Our next day was a drive to Catherine's Palace (also known as the Summer Palace) in Pushkin -- about a hour outside St. Petersburg. Catherine's Palace was occupied by the Nazi's in WWII as part of the siege of Leningrad. Our guide went to great length to tell us how the Nazi's made a shambles of the inside of Catherine's Palace -- all 1100 rooms. They used the Church as a garage to house their motor vehicles, they destroyed all of the Delft heating ovens in the rooms -- these were floor to ceiling pieces of Delft designed to heat three rooms at a time. The parquet floor from the 1700's was used as fire wood to keep warm -during the famous Russian winters.
As we got off the bus at Catherine's Palace there was a Russian Band playing the Star Spangled Banner, and when we approached the Palace there was a street vendor selling T-Shirts showing the golden arches of McDonald's but called McLenin.
Our guide that day talked at great length about the "Market Economy" and how good it was. She said no one wants to return to Communism except some of the rural people -- who don't want to travel anyway. She is now able to come and go as she chooses.
She said the Market Economy was started by Gorbachev. There are no houses in St. Petersburg -- everyone lives in an apartment.. In the pre Khrushchev days all apartments were communal. Our guide was about 48-50 years old and she grew up in a communal apartment. It usually contained two families -- it had two bedrooms and a single bath and kitchen that both families shared. Khrushchev announced that every family would have their own apartment. The apartments that were put up were similar in appearance to what we might refer to as "Projects" in the inner city in the USA.
She was very open. She said that all boys must go into the Army at age 18. However there were two ways to avoid going into the Army -- by going to the University or by paying the Military a bribe not to draft their son. She said there is still lots of cover up taking place. She has an 18 year old son and he is in the University. She said the boys that go into the Army are not trained properly and used as `fodder' against many of the different Ethnic battles that continue to take place in Russia - despite no declared War.
The families of a dead soldier get no insurance of any kind. There are no girls in the Military in Russia.
She said talking to a Russian Citizen in the countryside was like talking to an Alien - she has nothing in common with them.
The average weekly wage of the Russian worker in $17 a week -- our bus would hold about 40 people - so it was possible to for her to earn about a month's wages through a four hour tour. One of our tour guides was an Executive Secretary during most of the year and worked as a tour guide on her vacation - because she liked it. Our Russian guides gave us a lot of Russian history in addition to just seeing the sights.
I was surprised that so many places like Catherine's Palace were being restored by the Government - despite the `Bolshevik Revolution". Heritage and Royalty are still very important. Catherine's Palace is only partially in repair following WW II and our guide said the reopening of each new room is a major event in St. Petersburg. She said it was the local government who has had to fund this restoral -- but just this year the Putin government has started to provide funding.
She said Putin is gaining popularity and would not be surprised to see someplace named Putingrad someday.
Gasoline prices were about $2 a gallon which the guide thought were very high considering that Russia produced all their own oil.
One of the side trips that we did not take, was an all day trip to Moscow . A lot of people from the cruise did go on this trip. They flew on a charter plane and said the aircraft had threads showing in the tires. They were almost afraid to get on the plane. When they landed the pilot threw on the brakes immediately and they thought the tires would go for sure -- but every seat in the plane that was not occupied , the back of the seat went forward. They were very glad to get back on the ship. They had time to shop in the Gum department store and found that if they didn't have Rubles they couldn't use the bathrooms there.
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