Buying a Completely Inappropriate Gift for the Grandkids
We did our whirlwind trip to Russia in only five days. Hopefully, for those of you going there on vacation, you will have much longer to enjoy the sights, absorb the culture, eat the food, etc. I took up the whole last blog post on just one Russian bar, so let me clue you in on the rest of the trip. Now, this is going to go fast, so pay attention.
My number one priority was visiting Anastasia’s Summer Palace, Tsarskoe Selo, (OK, it really wasn’t HERS, you know that, right? It was her dad’s and he was a Tsar, so she like, got to use it. She was, as we say in America about all the Euro royals, a Member of the Lucky Sperm Club). My husband, bless his heart, had no opinion on the itinerary for the day, (for once), so we trundled down to the concierge to find out the best way to go to the palace which lies about 15 miles outside of St. Petersburg.
Russian money is one of those currencies that make your head hurt to do the conversion rate. So, even though 10,000 rubles might only equal 15 cents, it still sounds like a lot. It was certainly enough to make the blood drain out of Mr. Big’s face, I can tell you that. Off we tripped to check out the tour buses. Turned out, there was only one tour bus per day to the Summer Palace that conducted the tour in English, so we had four hours on our hands to kill before the tour left. Hello, shopping.
Funny story. One time, about a hundred years ago, Charming Daughter and I were in an antique store in Asheville, North Carolina and stumbled upon a set of Russian nesting dolls with all of the Russian leaders on them. I mean, the biggest one was Gorbachev, Breshnev was in there, and back through time through Stalin and, finally, the teeniest one was Lenin. Well, to find this set in North Carolina was just, um, shocking, really. Like, WHO IN GOD’S NAME, had this decorative item on their mantle? Ever since then, she and I have had an inside joke about “voold you laak zum Vruusian nestink dolls?” And then we crack up. Every time. I know, I know, inside jokes are so boring.
The next kiosk had something that we did buy, however. MRS. DOMESTIC SON, if Grand One is reading this, please make her stop! Grand One and Grand Two like to play chess. They are actually quite good. Right before my eyes was a wooden chess set wherein the chess pieces were Russia vs. America army people. The queens were carrying tiny briefcases with the word “bomb” written in Russian on them. (Why the American queen’s suitcase had Russian writing on it is anybody’s guess. Probably because the person who painted it did not speak English). OMG, I must own this so-not-politically-correct-memorabilia. So I do. Natch.
After negotiating with the vendor by using my FINGERS because she was pretending to speak zero English, I’m pretty sure I paid upwards of 6,000 US dollars for the chess set. It was either six thousand or six hundred or six. Pick one. Anyway, Domestic Son will have to hide it if he ever has any Eastern European friends over for coffee. It’s that bad. I love it.
The four-hour train ride between the two cities is educational because you get to see the countryside, which was quite enlightening. Unlike my chess set, I’m going to try to be politically correct here. The villages in the Russian countryside are not quaint. The houses look to consist of tar paper and galvanized tin. In four hours, covering about 500 miles, I saw MAYBE eight paved roads. It looks to be a hardscrabble life out there in the country on dirt roads in depressing housing conditions. Hopefully, those conditions are on the rise for the Russian people. But only after they finish paying for the gilding on 782 more window frames at the Summer Palace.