The Tale of Two Brothers

Well, I arrived at my new hotel around 10:00am from my previous splendor at the Catherine Palace… it was a .. different…vibe from my earlier stay. The first room I was given had recently (At least, I hope recently) been used by someone who had a great night before I arrived… and they also may have had a lot of Taco Bell as the bathroom laid exposed, victim to the crime.

My new kick-ass neighbour, Kelly, also found her window off the hinges when she arrived.

After a hot exchange between the hotel staff and our tour director, they moved Kelly and I to our new rooms (sadly we were no longer next door neighbours). I was moved to the very end of the hall, next to a door which would exit you to the roof.

My new room was cleaner than the previous room, (at least it felt like nobody had partied hard the night before). Although I did have my very own collection of various body hairs that were nicely collected and on display on top of my toilet. (On Top?? Yes, on top! Right beside the flush push. It was like someone was particularly proud of these curly creations and were saving them to take home and possibly scrapbook with). I’ll get more into the hotel, and hotel room in a later post.

The day itself was rather low-key, all tour participants would be arriving throughout the day, from 10:00am to 10:00pm. So there were no set plans for the day.

Although I was eagerly looking forward to connecting with my new found Romanovphiles, everyone was coming off flights of over 20+ hours, so the afternoon was mainly used to watch a bit of Russian TV and then catch up on jetlag sleep. (In hind-sight, I wish I had used this time to go back to Tsarskoe Selo so I could explore at my own pace).

If there was anything to note about this afternoon, was just a general observation about Russian commercials. Companies are reallllly working hard at marketing to women about varicose veins. They had at least 3 of 5 commercials about the various solutions, including one military dressed bean(?) who, once you applied the bean cream, it would go to work and destroy those varicose veins like Russia destroyed the Germany in WWII. No joke.

In the evening we had a dinner at the hotel which was quite lovely. Although all of our trip participants of the ‘In the Steps of the Romanovs’ group had not yet arrived (they didn’t get in until after 10:00pm!), I already was able to meet some pretty remarkable people. We enjoyed an interesting dinner of soup in a shot glass, a variety of veggies and, what I think, was a pudding for dessert.

After dinner we retired to our rooms, and that’s when the real drama started…

I had found that my European power adapter did not work and I needed to find a solution in order to charge my devices. Thankfully, one of my newfound friends, Rose, was kind enough to let me use her power adapter for an hour, I just had to come get it from her room.

I grabbed the wall plug, and made my way back to my room. I unlocked the door, (With a physical key, they don’t do key-cards in this specific hotel), and just as I was about to go into my room these two men approached me really fast from the stairs across the hall from my door.

It seemed to start innocently enough, they asked me what floor my room was on, (although, I confess, I found the question odd, as it seemed as though the hotel was keeping all guests on the same floor). After telling them it was on the second floor, the one guy stepped forward, opened my hotel room door, walked in, and looked out the window of my room. (The window to my room was right off the roof, so if some was walking on the roof they could just climb into my room.)

It all happened so fast.

He then turned around and said, do you have any friends staying with you in this hotel? I said I did, and then they asked what rooms they were in. I told him they were throughout the hotel. Then the one man left my room, and they both quickly left down the hall.

What. The ?

Talk about feeling vulnerable! I wasn’t quite sure how to react to what just happened. I went into my hotel room, closed the door and posted what had just happened on the private Facebook page of my travel group. Many said I should go to the front desk, explain what happened and get a new room.

I walked to reception to explain. The reception at the Park-Otel’ Potemkin speaks exclusively Russian. I tried to talk, but found it easier for me to write my experience in Google Translate. The receptionist read over my small novel and I could see her eyes widen. She told me to sit down and she would look into it.

The receptionist called our group translator, Ludmila, to reception, and Ludmila was kind enough to translate for me (I guess Google Translate didn’t do the trick). After what sounded like a big argument (Customer Service in this hotel was a solid 2), Ludmila told me there was nothing that could be done, and that I was to just make sure all my doors and windows were locked for the night.

So I walked back to my hotel room, locked the door to the hotel hall, and locked my 7ft tall window (that had no screen, and opened into the hotel room like a door).

I didn’t sleep well this night.

Delayed Blog Posts

Sadly, my time in Russia has come to a close. I didn’t live blog as I had planned too for a variety of reasons.

  • Really crappy internet (80%)
  • Just too darn exhausted every night (20%)

But I did write blogs, or notes to myself while I was there. I am going to work on getting those notes online in the next two months in hopes of finally getting all my Russia 2018 experience online. 

Until I post again! 

The Alexander Palace from the back c.2018

Coming Home

Being back in Russia is so rewarding. It definitely feels like my Home away from Home. Although it’s been NINE long years since I was last stepped foot in Russia, when I started walking the grounds of the Alexander Palace today it felt like I was here just yesterday.

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Helsinki Airport - Rest Stations

The Wait

Ahead of my final destination lied a long wait.

Vancouver to New York’s JFK, a ten hour layover, then an eight hour flight to Helsinki (a city in which I am very sad to say I have yet to visit outside of the airport), another layover and then to St. Petersburg.

The layovers proved to be non-eventful, I tried to catch some Z’s sitting up, and I think I managed to grab a few, but my inner clock is all bamboozled.

Interesting notes thus far:
If you take any European airline (Finnair, Cataway, etc) they give you a lot of wine free of charge. In my first flight, I asked for some red, and the gentleman filled my cup like I had a 7-11 big gulp cup. I won’t lie, I really was laid back for the rest of that flight.

On my second flight, I was also given a very generous amount of wine. I could get used to this 😀

This is the fist time I’ve arrived in St. Petersburg alone. I admit, I was nervous, I hadn’t used my Russian since my semester there in 2009, and my last impressions of Polvoko airport was a lot of guns, and not a lot of fun, Haha.

This time around, I was lucky, as there were no armed guards (that I could see), and I ran into the most friendly Babushka who took me under her wing. She and I had many broken conversations. Her English was as good as my Russian, but THANK GOD, I downloaded an offline version of Russian for Google translate. I asked my questions that way, and she was very good at answering. In the end, she stayed by my side until we got through security and customs before going on her way. She was the angel I needed today.

Well.. I’m going to break this blog post into two, as there is so much more to write, but I am exhausted guys!

Talk soon!

A Pilgrimage 20 Years In the Making

The gunshots began soon after midnight on 17 July, 1918. Chaotically, the firing squad executed Tsar Nicholas II, his 13-year-old son Alexei, daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, wife Alexandra and their attendants in the cellar of a merchant house in Yekaterinburg, western Siberia.


Then they set about destroying the evidence.


The bodies were removed – first by truck, and then by horse and cart, to a deep pit called Ganina Yama 25km away. There, the Bolsheviks tipped the bodies in, and began to dissolve the bodies in acid.

- Oliver Carroll

And so ended 305 years of Romanov rule in Russia. More importantly, July 17th, 1918, marked the final moments of Nicholas II his family and all of those who accompanied them into imprisonment.

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Best Weekend Ever. Part Two. (Saturday)

On Saturday, my roommates and I decided that we were finally going to hit up the Peter and Paul Fortress! I have been waiting to go to the Peter and Paul Fortress since I got to Russia (as well as Tsarskoe Selo). It just so happened that this weekend was the best weather we’ve had since I got here. The sun was shining beautifully and it was still cold enough to keep the ice frozen and the snow beautiful on the ground. Ah! Amazing weekend weather.

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The Best Weekend in Russia. (Post One – Friday)

Since last Sunday, not much outside of school and new roommate has happened. About 4 hours ago our hot water stopped working (ie. not the hot in the water, but the hot and the water all together — when you turn the tap, nothing happens), but hopefully that will be solved by tomorrow (according to the people who run the show here). Anyway.. this weekend was the best weekend I have had since I’ve been in Russia.

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The Week of Disappointment!

What a week! I realize I am in Russia, so I shouldn’t complain, but I have to admit this week has now set the bar for the rest of my trip.

Last Monday (February 23rd) was “Men’s Day” or better known as Defender of the Fatherland Day. Naturally, everyone got the day off for school. What can be bad about that I hear you say…. well, what sucked was that since that Monday I have found that our school doesn’t believe in giving their students time off (regardless of holidays) and require you to come in on your weekend time to make up the lost time on the Holiday. This in itself stinks, but is not the deal breaker for me. What has been the biggest disappointment is the news that came with it.

We were told by many (including our trip coordinator) that in this program they will give you a week or more to see the sites of Russia. This was fantastic news to me, I had made plans (including getting permission/reference letters for GARF — a Russian Archive –, meeting with various professors to talk about fonds and research methods at GARF, read up and understood the rules/regulations of researching at GARF, etc, etc, etc, etc). I have now been told by our Coordinator here (in Russia) that there is no ‘break’ time. Which means I can’t go anywhere unless I can do it in 4 days. (ie. skip class on Monday and leave Thursday night). One of the main purposes of this trip (aside from see Russia!) was to get my feet in the pool of historical research.

I debated for a while about just skipping a week of class and deal with the consequences, but I have been told by professors and researchers that a week is not enough time to research at GARF (they like to take their time retrieving fonds, etc). And then I was told by the student ‘supervisor’ here that if a student misses a percentage of class a week, that he has the authority to send them home.

I am at a loss of what to do. I feel like I’ve put so much time and energy to get here, I don’t just want to sit around. I feel frustrated at this program, if I wanted to just intensively learn Russian I could technically have done that at home. What is the point of sending students to Russia if you don’t give them the time to see it.

Okay, so I am more than a little frustrated, I am bitter and angry about the whole thing. I have people who are waiting for me to do some research, and now ….. I don’t know.

I still have my thinking cap on, and I am going to see if there is anyway I can get to GARF still. There has to be, I’m in Russia, and GARF is closer to me than it’s ever been before.

Anyway… I went to Novgorod yesterday. I’ll make a post about that soon.
Cheers Mates!