got together on the radio today.  I did not listen in on their conversation.  And have no clue what all those Sickness names are all about.  Guess the guys have formed a little club.

Most mornings there supposedly is a guy who leads a group in Tai Chi.  I did Tai Chi when we lived in South Carolina for 6 months back in 1995 and enjoyed it very much.  But from what I understand this is done on the beach.  Why on the beach, I do not understand.  There are plenty of large paved areas in this marina to do this.  And even several vacant rooms where this activity could be held.  Instead, they do this on the beach in the early morning.  Sand has insects.  No way I am interested in standing on gritty insect infested sand to do Tai Chi.  Call me a grump.  Another social activity in which I will not be participating.  

The issue is that most of the boats here are back for their fourth winter.  They know one another and have established rapport.  A camaraderie to which we do not feel welcome.  We are the outsiders and will remain so.  Other cruising friends who wintered here a few years ago probably did not experience this because the marina was new, so most of the boats were here for the first or maybe second time.  Now boats are back for the fourth or fifth winter season.  Maybe 10% of the boats here for this winter are first-timers like us.  Those that are berthed in the midst of the returning old-timers have an easier time of fitting in with them.  With us being berthed out in the boonies, we will never fit in with the old-timer crowd as they are quite cliquish.  Seriously, I wonder why we came here.  Yeah, I know.  It is what you make of it.  If I made more effort to get to know these folks then it would be more enjoyable here.  Just cannot get motivated to make that effort.  Friendship and comradeship should just happen naturally. 

But we will only be here for another 2 weeks or so and then we fly to Rome for 5 days before continuing on to Houston for the required 90 days out of Schengen territory. Looking forward to exploring Rome and also looking forward to getting home and catching up on family time.  About time we met our new granddaughter born last May!

One weekend there was a Classic Car Show sponsored here in the marina.  Bill enjoyed checking out a few of their classic cars.  Quite different from a classic car show in SE Texas, for sure!

First waterspout formed

In late October one afternoon a waterspout developed at sea well west of the stern of our docked boat.  It formed and went down toward water level, then retreated almost totally back up into the clouds.  Then came back down again.  Again did not touch the sea.  Hung around several minutes as it moved closer straight toward us.  Then once again retreated back up into the clouds.  And then the clouds dissipated, with never a drop of water falling onto our deck.  Nature is a wondrous thing!  

Retreated almost totally back into clouds
Then came back down stronger.  And closer.

Medicane = hurricane in the Med

A few days ago a 'Medicane' passed through this area.  'Medicane' is the coined term being used to describe a storm of hurricane strength in the Med.  Bill and I had been watching this storm closely via several weather sources.  

Eye predicted to pass directly over Ragusa
We could see it had developed the anti-clockwise circular motion and clearly had developed an eye.  Winds exceeded 70 kts when the storm was at sea between Tunisia and Malta, and the eye was predicted to pass directly over our area.  Luckily (for us), that storm moved farther eastward before turning north.  It passed directly over Malta and then up the eastern side of Sicily, missing us with a direct hit by about 30 miles.  Weather was nasty here for a couple of days and the barometric pressure dropped to 995.8.  

But that is much better than the 979 that Malta experienced!

Satellite view of the storm
Here is a link to a good analysis of this storm and prediction of years of change ahead:

Medicane and expected weather changes in Med

All was fine here in Marina di Ragusa.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wrapped up our St. Petersburg trip

After the full day Monday of birthday celebration at the monastery and visiting Catherine Palace at Pushkin, then the long drive back into the city and to our hotel in the drive-home 5pm rush traffic in the freezing rain, we were ready to just kick back and relax!  

It had been a whirlwind of activity since the moment we had arrived at the airport Thursday evening.  We had reached an end to the scheduled activities planned by Riza and Alena.  And we had enjoyed every moment.  Now we just wanted to relax.  And eat!

Where to go for dinner on our final night in St. Petersburg?  The very last thing either of us wanted to do was dress up for dinner in some fancy restaurant.  And we most certainly did not want to walk to any of the nearby restaurants in the nighttime rain.  Would it ever stop raining and snowing in this city?  The weather was beautifully sunny on the day of the wedding.  And it had been snowing or raining or sleeting ever since!  We really did not have the proper clothing for such wet cold weather.  We did not want to eat at the hotel restaurant, although the food there was excellent for breakfasts so it probably was good for dinner too.

That morning at breakfast in the hotel Peter Forbes, another wedding guest from England, had given us a business card for a restaurant he highly recommended.  He said it was casual dress.  So, why not go there!  We discussed this with Frank and Barbara and were whisked off in a shared taxi within minutes.  We had learned by this point and knew to confirm the price before getting into the taxi.  No more 1500 Ruble taxi rides, please!  Not when it should be 300 Ruble.

The taxi driver did not seem to be familiar with the location of this restaurant, but he had GPS and followed the route displayed.  Which wound all over creation and took way longer than it should have.  But he kept to the agreed-upon price of 300 Ruble and did eventually deliver us to the entrance for The Idiot.

The Idiot is named after a novel written by 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  It was first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869.  The tourist advertising for this restaurant stated that Dostoyevsky would have felt right at home here.  Books lined the nooks and crannies.  Comfy seating scattered throughout the 4 separated small dining rooms.  Oddities placed decoratively around the rooms.  An interesting and comfortable place.  A great place to enjoy a hot meal and stay warm on this cold night.

The Idiot -- in English

Here is a YouTube video of a private guide talking about this restaurant.  He is wrong about one thing, however; the restaurant does serve dishes containing meat.  Not a huge assortment of meat dishes, but more than enough to suit any tastes.  Bill ordered a pork stew, which was served in a small individual covered casserole dish.  He said it was delicious.

YouTube Video about The Idiot by a guide

Note where this guy is standing outside in the beginning and ending of his short video.  That is the Peter and Paul Fortress in the background to the right.  Notice that there is snow and solid ice.  That river was still flowing when were were there a few days ago.  Illustrates just how dang cold it gets up here in the winter!  Exceptionally glad that this wedding was in October and not February!!!

Barbara Gladney, me, Bill, Frank Gladney at The Idiot in St. Petersburg
Waitress took this photo with Barbara's phone.

The tourist info for this restaurant stated that guests are treated to a free welcoming drink.  A nice shot of vodka.  Well, okay.  I'm game.  Now, let's eat.

Since this was Russia, after all, the other 3 of us ordered Beef Stroganoff.  To everyone's surprise, Beef Stroganoff in Russia is served with sliced dill pickles and a small amount of mashed potatoes -- no noodles.  Frank and Barbara said they had eaten Beef Stroganoff in another restaurant in St. Petersburg and it also was served with sliced dill pickles and some potatoes -- no noodles.  So now we all wonder where and how the noodle thing got adopted traditionally for this dish in America.

We all loved the various breads served.  So much that we asked for another basket to share.  Skipped dessert because nothing appealed to any of us.  Then we asked the staff to arrange a taxi to transport us back to the hotel.

The ride back was 1/10th of the distance and time of the ride from the hotel to the restaurant.  This guy knew where he was going.  

This restaurant, this meal with good friends, was the perfect way to spend our final evening in St. Petersburg.

Most of the guests were leaving the following day.  At different times so we did not share taxis.  Barbara and Frank would stay on for another few days.  The taxi picked us up at the hotel at 12:45 for our 18:15 flight.  Way early in our opinions but we had no other plans.  Walking in the rain did not appeal.  We had wanted to visit the shops on Nevsky Prospect but that never happened.  Any wide, major, commercial street is called a Prospect here.  No idea where that term originated.  

At the airport Bill went to the police office and exchanged shoulder patches with an officer there.  Our friend is the Sheriff of Harris County and he had provided us with some shoulder patches to hand out to officials as we clear into new ports.  I had one in a pouch in my carry-on luggage so Bill took it and exchanged patches.  We will give the Russian police patch to Sheriff Adrian Garcia when we are in Houston this winter.  Cool!

We ate a meal in the airport and still had a couple of hours to wait until flight time.  Also had about 2800 Rubles leftover.  And there is no currency exchange after one clears passport control.  In fact, I do not remember seeing any currency exchange kiosk at all in this airport in the departure area.  Nothing to do but spend whatever leftover Russian currency still on hand unless you plan a return trip.  The prices in the Duty Free shop bordered on the high side to the ridiculously high side.  We walked through the 'no-name' shops looking for gifts for the grandchildren.  Maybe t-shirts with St. Petersburg or Russia written on them.  Or something that they might like to have.  When I saw the plain pink sweater for a 6-month old girl priced at 123 Euro, I gave up shopping.  That is beyond absurd!  So Bill went back to the Duty Free Shop and bought a bottle of Beluga Vodka.  No Rubles left over now.

A flight to Rome.  Wait an hour or 2.  A flight to Cantania, Sicily, where we were met by the same driver as on the outbound leg of this trip.  And a 2 hour ride back to Marina di Ragusa.
And at 02:00 we were happy to be home again.

What a wonderful trip and wedding!

Birthday celebration in a monastery & Catherine's Palace at Pushkin

Church at Monastery
As always, click on any image for larger view.
On our final full day in Russia we were treated first to a special celebration for the birthday of Alena's sister and then a tour of Catherine Palace outside the city at Pushkin.

My handmade Russian doll
I am embarrassed to admit that I have forgotten the name of Alena's sister.  She is a soft-spoken woman who always wore a smile each time we saw her during this short trip.  She owns or operates a bakery on the premises of a monastery and that is where her birthday celebration was held.  I am especially embarrassed about forgetting her name because she had made personalized little dolls for each of the foreign women who attended the wedding.  Mine was like a little grandmother.
Most appropriate, don't you think!

Pretty cup and plates.  And that delicious salmon!
It was another day of freezing rain and intermittent snow.  Riza again arranged taxis and once again Bill, Frank, Barbara and I crammed ourselves into a taxi intended to hold only 3 passengers.  At a major intersection Frank pointed to a huge arch with enormous statues of horses that looked as if it should be the Arc d' Triumph of St. Petersburg...if there were such a thing.  The taxi driver must have misunderstood and he turned left to pass the monument.  Soon he realized that we had not intended to send him to a new destination; turned around and got back on course for the destination to which Riza had instructed him to deliver us.

I never got the name of this monastery.  It was not the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.  And it was not the Smolny Convent and Monastery.  I found this site listing monasteries in St. Petersburg but none of these appear to be the one we visited, as you can see from the few photos taken with the iPhone.  I forgot to bring the camera this day (so no good photos of Catherine Palace either).

List of important churches and monasteries in St. Petersburg

Scrumptious baked goods!
The bakery/restaurant was situated on the right hand rear part of the monastery property.  It looked like a place where people might go not just for baked items but also for a comforting hot meal.  We understood that Alena's sister gives one-half of her restaurant earnings to the monastery.  

Tables had been set up in the rear room, covered in nice plates and serving dishes and scrumptious looking baked goods.  There were also small plates of smoked salmon (yay!!!) and small bowls of red caviar.  Large plates of "pancakes" were passed around upon which one was supposed to spread the caviar and or smoked salmon and a smear of something white (cream cheese?  sour cream?  yogurt?).  I passed on these and just ate a piece of smoked salmon.  Oh so good.  I was not really ready for caviar first thing in the morning.

Riza and new sister-in-law, with his
mom and dad on either side.

And all the sweet baked goods were delicious!  I have forgotten all the things we sampled but every one of them was delicious.  And that Russian style tea is amazing.  Really enjoyed that every time at every place during our stay.

After stuffing ourselves yet again with great foods, we wandered through the gift shop nearby.  It was filled almost entirely with religious items but I did manage to find a small glass cube with skyline of St. Petersburg etched inside.  That will go to our granddaughter as a Russian souvenir.

Church at the monastery
Monastery grounds and buildings
Then the whole group walked through the grounds of the monastery and into the church. As we walked in I noticed that Riza's mom crossed herself like a Catholic.  Later I asked Riza why she did this, as I knew she is not a Christian.  He said she does it when entering a church because she adores the Virgin Mary and shows her respect and veneration.  Now, wouldn't that surprise some of the vocal Christian folks back home who understand and know nothing about Muslims and their faith.  

One of hundreds of garden paths
at Catherine Palace
One end of Catherine Palace

This church and other buildings at this monastery were beautiful.  Wish we had at least learned the name of it.

Riza walked the group out to the main road and arranged a taxi van to take 6 of us out to Pushkin and then back to our hotel.  It was a long drive out there.  In the cold rain.  At least no ice yet this day.

One of many buildings at
Catherine Palace
In the Great Hall of Catherine Palace

Pushkin is the current name of the small town of Tsarskoy Selo.  And the site of the famous Catherine Palace and its many gardens and fountains and stables.  

Did I mention that there is a LOT of gold gilt
More gold rooms in palace

On these grounds are also situated the Alexander Palace and the White Tower and the Imperial Farm.  In total, there were 30 places to see, many of these huge structures.  The largest of which was the Catherine Palace.

And yet more gold
A more sedate use of the gold

The Catherine Palace was mostly constructed under direction of Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.  

In heaven. In a place I never thought
possible to personally visit.
Bill among the tourists, admiring the gold.

Note the elaborate wooden marquetry floor.
A very fancy desk.
I want it!
But it was occupied primarily by Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great.  It was the most ostentatious display of wealth we had ever seen.  All Bill and I could think about as we walked through the restored rooms was the same as when we wandered through the Hermitage -- how many people starved to death so that this could be built for the royalty.  It is appallingly lavish.
Fireplaces or sources of heating were
camouflaged by beautiful tiles.

I would buy this chair today.
Amazing how classic styles
do not change.  Of course, I
would not have that gold.

The most famous room is the Amber Room.  Today it is all reconstructed and renovated after a fire after being occupied by the Nazis in WWII for 3 years during the siege of St. Petersburg.  Photos were not allowed in the reconstructed Amber Room, but it looked just like the images in this YouTube video of the original room, pre-Nazi looting.

YouTube Video of Catherine Palace and info

Another classic style chair
Since I forgot our camera and all the photos we took were with the crappy phone, I have included a couple of links that show some of the sights at Catherine Palace and provide a bit of information. 

Info about the palace on this site

Nice photos on this palace tour site

Another link about grounds at Catherine Palace

Classic dining side chair
Because Bill worked in the furniture manufacturing business for decades, we each took special notice of the furniture in the palace.  Numerous chairs attracted our special attention.  

Each of the 3 chairs in these photos are such classic style that these would be big sellers in a high-quality furniture store even today.  

We would buy any of these today -- without all that gilded gold, of course! 

An evening of ballet. Of course! It's Russia!

After touring The Hermitage (a/k/a The Winter Palace) all day, then returning to the hotel for refreshments and a bit of freshening up, next up on the schedule of entertainment was an evening of ballet.  Once again, Alena had ponied up and purchased tickets for everyone.  My!  She was such a gracious hostess for her wedding guests from foreign countries.  Thank you once again, Alena and Riza!

This time we managed to squeeze Bill, Frank and Barbara Gladney, and me into one taxi rather than taking 2 taxis.  It was a tight squeeze but we were not going too far and we preferred to stay together.  Not one of us had any idea where we were going.  Riza had made the taxi arrangements and the drivers knew the destination.  The nighttime weather was a mix of snow and freezing rain and the streets were a mess.

And the destination was:  I have no idea.  We never got the name of the place.  It was a bakery/restaurant just a few blocks from the theater where we would enjoy the ballet.  It was a small place that served only these huge 'pies' of a dozen or so varieties, both savory and sweet.  These were not pies as we know pies.  These were thick pastry surrounding a thick filling.  Riza and Alena had ordered 3 pieces of pies for each person.  There were salmon, chicken and apple, although Bill and I never got any of the apple.  Apparently those were so good that the folks who arrived before us had gobbled up all the apple pies.  There is no way either Bill or I could have eaten 3 pieces of these pies!  Each piece was a full meal to us.  I ate the salmon and Bill tried the chicken.  Then we each nibbled on another piece, picking out the savory fillings and forgoing all that pastry.  I just could not leave that salmon alone; it was delicious.  (I ate more salmon during our short stay in St. Petersburg than I have had in 10 years.  Love salmon and it is served A LOT in St. Petersburg.)  Pots of Russian style tea were served and this was a perfect meal on a night of frozen rain.

On the exterior door to the restaurant there was a sign posted warning customers to watch their personal belongings closely as there were thieves in the area.  Inside the restroom there was another sign stating to keep your handbag and wallet close and under careful scrutiny as there were pickpockets in the area who had been known to 'work' inside the restaurant. Glad they warned us!

After our delicious and filling meal, we filed out onto the sidewalk into the cold rain.  The theater was only a few blocks down that busy street; did not take us long to find it.  As I was not wearing waterproof clothing and had forgotten to bring the umbrellas (left in the hotel room), I rushed on ahead of everyone else with Bill close on my heels in the freezing rain, being careful not to slip on the gathering ice.  

Our seats at the theater were on the left hand side of the stage next to a fancy box, on the second level from the top.  Alena had bought seats spread throughout the theater so we were able to watch as the others arrived who were seated on the opposite side.  We tried taking photos of some of them but all we had was the iPhone and that did not work at that distance.  Too blurry and grainy, so no photos of the others.

The old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater
Photo taken off internet site
Someone told us that there is now a new Mariinsky Theater; but, thankfully, this ballet was being performed in the old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater.  Who cares about a new theater.  We have plenty of "new" at home in Houston.  We preferred the ambiance of the old theater.

The original Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater

Main curtain and part of orchestra.
Photo taken before the performance started.

Someone told us that this ballet was not performed by the local St. Petersburg troupe.  This was a visiting troupe from a very distant Russian city.  I could not understand the name of that city.  I searched online later and it did appear to me that this ballet was performed by the Mariinsky Ballet troupe, but possibly I misunderstood.

The main box or Royal Box as seen from our seats on the upper left side
This old theater was ornate and lavish, like many of the old sites we visited in Russia.  It has been well maintained.

The performance that night was a ballet called Shurale.  It was a full revival of a 1945 production, choreographed by Leonid Yacobson.  It consisted of 3 acts and 4 scenes with motifs from old Tatar folk tales.  The stage designs and the costumes were simply fabulous.  And I was blown away by the size of this dance troupe!  There had to have been at minimum 90 dancers, 24 of whom were children.  Quite a lot to take a show on the road!  So maybe it was the real St. Petersburg troupe after all.

Right hand box directly across from our seats.
Barbara and Frank sat in the second level from top
next to that box.

I *think* that the orchestra was the local orchestra for the regular St. Petersburg dance troupe.  They were really excellent.  I enjoyed the orchestra even more than the dancers, maybe because our side seats offered a partially obstructed view and when the performers were on the far left hand side of the stage they were outside our view.  Whereas, the orchestra was in full view below us and the sound quality was superb.

Bill and I were totally lost attempting to follow the story line of this ballet.  But we enjoyed it anyway.  Bill made up names for the main characters and we made up our own story of what was portrayed.  Since we know nothing of Tatar folk tales, be certain that our story differed totally from the story intended to be conveyed.  Bet ours was a lot more fun.  Not so dark and somber as what was portrayed on stage.

This performance was not true ballet.  

It was a mixture of ballet and modern dance.  Which actually is the type of ballet that Bill and I enjoy most.  Years ago I was a patron of the Houston Ballot and each season we attended every performance which was choreographed by Trey McIntyre, who was extremely young at the time for a job such as that.  He began working under direction of Ben Stevenson, who was Artistic Director and eventually appointed Director Emeritus of the Houston Ballet.  Trey McIntyre choreographed Skeleton Clock when he was only 20 years old!
Trey McIntyre at Houston Ballet
He later left the Houston Ballet and formed The Trey McIntyre Project, a small dance troupe based in Boise, Idaho, who performed all over the USA. The TMP recently disbanded.  Gosh, I so hope Mr. McIntyre continues choreography as he is such a talent.
End of TMP

The ballet we saw in the old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater reminded very much of Trey McIntyre's work.  Except it was darker and the story line of a different culture and history.  We enjoyed it very much.

When searching for information on the Mariinsky theater I came across information on the Mariinsky Palace -- a building that we had seen several times but did not know what it was.

The Mariinsky Palace

Wonder who the Mariinskys were.  The old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater is home for the Mariinsky Ballet troupe, originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet and founded in 1740.  Internationally, the Mariinsky Ballet is known by its former Soviet name of the Kirov Ballet.  It is the parent company of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, a leading international ballet school.  

Here is a link to the playbill for the performance of Shurale that we enjoyed on 19 October 2014.  
Shurale production

Click on the small photos at that link to see examples of the beautiful costumes and stage designs.  Fabulous!