August 12, 1995 - Saturday

We go back to our same families in Irkutsk for showers (still no hot water so Svetlana heats bath water for us again), breakfast, and repacking all our suitcases. Later today we will fly to St. Petersburg. At 11:00 AM we all meet and head off on a shopping spree in Irkutsk. We are searching desperately for lemon vodka. Minutes before the taxi comes back for us, we have success. We buy out the entire supply of the kiosk. Now back to Victor and Valentina's apartment for lunch (Victor is already off with a group of Swiss tourists). Svetlana, Anatoli and Nadia are there too. The meal is again huge and good. As always, the soup is outstanding and the volume of food is enough to kill you. At the last minute and after many vodka toasts we head to the airport only to find out there is an indefinite delay. Our 6 PM flight finally takes off at 7:30 PM. Anyway, after a short stop in Ekatlinburg (where the last Czar and his family were killed) we move on and arrive in St. Petersburg at about 10:00 PM (which is 3 AM our body time). Sean has a sauna ready for us at his dacha in Pushkin, but none of us has the energy to go in it. I am tired to the point of feeling queazy. The dacha is so nice and Nate and I have a great room with a double bed. This is our first time sleeping together on this trip. The moon shines in through the window over the bed - and sunrise greets us in the morning.

August 13 - Sunday

We are awake early because of the time change and have a great breakfast prepared by Yelana, the househeeper. Omelet, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. We head off to the Hermitage - spectacular again although our guide is useless. We hang out with other groups whose guides know something and speak English. We enjoy the Hidden Treasures exhibit (a group of pictures that was taken by the Russians from Germany - and will not be given back. The Russians say the Germans stole them from Russia originally.) Lunch in a restaurant, and dinner at home - delicious spaghetti and rice with chicken. Nate and Irina go by subway to visit Arcady, a computer programmer who Nate met on the internet. Nate logs on and checks his email. Then to the circus. It was a show on ice skates - yes, including the bears. The kids in the audience are cute to watch - they have such fun. On the way home, we all sleep in the van again! A cup of tea and to bed.

August 14 - Monday

Mary and Vera go off to visit hospices while the rest of us go to the OTT Institute where Irina used to work as a midwife. It is a clinic for in vitro fertilization. The building is fairly empty as most of the services are closed for summer vacations but we do note the most modern medical equipment we've seen on the trip. The building is being refurbished. There is a dedicated group of doctors and nurses working at the clinic. From there, we go to eat in a restaurant. Flies are a problem here but the food tastes good. After lunch we hit a flea market by the Church of the Resurrection. We finish up (?) gift shopping. Then we stop at a local produce market so Sean can pick up some food for dinner. Irina is cooking flounder (and steak for Andy), and prepares a delicious meal. We eat a beautiful dinner out on the porch. The weather is perfect! Warm days, cool nights, clear skies. After dinner we head to the theater to see Swan Lake. Mary and Vera show up at the theater - they had a great day escaping from the group. This production is the happy ending version. There are many versions. Nate slept through most of it.

August 15 - Tuesday

Today we go by van to Novgorod (about 70 km southeast of St. Petersburg). We eat lunch at a fantastic restaurant in the Novgorod Kremlin Tower. The tower is over 500 years old. The place is neat looking, and the food is great. It is loaded with sour cream, butter and cream sauces - it is delicious. Mushrooms in a sauce, chicken in a sauce, soup, and ice cream. After buying a few more gift boxes at a vendor outside the kremlin, we go to the local yacht club. Sean has arranged for us to go on a sail. We present our Sheldrake burgee to skipper Nikolai on the sailboat Merak. Nikolai used to work in a defense plant as an electrical engineer, but is now unemployed. The boat is a 30 foot Dufour that is 15 years old and looks much older. The engine does not work. We sail with a spinnaker mainsail. There is a homemade depth sounder that goes off seconds before we ran aground on a muddy bottom. That explains the wooden pole on the foredeck. Anyway, we all have fun and get back to the dock in one piece. Back in the van, we stop to buy snacks for the ride home. Everyone is asleep again. After a dinner of fish, we get ready for the sauna that Sean has built us. The sauna is not hot enough so I suggest we add wood. Mary does it. This causes much smoke (a "black sauna" according to Irina) and many laughs. After Sean and Irina rescue us, we finally get our sauna and then to bed by 2 AM.

August 16 - Wednesday

Last day! We head to Petergoff with a guide named Katia. She is excellent and knowledgeable - we all enjoy her. Petergoff is a gorgeous place of many fountains. Some of them are trick fountains that were installed by Peter the Great to amuse guests. The kids are having a ball and are soaked. We go for lunch at a restaurant with delicious soup and bread. We then go through Catherine's Summer Palace - impressive. Massive restoration was necessary after World War II when the whole place was nearly destroyed. The floors are inlaid wood and are magnificent. The dacha is nearby so after buying our last lacquer box, we go home to pack, take a sauna, and get ready for dinner at a wonderful restaurant called The Podroval in Pavlovsk. Lena, our guide from a previous trip joins us and we have a nice visit. The musicians are great (dressed like Cossacks). After a terrific five course meal including stuffed grape leaves, soup, breads and more we head back to the dacha for a last night of talking and singing led by Irina with her beautiful voice and her magical guitar There are many vodka toasts. A fine ending to a great trip!

August 17 - Thursday

Up and to the airport. This flight on Finnair is great. We fly over Greenland and it is such a clear day we can see glaciers, icebergs, and snow covered mountains. Is it possible that we are already talking about our next trip? Sean suggests that that since we are both involved in health care, we lead a trip with a focus on health care that will visit Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novgorod in May, 1996. The next adventure to Siberia will have to wait. This trip is already sounding good and May would be a great time of year to see those cities. We get home and start planning. (Those interested in joining us on our trip in May can contact Nate or me at nate.lipsen@execnet.com.)

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