family trip

Top 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth: #5: St. Petersburg Russia

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:

We ran into a guy with a pet bear. I felt like I was in a John Irving book!

#5: St. Petersburg , Russia

Every now and then my parents let us kids decide where to go for the family vacation. My brother, who was interested in Russian history picked St. Petersburg. I had traveled a lot by that point but I was unprepared for such a unique country.

We happened to go for the tricentennial of St. Petersberg. If you know nothing about Peter the Great, he’s definitely an interesting character. He is credited with Westernizing Russia. He made all the Russian officials move from Moscow to what was basically swampland and called it the gateway to Europe. He traveled around Europe getting ideas for his great city and for ideas on how to govern his country. I call St. Peterburg the cliff notes version of Europe because it has the canals of Amsterdam and Italy, French architecture, a world-class art collection, and the cosmopolitan feel of London or Paris. We went to at least three or four museums and castles each day! And if that wasn’t enough, during the summer they have White Nights so it was still bright out at midnight!

The Church of Spilled Blood

We were immediately stunned by the Church of Spilled Blood (It has a thousand different names). It looked like it was made out of candy. No picture I’ve seen has captured the bright, intricate details covering the entire building. We went out of our way to visit this church every day of our 8 day trip. And if you think the outside is spectacular, the inside was just as amazing!

The interior of The Church of Spilled Blood. This is all tile mosaic.

The shear size of the castles and museums were stunning. We spent 12 hours at the Hermitage and didn’t see a quarter of the art. Anyone that’s traveled to Europe will probably say they got tired of the castles after awhile, but the castles here are out of this world and every room was more breath taking. Every thing was covered in gold, or velvet, or murals.

Just another hallway in an amazing castle

It was the first country I visited where most people didn’t know a word of English- although I’m sure that’s changed in the last 10 years. Even the written word was indecipherable because they use a different alphabet (Cyrillic). There were hardly any signs of American pop influence which was refreshing. I’ve never understood why people travel thousands of miles to eat at a Hard Rock Cafe and shop at a Gap.

I will always love St. Petersburg because I had the best meal of my life there. We followed an incredible scent to a hole in the wall restaurant (actually it was in the basement and you had to duck to avoid the rafters). I ordered beef stew and wine from Georgia. I don’t understand what was in that stew but I’ve been pining for it ever since. And that wine – it was the only glass of wine where I actually tasted all the things a wine connoisseur “says” they taste when they drink wine. Hints of plum, sun soaked cherries, and just a touch of raw earth, or whatever. IT was really good.

Don’t miss Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace. It’s a bit out of the way but the water fountains are spectacular. We had to take the subway, and had no idea how to read the signs. An old lady noticed our panic and I guess she asked if she could help in Russian. We pointed to the picture of the palace in our guide book and she took my brother’s hand, and we followed. She stayed with us for two subway transfers and helped us out when we arrived. Then she disappeared into the crowd like a magical babushka. The palace sells a limited amount of tickets and we were out of luck – that is until we bribed a guard and he let us in! To Russia with Love.

Top 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth: Vieques

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited (in no particular order):

2. Vieques, Puerto Rico 

When I was in fourth grade, my former Hippy mom, thought it would be fun to take a family trip to an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. We took a 10 person plane from San Juan to Vieques. There was no door on the plane and the pilot offered to let my dad try flying it for a bit. When my dad politely declined, the pilot offered my eight year old brother the wheel. It’s a miracle we made it to the island alive.

There was only one hotel in Vieques, and they didn’t allow children. Since the owner grew up in Brooklyn and had a serious hankering for rugelach (you can’t make this stuff up) he agreed to let us stay as long as my parents brought him rugelach from a specific Brooklyn bakery. He also had an over-sized glass eye that looked as if it would fall out at any moment.

Here’ the kicker, the hotel didn’t have any electricity. Imagine three kids, 8,10 and 13, without t.v., music or electric light. It was rough for the first few days, but then we got used to entertaining ourselves, and almost got kicked out for singing Salt n’ Pepper’s Shoop too loud. It’s one of my fondest memories with my siblings.

via. Abe’s bio-bay tours. This is what it really looked like!

The most amazing part of Vieques is Mosquito Bay. This is a bioluminescent bay, and there’s only about 5 or 6 of these left on the entire planet. The water is filled with dinoflaggalites (basically the plankton version of fireflies) that glow when you touch them. So when we went swimming at night, every time you moved your hand the water lit up neon turquoise!

We went canoeing at midnight on New Years Eve and watched fireworks in the sky as we sat on the glowing surface of the water – each stroke of the paddle created an underwater firework. It was truly magical. I wish I could find pictures from this trip, but I was 10 and I probably dropped my disposable camera in the water.

The last time I checked the hotel we stayed at turned into a nudist colony. I don’t think they would allow children there, even if you brought a suitcase of rugelach! However the island has developed quite a bit since ’94, so I think you’ll be able to find another hotel that even has electricity.