Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sashimi and tempura for lunch. And about a spur-of-the-moment trip to Russia, flying into Moscow and taking the train to St. Petersburg.

Over a sashimi and tempura lunch the other day, living a #Travelife, someone and I talked about traveling to Istanbul for a weekend, as well as an upcoming trip to Russia that involves flying into Moscow and then taking the high-speed train to St. Petersburg.

The idea to visit Russia and to include the Baltic states as well in one go came out of left field, but it was perfect timing so you might call it Fate. I'd quickly looked at my iPhone calendar and realised I was free for the two weeks in mind.


I'd actually set aside these two weeks for a possible trip to Africa, but suddenly Russia beckoned invitingly.

"Life's short," I said. "Let's go. Why not."

Have passport, will travel, after all.


And Russia holds a very special place in my heart as I've studied as much as I can about its history with great intensity.

In fact, on a two-week break in Tokyo last March, my bedside reading material was an excellent biography of the enigmatic Catherine the Great, one of the greatest rulers of Russia.

I've read much about Catherine the Great, of course, as well as of Potemkin, the young, brash and ambitious soldier she raised to greatness. There is a very good biography of Potemkin by the English historian Simon Sebag de Montefiore which I highly recommend.


Last March, reading about life in Imperial Russia and about the most amazing rise of Catherine the Great in a biography by Robert Massie made me yearn for Russia again.

Catherine the Great was the only daughter of a German prince of a minor duchy and a rather bland but ambitious woman slightly above him in the social hierarchy although half his age, and she'd had the most ordinary of royal upbringings in a quiet fortress town.

Against all these odds that destined obscurity, her mother had managed to somehow broker a marriage to the heir to the Russian throne, who was also German. So from commonplace minor royalty she embarked on her rather difficult destiny as tortured daughter-in-law of a fickle empress, to neglected wife of a weak and mentally unstable czar, before finally becoming a powerful empress in her own right. If anything, this story taught me a lot about personal discipline and self-control.

I even brought the biography of Catherine the Great by Robert Massie
on the bullet train to Osaka

Rereading the tumultuous life of Catherine the Great was so fascinating I could almost not bear to put the book down. Or leave Tokyo without finishing it. So I finished this 600+ page book in two weeks -- yes, even while hosting about a hundred friends in Tokyo for Easter break and living a #Travelife.


And that certainly put me in the mood to return to Russia.

On my last visit, we'd sailed straight into St. Petersburg for the Russian White Nights and anchored right off the Hermitage so I could see the Winter Palace and the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul while having coffee on the terrace of the boat.

One night, we even took a private tour of the Winter Palace after it had officially closed for the day and the crowds had gone home. There I was in a long gown with a flute of champagne in hand, strolling through the Hermitage and our group enjoying it all to ourselves. Then afterwards we sat down to listen to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic perform some Russian musical masterpieces in one of the rooms of the Hermitage itself, amidst some of the most precious art paintings in the world.


This time around, I'm still thinking of what to do on this rather extravagant mini-break to Russia -- I am flying way more than halfway around the world, after all, for a mini-break -- living a #Travelife.

There's a hotel I really want to stay in and a fancy restaurant I so want to try in Moscow. Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, I want to return to Tsarksoe Seloe and to Gatchina. I'm quite excited, actually.

But this is still so many months and at least a dozen trips away in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

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