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Sun Aug 16 2015: KGB Found Us!

Today we're meeting up with our Russian friend Varvara. We met her when we were riding around Iceland a few years ago. It's been exactly four years ago to the day! Varavara was still in high school at the time on vacation with her mom. We took a tour of the Golden Triangle with them and really got along with her. We've kept in touch ever since and now that we're in her hometown, what better way to see the city than with a local to show us around!

A happy reunion!

Varvara met us at our hotel in the early afternoon. She's so grown up now! She's just finishing up her university studies. Wow, how time flies! Ugh, I feel so old.

She took us on a little walking tour of Nevsky Prospekt, and we caught up with each other's lives

Walking along Griboedov Canal to check out the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood again

And then suddenly, some excitement breaks out in the square in front of the church!!!

Ah, it's just a movie being shot here on location.

Around the church, girls in mini-skirts approached every male in sight.
You could take a picture with them in front of the church for a fee...

The church is so striking amongst all the old European buildings

Russia is only one of a handful of trans-continental countries that straddle Europe and Asia. St Peterburg is firmly planted on European soil in terms of location and architecture, but when we saw this church, it really stood out because of its Middle-Eastern stylings. The exterior is so colourful and ornamental, with over-the-top decorated onion domes that would not look out of place in Persia.

Blue skies above the church

Varvara says we are quite lucky to be having such nice weather in St Petersburg. The city is typically blanketed by high cloud cover, experiencing only 75 sunny days per year. That's 1 sunny day out of every 5 days. And we've had great weather the whole time we've been here! Wow, perhaps our streak is finally over?

Varvara teaches Neda the Russian Macarena

Not really. Varvara wasn't even born when the Macarena came out. Ugh, I feel so old...

It was very interesting talking with Varvara about present-day Russia. Obviously she doesn't remember anything from the Soviet era aside from the stories that her mom and grandmother tell her, but she gave us precious insight into how young people in the most Western city in Russia feel about the politics and how their country is perceived on the world stage.

There is a nostalgia for the old Tsarist days when the Russian empire included all the current Baltic states, Central Asia and Finland. Many old-timers see the annexation of Crimea as a return to those heady times.

Boat cruises on the Neva River

Lots of weddings this weekend, they lucked out with the weather just like we did!

We walk towards the Winter Palace and pass the arch of the Grand Staff Building

Young people congregate at the Winter Palace grounds doing young people things

Longboarding is popular all around the world

Winter Palace - home of the Russian monarchs from the 1700s till they were evicted by KGB after the Russian Revolution

If I made movies, I would make KGB the bad guys in every one of them. They're totally badass and they don't take any Bolshevik from anyone.

Just like in Hollywood, St Petersburg has a Home of the Tsars tour...

We asked Varvara to teach us some Russian words. Most of the Russian words I know I learned from Piotr Nikolaievitch. He was Colossus in the X-men comic books. The only complete Russian phrase I know is, "Spacibo. Do svidaniya, tovarisch!"

Those two brown columns in the distance, the Rostral columns, marked the spot where St Petersburg's main port was once located

The Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel in St Petersburg

And yet another Russian wedding. This guy brought his own hashtag
for their Instagram wedding pictures. So not Soviet-era...

St Isaac's Cathedral

Enjoying the weather with a ride along the canal, cathedral in the background

Varvara asks us if we've tried any Russian food and what was our favorite. We both replied, "Syrok!" She laughed at that and Neda asks embarrassingly, "Why is that funny? Is that like kids' food?" Varavara was expecting that we would mention some Russian cuisine, and not a candy bar... :) *shrug* We're hobos. So she offered to take us to try some real Russian food.

Because of my interest in anything Soviet, Varvara knew exactly where to take us. The name of this restaurant is called "квартиpка." (Kvartirka.), which is Russian for "small apartment." The name actually has a period at the end of it. It's decorated inside like a typical Soviet-era apartment. Kinda kitschy, but I really liked it.

You have to read the menu with a Russian accent, then the grammar makes total sense! LOL!

Everything inside the restaurant was decorated with items from the 70s and 80s.

Russians love to put carpets up on the wall. Google "Russian Carpets On Walls"! It's actually a thing. We saw these all over the restaurant. Haha! This is what I came to Russia to see!!!

You know it's a thing when there's a meme for it!

Little bits of Russian kitsch decorating the walls of the kvartirka.

So nice to hang out with a local that knows where to go!

I asked Varvara what was typical, and she told us that she really liked пельмени (Polmeni), which are dumplings filled with cheeses or meats, kind of like ravioli. The thing that makes it regional are the sauces that it's served with.

Pelmeni! Yummy! The sauces are served on the side, I ordered cheese sauce.

Well, at least I got a little bit of the Soviet experience, even though it was kind of set up for tourists! :) We thanked Varvara for showing us around St Petersburg. It was nice seeing her again and she was such a great guide - so knowledgeable and insightful about her city and country! I wish we had a local guide every place we go to, it really enriches the experience for us.

Leaving the Church on Spilled Driveshaft Oil

I had some time the last couple of days to research and poke around my bike to see if the loss of power at high revs was something I could diagnose myself. Google searches strongly suggested a sparking problem. I just had the spark plugs replaced 15K ago, so that's probably not it. Lately, I've been resting my feet a lot on the crash bars below the cylinder head and I strongly suspect I've kicked an ignition coil wire loose. So I run out into the parking lot, checked the plugs and the wiring. Nothing.

So I'm stumped. I'll have to limp it out of Saint Petersburg since we're on a timeline to exit the country before our visa expires. Hm.

Saying "Do svidaniya" to St Petersburg!

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