We arrive late at night in a haze, get off the train as the St. Petersburg anthem welcomes us to the station. On our way to the hotel we see few cathedral domes and the occasional palace, as we get to Nevsky Boulevard we see international luxury stores scattered all over.

Our stay is a whirlwind. We visit palaces with golden rooms, palaces with manicured forests as their front lawn, churches with incredible mosaics and history. We see the Hermitage, art spilling from every corner. On the way to Catherine’s summer getaway palace we see Putin’s palace. Behind gilded gates, we only see it from afar, inside a car window — it’s impossible to describe, comparable to the monarchs’ old “summer homes.”

We spend two days observing how monarchs lived in luxury, gifted each other with palaces and changed their palaces’ room moldings in accordance with the latest season trends. Many of the palaces were destroyed by German bombs during World War II so we see many replicas of tiled rooms.

We go to a cheesy Russian folk dance show; a man dances the Hora. We eat Varenyky and Blinis but the ones my grandmothers make are better. We hear a priest chanting in a Russian Orthodox church and the quick monotone reminds us of a Chabbad rabbi’s chanting.

Tonight we arrive in Riga, rain pours down as our plane lands. Tomorrow we finally begin to explore, the real reason why I’m here.

Russian Varenyky... good, but not grandma's...
Russian Varenyky… good, but not grandma’s…
Gorgeous day in St Petersburg.
Gorgeous day in St Petersburg.
A tiny fountain and foliage at the Peterhof Palace aka "summer home."
A tiny fountain and foliage at the Peterhof Palace aka “summer home.”