Vacation Memory #2: Trip to Russia—From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

How about some more armchair travel? 

Several of you submitted your vacation memories after I requested them last fall

What better time to share these vacation stories? We can’t travel now, but we can hold on to our memories, and vicariously enjoy someone else’s trip. 

Last month, Megan Nelson shared her harrowing first camping and backpacking adventure. Today, hop on board with my friends Wayne Holubetz and his wife Julie. Wayne is a full time realtor with Response Realtors in Delafield, Wisconsin. He and Julie love to travel, particularly to Great Britain. 

But this time . . . Destination: Russia, Sept 30 – October 8, 2019.

Wayne and Julie had the thrill of taking in the grandeur and flavor of Russia, old and new. In Moscow, the Kremlin sprawls over dozens of acres, comprised of palaces, cathedrals, the Armory, and museums of royal treasures. Also near Red Square, the bold, breathtaking architecture of St. Basil’s Cathedral burgeons in primary colors.

In St. Petersburg, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is covered with mosaics. 

The State Hermitage Museum features six buildings housing art collections of Imperial  Russian history and other great civilizations.

Wayne with St. Petersburg in the background

Another highlight was the Faberge’ Museum—which features a different kind of Easter egg, nothing like those you’d find on a typical Easter egg hunt. 

These works of art are known as the Faberge’ eggs. Between 1885 and 1917, the Russian Tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II, commissioned the creation of these Imperial eggs as Easter gifts. (I apologize that I’m unable to add the accent mark over the second e in Faberge.)

A Visit to the Faberge’ Museum — by Wayne

We really didn’t know what to expect when we booked a trip to Russia with a tour group headquartered in Spain. For the most part, we were very pleasantly surprised. 

A number of things were highlights of the trip. One was the Faberge’ museum. Peter Karl Faberge’ was the “Jeweler to the Czar” in imperial Russia. He created beautiful, unique gifts for the Czar to give to his wife and family members. There are only about 50 known Faberge’ eggs left in the world and about 30 of them are in the museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The room that houses them is, by itself, very lovely. 

Inside the Faberge Museum

The eggs and other jeweled creations are in glass cases and you can get very close to view them. The eggs, made of enamel, are encrusted with real jewels. They are usually able to be opened, revealing miniature creations inside. 

Above is the Imperial state coach which is made of solid gold. Another held a working model of a train (engine and 3 cars). Yet another had 3 individual picture frames that popped out when the egg was opened with a key. None of these eggs is larger than your fist! 

Note the 3 tiny frames.

They are priceless, not just because of the jewels, but because of the superb craftsmanship. 

Blue enameled egg with diamond decorations

As we viewed these magnificent creations, one of the non-American, non-Russian members of our tour group took a docent up to a case, pointed at the Imperial Egg inside it, and said, “How much?”—as if A) it was for sale, and B) he could afford it. 

One of the first eggs made, with a locket inside

As the British might say, we found this a little “cheeky.” This was also the person who argued for twenty minutes over the price of a $10 fake Russian fur hat. We did our best to avoid his party for the rest of the trip.

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Travel doesn’t come without its “cheeky” moments. Some humorous ones, too. In fact, what stereotypical images come to mind when you think of particular places—like Ireland, Mexico, Hawaii, France, or Russia?

And which stereotypes do people from Ireland, Mexico, Hawaii, France, or Russia have about us? Not only about us, but our history and geography? 

Well, Wayne and Julie found out.

Last Night in St. Petersburg — by Wayne

It was our last night in St. Petersburg, Russia, and we had a wonderful meal at a Georgian restaurant. (Georgia is an area in Russia.) As we paid the bill, the waiter, in accented English, asked, “Where from?”

We replied, “United States.” Thinking that he might not be familiar with Milwaukee or Pewaukee, we added, “Chicago.” 

“Aaahh.” Making a gun with his thumb and forefinger, he said, “Al Capone!” 

Like we who have watched too many old Soviet era movies, he had obviously watched too many American prohibition flicks.

Inside the Mindal Restaurant, which features Georgian cuisine.

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Thanks for sharing, Wayne! The beautiful places you saw whet my appetite for a trip of my own.

Wayne at another Russian restaurant

Have you ever been to Russia? Or have you seen a beautiful work of art that left a lasting impression? Or have you had a funny experience as an American in a foreign country?

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

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20 thoughts on “Vacation Memory #2: Trip to Russia—From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

  1. That was a wonderful reflective piece! A trip to St. Petersburg is something we have been longing to do. In fact, we were booked to do a cruise of the Scandinavian countries including a two day adventure to st. Petersburg. Then our daughter informed us that grandchild number one was was scheduled to be born right in the middle of the trip. Needless to say, we had to cancel that trip and are now waiting for another opportunity to go. This account has made me excited about it all over again! Thank you for sharing.

    1. At least you had to cancel your St. Petersburg trip for a good reason–a grandchild! I hope you don’t have to wait too long to re-schedule.

    2. We looked at the cruise method of seeing Russia as well, but felt that two days was not enough. We booked with Exotica out of Spain and were very pleased. The accommodations were very good, we had enough free time (which we made use of – some of the group just spent the time in the hotel bar – what a waste). The transportation was also very good and the price was fantastic!

      Our 8-day trip was under $1,200 (not including 6 lunches and 6 dinners, but including all European style breakfasts), INCLUDING AIRFARE from Chicago. We’d use the same company but because we know their itinerary, we’d leave the group for several of the scheduled tours and go off on our own now that we know where we’d want to spend other time.

      1. That is a spectacular price Wayne. Thank you for the heads up. We will have to give this consideration. We have been to Spain many times over the years and have actually heard of Exotica.

  2. Who would have guessed that your call for vacation stories would precede our inability to travel. It’s especially meaningful to be able to read these now. Those eggs are gorgeous! But I have to ask, did the docent tell how much they would be worth? I mean other than priceless?

  3. Those Faberge eggs were amazing!! What gorgeous pictures! My favorite was the egg with the small picture frames.

  4. Actually, he said the value was “inestimable”. There are probably still only a handful of craftsman in the entire world that could duplicate the quality of the workmanship, and at today’s wages for that kind of work . . . well. Some of the eggs were sold in the teens to a lady in New York because the Russian government needed money after the revolution. I believe those eggs were donated to the University of Richmond in Virginia. Check their museum website as there may be more information there.

    The exhibit in Russia was jaw-dropping. I’m not sure if we will be able to go back, but having been there, we would not be fearful and would use the same tour company, perhaps adding on a day or two. Thanks for asking. Wayne

    1. I’ve seen pics of the eggs before, but somehow never realized they held treasures inside. That carriage is incredible. And I’m guessing seeing them in front of you was ten thousand times better than the pics–although yours are really good. The room alone speaks royalty and fairy tale and all things creative.

  5. In 2004, 9 of the Faberge eggs were sold at auction for $100 million. These eggs were the start of the collection that is now housed in the Faberge museum in St Petersburg. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond has very interesting time lines and information about all the eggs.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Wayne, and Laura, for providing the vehicle for it to be shared. It brought back a memory of seeing an exhibit of a collection of the eggs in Wilmington, DE back in 2000. They are truly breathtaking.

  7. No one has mentioned the scene in the James Bond movie Octopussy where Bond switches out the Faberge egg at an auction in front of everyone’s eyes …

    Great pics and story, Dad. So glad you got to do that. I remember us talking about it and agreeing that you needed to ‘do it while you can’ – little did we know what would actually prevent that trip today.

  8. What a trip! I can’t say I’ve particularly wanted to visit Russia in the past but a few books and this post have me intrigued. Not that we will ever go. But it’s fun to visit through someone else’s experience! (and Faberge eggs fascinate me, as does the elaborate and magnificent architecture!)

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