Fun stuff in Surprising Places – The Toronto Salsa Festival


I’m in Toronto – staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Toronto to play bridge. Not very exciting travel I know – but be patient my readers. I promise that good stuff will happen!

I got to Toronto by train. I do love traveling by train. It’s not always a bargain of course. I prefer traveling ‘business’ class – more comfy seats, cleaner windows, and service. I adore service. Make me happy – do something nice for me! Serve me a meal, offer me coffee, or just smile. I’m relaxed and enjoying my travels.

Any way – Trip to Toronto included a lovely dinner, a glass of wine, desert and a glass of Port, Trip home will include a selection of beverages, a lovely dinner, and some more Port. I’m totally counting on the Port on the way back home to Montreal.

I arrive in Toronto – big city, big city smells, big city sounds, big city hassles. I drag myself and my carry-on up Young street to the Sheraton, navigating pass homeless camping down for the night and young business folks checking out the bars that line this main drag. Lot of lights, lots of action. But I’m focused. Get up the street safely (don’t get hit by a car, a trolley, or a group of revellers) and settle down for the night.

Task accomplished, I check in and check out my room. I guess they felt sorry for me – because the room is a bit of an upgrade. It’s in a corner with a lovely view, and a bit of extra space. More than ample for my needs. The bed is huge – it’s king sized, and since I’m on my own, will mostly stay unmussed.

Tuesday thru Sunday is bridge, bridge, bridge. I’ve written before about the issues with PUPs (Pick Up Partners) and this time is no different. Some great, some not so great. My favourite is the older gent from Sault St. Marie – we manage to place 8th overall – among 80 some teams. This earns us upwards of 2 Gold Master Points, and earns me some very nice praise from his wife! She’s a Life Master, he’s playing catch-up to her – and she’s very impressed by how well we did. Hey – I’m impressed by how well we did.

Fast forward to Saturday night. One reason I like Regionals are the night games. Fewer players, lots of fun, and a great chance to do well. And I don’t have to fuss with thinking about what I’m going to do that night in a strange town. So I’m pleased that there are 2 night games on offer this week – one on Friday, one on Saturday.

Friday’s night game goes as planned – I score some more Master Points – have fun – all is good.

Saturday’s night game is a different story. I have a partner – what I lack are opponents. No one shows up! Well – not enough folks show up. And the game is canceled. Bummer. Now what.

It’s 8:00 PM, it’s Saturday night, and I’m alone in the big city. Hmm.

I check out my options – and spot some kids dressed up in Salsa clothes walking around the hotel. A quick chat – and I find out that the Toronto Salsa Festival is this weekend – here in my hotel. Tonight there is a show, followed by 4 hours of social dancing. The show is due to start at 8:00 – and while there’s a cost of admission, the opportunity to see professionals and semi-professionals dance seems priceless. So I cough up the money – and get my pass.

The lovely ticket sellers explain that the show will start when it starts – there have been workshops all day, and until the room is clear, they won’t let the ‘tourists’ in. So I join a line of other earlier comers and prepare to wait.

I’m terrible at waiting actually – so after being polite for a while – I eventually start chatting with the folks in line with me. In front of me are an ‘older’ couple – not as old as me – but I’m as old as the hills – what do you expect. Their daughter is performing tonight – and they gleefully explain her hobby to me.

She has a full time job – but she joined this dance group – and they are frequently invited to perform at shows around Canada and the US. They are unique in that they are all female dancers (how unique is going to be clear later in the evening), and are in great demand. They will go to your event – do their performance – and then split up and dance with everyone. They give Salsa lessons, and make sure everyone has a great time. I can totally see why this would be a hot idea for a team building activity! And she and her fellow dancers are very cute. Fresh faced, young, and unremittingly cheerful.

The folks behind me are friends of other dancers – and as each group gets organized to enter the hall – they come over to blow air kisses (don’t mess the make-up), and share hugs and good wishes. I get a close-up look at some of the outfits – I can’t wait to see what they will look like on stage.

Eventually they get the stage clear and organized and we’re admitted. The couple in front invite me to sit with them, so we snag seats as close to the front as possible. The first few rows are saved for VIPs – which turn out to be the kids who have finished performing!

There are a lot of chairs – probably over 300 – and it’s hard to imagine that the space will be full, but eventually – it is full. The show starts off slowly with the less professional teams – and suffers from some organizational challenges – the music for the first group doesn’t start on cue. But they quickly straighten that out, and the show begins.

I’m completely utterly amazed. Imagine about 100 young, completely fit, beautiful young people dancing, performing, and generally have a wonderful time. They come on stage in various groupings. Larger groups are generally up to 6 or 7 couples – dancing in pairs of course, but all doing generally the same steps. Smaller groups of 1, 2, 4 or up to 6 dancers also come on stage. The fewer the dancers, generally the higher the quality of the performing. And the later in the evening, the better the performances too.

My favourites are a group of young men (5 of them), who call themselves the ‘Kingsmen’ – and frankly are highly suggestive dancers of seriously good caliber. They come back as a group of 6 – 3 men, 3 women – and trust me – they are memorable. I’m getting very curious about what is keeping on some of the outfits the women are wearing – so it’s not a total surprise when one gal has to keep tugging on the top of her outfit. We almost, but not quite, had a wardrobe malfunction!

Another memorable group feature women wearing string bikinis. To Salsa Dance. Really. The gals twerking in St. Croix have some stiff (hee, hee) competition in Toronto.

I’m totally loving this. The outfits are stunning, the dancing amazing – and then the professionals arrive.

OMG – right – that’s why these guys are the professionals. The beat gets more demanding, and the lifts get higher and the tossing more complex. I’m getting exhausted just watching them perform.

I will never think of Salsa the same way again. This isn’t dancing – this is ice skating pairs without the ice! One couple pushes this boundary the hardest by combining lifts, throws, spins and dance. There is even a death spiral – a spin where the woman’s head is inches from the floor – her weight supported totally by the guy. Strength, Beauty, and Speed.

My new friends invite me to stay for the social dancing, and I’m sorely tempted. There are 4 different rooms – each featuring a different kind of music. But my age and the efforts of a long day of bridge win out over my interest in watching folks dance.

I bid everyone good night – and dance well – and walk out past the rows of high heeled dancing shoes for sale. What an absolutely amazing hobby this must be.

If you ever have a chance to catch a Salsa Festival Show – and there will be one next year in Toronto on Easter Weekend – do it. Worth every penny.

Signing off to head off to my King Sized bed…

The Soup Lady

Exploring the Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey (Part II)


For the past 8 years or so, Maurice Podbrey has made it his mission to help a Youth Football Club in the Khayelitsha Township flourish – and an uphill battle it has been. But to attempt to explain what he’s been doing – and why it is so interesting, I think I have to start with a quick description of South Africa today, at least as far as I could see.

Officially – Apartheid ended 22 years ago – but undoing it has been much harder than I think most of us in North American can begin to appreciate.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderfully well written article on Apartheid (written in 2014). I highly recommend you read it – but I will summarize it below.

If you’d like to see the original piece – here’s the Link. Please read it – it’s quite interesting.

Here is my quick summary – The author makes several important points – He starts with a quote from Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Edgar says: “The social engineering of apartheid came down to a very successful model of spatial engineering,” The author continues: “Tracing his fingers over a map of the city in his office, he explains how both natural landscape features and manmade infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep the different racial communities as isolated as possible.”

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland,”

Driving around Cape Town today – in fact driving anywhere in the area – one can see exactly what Edgar is talking about. It’s easy to spot the shanty towns (no electricity) and the black townships (bit nicer but still shanty houses – have electricity). And if one looks carefully – one sees how the highways, huge zones of scrubland, and other natural features hem in these areas. Folks who live in these areas have a very strong sense of community – but they can’t easily move away. It’s a giant move, or stay put. That’s the only choice.

And it’s a hard one even for us to make in Canada – if you chat up new grand-parents – they are torn between living their lives where they are, or moving closer to the grand kids. Hard choice. Now make that choice harder by not having enough money for a car – and putting the pieces of your life an hour away by bus (if the bus comes), or 2 hours away by foot. Keeping your family close, if unemployed is somehow more appealing.

In any case – life in the townships is tough. There are few jobs – well, I’m being generous – there are no jobs for young adults. No A&Ws, no Dad’s factory, no where to work. If you want to earn some money, you can try to start your own ‘business’ – selling stuff you pickup to passing cars, gathering wood from the near by scrubland, maybe helping people park their cars, but the pickings are slim. And you are miles and miles away from the places where any kind of normal job could be found. To visit the township where Maurice’s football club is located was a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. And there are 1.5 million people living in just that one ‘Township’ If even just 10% are young men from 16-22, that’s 150,000 of them. The numbers are simply staggering.

Back to Maurice. His football club isn’t trying to address all the problems – but it does specifically target some issues in one tiny area of the ‘Khayelitsha Township’. Kids who belong to the Pauline Podbrey Club get a hot meal after school – and are encouraged to do their homework either before or after practice. The teams (and there are at least 8 – organized by type of game, girls or boys, and age) have team colours and team outfits – paid for by Maurice’s fundraising. In fact Maurice’s fund raising has basically paid for everything – from the white board to the plastic chairs, to the kitchen set-up used to cook the hot meals.

When we went to visit – we were introduced to several of the ladies who work in the Club – the bookkeeper, a lady who works with handicapped kids of all ages, and one of the team managers. Some of the kids also came to talk to us – they told us about their ambitions – one wants to play professional soccer, or if he can’t do that – something with Math. The other young man isn’t on any team – he’s new to this township, having just moved here from the Eastern Cape, but he’s good friends with kids in the club, and is thinking about joining. Two young ladies, about 10 years old, were also there. They play Net Ball – a version of Basket Ball that is popular here. They demonstrated their techniques, as well as told us a bit about their lives. If you’d like to make a donation – and trust me – even a dollar would be well spent there – click here for the link to the Pauline Podbrey Foundation.

After we said goodbye to the Club space, we visited the new park that has been built near by the Club. It is a year old, and a lovely space indeed. There is a garden area with plants and flowers (the only growing things besides kids we’ve seen here in the Township), a playground, a soccer pitch, and a net ball court. Quite a remarkable difference from the rest of the township. We also drive by the shopping area – you can buy almost anything you’d want there – although it’s likely to be displayed on the ground, or hanging from the fence that surrounds the space. There are traditional looking, albeit poorly stocked, shops, but most of the shopping is done from individual sellers who spread their wears on the ground around the shopping space.

South Africa is a glorious country – magnificent beaches, towering mountains, wide open spaces. Surely there is enough room and enough resources to go around. There must be a solution – although it is of course not one a casual visitor can easily imagine.

I did dream up one idea – although I am willing to describe it, I can’t see how it could happen. There is a lot of undeveloped land in the District 6 area, hard by several of Cape Town’s now integrated Universities and Colleges. My idea is to build dormitories and Apartment houses on this land. The dormitories would be occupied by students – roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 coloured. The idea being that living together would help them understand their similarities. Then here’s the interesting part. The Apartments would be rented only to graduating students who had lived in the dormitories – roughly on the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 basis. And the rent received from the students would be kept on account for them. After 5 years – they would have to leave the Apartments to leave room for new students, but they would get back the rent they had paid in, perhaps matched by the government. This would give them seed money to get better jobs, a better home, to start a business.

Anyway – on to our travels.

After leaving the Township, we head back along the water to catch a lovely light lunch at one of the small towns on the beach. After lunch, Maurice drives us up to the base of the cable car that goes up Table Mountain. We’d hope to catch the thing – but it wasn’t running – too much wind. But never mind, even from the base the view is amazing.

Tonight Victor and I have decided to do something really really different – we’re going to a show at Gate 69.

The Cape Heritage Hotel where we are now staying is in a busy bustling part of Cape Town – very different from the deserted landscape just past the Water Front. And right across the street is the Gate 69 Club. I saw a brochure for the place – and it is obviously a Drag Queen Supper Club. And I figure – why not?

Getting reservations is actually part of the fun. They are officially sold out for tonight, but I decide to visit the box office for myself. I run into all three of the owners – all busy getting ready for the night – but very willing to find a space to squeeze in two guests from Canada. ‘Cathy’, the main hostess runs out quickly – only partly dressed – to welcome me – and tells me that she’s (he’s) only been here in Cape Town for 2 years – but loves every minute. I’m guessing that foreign visitors haven’t quite figured out how much fun this kind of thing can be – and we are being treated as honoured guests!

There is only room for about 80 guests – all seated at tables in front of a stage. The theatre space is all red velvet and gold curtains, the welcoming bar area is done in purple plush – and they have camped it to the max! Cathy Pacific – our 6’4″ hostess for the evening is decked out on the red carpet – greeting guests as they arrive with big hugs and a smile. She’s lovely – if a bit muscular for my taste! We are escorted in to the bar area, and share a glass of wine before climbing the stairs to the theatre proper.

Dinner is a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but not a fabulous multi-tiered platter – somewhat reminiscent of a British High Tea service. There are two kinds of olives, several different types of toasted breads, a liver spread, a hummus spread, two different kinds of ‘sandwiches’, chicken Satay, a tiny plate of cold vegetables, fresh bread served while we eat – and a wonderful hot soup with decidedly unique citrus notes. It’s yummy – and more than we can eat! We save the cheese plate and the fresh strawberries for later – and admire our ‘waitress’. Like Cathy – she’s enormous – and dressed to fly in a tight fitting airline hostess outfit. These ‘girls’ would never make it onto a plane – with their headdresses we’re talking over 7 feet – easy.

The show starts with the three owners welcoming us to their ‘place’. I had met ‘Cathy’ earlier in the day – and she has consistently refered to my husband and I as our ‘Canadian’ guests – too funny that. And then the show is on the road.

The premise is that the three airline hostesses have recently been demoted – something about using the toggle to eject the door and inflate the slide so they could make it on time to a performance in Cape Town. So they are doomed to ‘domestic’ and begin by mourning their loss of ‘duty-free’ benefits. The show is a brilliant combination of patter – and songs often set to recognizable tunes with words re-written to suit the venue. My three top favourites were a send off of ‘Be Our Guest’ that included the line – we’re not French you know.., a version of Rolling Down the River (Proud Mary) that laid them in the aisles – and of course the absolutely perfect ending song – Mein Herr. Yes – done sitting (sometimes) in chairs.

We laughed, we groaned, and we admired! After the show they served Tequila ice cream as a good-bye treat, and while other’s stayed to continue to soak up the bar, we headed across the street and to bed. Tomorrow will be a Big, Big, Day!

Signing off to get her beauty rest – The Soup Lady

Jane Austin Does Salt Lake City!


Nope – not Debbie Does Dallas – more Jane does Conservative – but lots and lots of fun.

We belong to JASNA – aka the Jane Austin Society – and without getting into particulars – our passion is the English Country Dancing. We didn’t join JASNA to debate the merits of Mr. Darcy over another one of Jane’s heros, analyise her books for hints about finances in Regency Times, nor get all dreamy about falling in love with the perfect man – but we will talk about dance masters, the finer points of dance behavior – and maybe even discuss the advantages of hard sole vs soft sole dancing shoes.

All of which brought us to the Valentine Regency Romance Balls in Salt Lake City. We traditionally spend several weeks sking in and around Park City – often returning back to Montreal on Valentine’s day. So imagine our surprise to be invitied to come to 2 – count’m 2 – Regency Balls in Salt Lake City right during our annual ski holiday.

Obviously – we just have to see what this is all about – so we grabbed a fourth suitcase, pack it full of our full dress Regency Best – and buy tickets.

This is the 5th year these pair of balls have been held – and they are organized by the JASNA folks in Salt Lake, with the participation of The Old Glory Dancers. They are held in the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake – a place you must visit. The ball room was huge! One can imagine the stern faces of the Masons overlooking some kind of Masonic rite in the space, and the hundreds of black and white photos – dating back to at least to 1906 definitely carry through on that theme – but for the purposes of a ball, the Masonic Temple is awesome.

The first ball was Friday night, the second on Saturday. Both balls included Dinner and Dancing- started at 6:30 – and were slated to end at 11:00. Keeping in mind that this is extremely conservative territory – the early ending hour shouldn’t be a surprise – but other things were.

Attendance, by Montreal Standards, was huge – 100 dancers on Friday, over 200 on Saturday. But the dance floor was so large that these numbers posed no problems. The space was grand, high ceilinged, cool, and while not a properly sprung dance floor – the surface was quite acceptable for dancing.

Unlike other balls I’ve attended – the only live music was during dinner – when a string quartet quietly played in a corner. The dance music was produced by iTunes – playing thru proper speakers so that it was sufficiently loud to be clearly heard over the hub-bub of the dancers. Speaking of hub-bub – and comparing this ball to other’s we’ve attended – the dancers were extremely polite, watching the demo’s attentively – and then paying close attention to directions. Maybe a Morman thing? Don’t know – but it certainly made it easier to learn the dances.

One clearly Morman thing – the conservative take on Regency dressing! Nary a heaving bosom in sight – the dresses consistently rode high across the chests of the ladies. Too funny that – I noticed the difference immediately, it took Victor a bit longer to pick up on it.

We were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and greetings we received. After all – you don’t generally get people from a different country (Canada) showing up at your local ball, deep in LDS territory! On Friday night we were given a prize for longest distance traveled, and then there was a ‘clap-off’ for best dressed Gentleman! My husband claimed the Mr. Darcy prize – much to my personal delight. There were also prizes for best dressed couple, and for most Anachcronistic dress. The winner on Friday was a gal wearing a dress featuring black leaves, but most Anachcronistic on Saturday night summed up what folks who revel in Regency dress find most distrubing. This gal was wearing a dress that ended about 3″ from what counts – with her legs on full display! Scandalous! And her hands were exposed, and her hair down. What was her mother thinking when she left home for the ball. I’m sure her coachman were equally alarmed!

On the other hand, the dance masters were truly excellent. Seriously excellent. Maybe some of the best I’ve ever seen. Each dance was performed without explanation by their team, then performed again with a verbal explanation. Then we formed up lines or quadrilles or circles – and they walked us thru the dances several times – each time allowing us to progress – so we got to practice with different partners, and in different starting positions. Finally – we’d do the dance – and the music would run long enough for everyone to move thru the entire line. It was Great.

Dinner – such as it was – was served about 1/2 way thru the evening. It was buffet style – a huge platter of salad, a metal serving tray of rice, a platter of ham like you get off a spiral cut, and grapes. I can easily observe that food quality was not a criteria for caterer selection. In fact, I’m willing to guess that we were looking at home cooking. Oh well – dancing is thirsty work – not so much hungry work! So grab some food and carry on!

Some other unique things about the Utah versions of Regency Balls – There was no alcohol served – but thinking back on other balls, particularly the ones held in Montreal, there was no alcohol served there as well. So maybe more of a JASNA thing. And another unique-ness – the after ball party! In Montreal, we might gather at a local late night restaurant for food and chatter – but in Utah – they danced! Rock and Roll of course – which is a hoot when you are wearing Regency dresses let me tell you.

And the last unique-ness – the age of the guests! Most of the JASNA events I’ve participated in tend to favor an older crowd – people looking for something active, but not too active. In Utah – Regency dancing is a way to meet guys and gals! So the average age was closer to 30 then 50.

Bottom line – we’ve penciled in not only next year’s Utah JASNA Valentine Dances – but also their summer JASNA festival. In fact my husband and our friend – the sword master – are working on a dueling workshop. I’m going to guess that the battle will be hard fought before a winner in announced.

Signing off to find a new pair of dancing shoes (mine died during the reel) – The Soup Lady.

Re-enacting isn’t easy, People!


1 Historic Battle (broken into 2 parts), 4 days in the Bivouac, 300 horses, 100 cannon and 5000-6000 participants are needed to entertain the 200,000 spectators that have paid good money to watch us march, form squares, repel horseman slashing at us with sabres – and scream “Vive l’Empereur” at every opportunity. Oh – and learn a bit of history in the process.

It’s huge fun – and really hard work!

Day 1 – we must find the Bivouac of the Old Guard. I do wish that was as easy done as said – but we are running late, and can not just drive into the space. Already in uniform – Victor tosses me out onto the road with bags full of wine, sausauge, and other Bivouac necessities. His directions – find our tent in the Old guard camp. This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t weighed down with bottles of wine – and if there was only one Old Guard camp. Turns out there are 2 – and of course I first find the wrong one.

Fortunately – Victor is extremely well known – and by extension – so am I. It doesn’t take long for someone to realize I’m completely lost – and direct me (smattering of English, some French – bit of Russian) to the right camp.

Now – I just need to find our tent. I ask – and get sent in the wrong direction. The camp has grown significantly since Victor set up the tent 2 days ago – and it now huge. There are probably over 100 tents in the space – and finding our tent is not trival.

Just not a good start.

The Old Guard Bivouac is on a relatively hilly piece of ground, making finding a level spot to pitch a tent an issue – the good news – Victor was here early enough to score one of the flattest spots! Yeah, Victor.

There are the mandatory row of Port-o-Potties – plus a wonderful surprise – boy’s and girl’s hot showers! There’s even a portable Pissoir – with a sign indicating – only for guys! (It’s a sign with both a woman and a man, but the woman has a red ‘X’ through her!) There is also a ‘canteen’ of sorts – the organizers have promised a meal a day – and this is where we’ll be picking up our cans of peas and carrots, Ravoli, and spaggetti. Grand dining – I think not! I’m really happy that we brought some sausages from Crown and Queue and on my mental list is fruit – should I spot a salesperson.

There is one lonely water faucet – for the entire encampment. To deal with this lack, the organizers have seriously stocked up on .5 litre plastic water bottles. Knowing that 100 men will go thru 10 to 12 liters of water – per drill and per battle – I immediately stock up. I hate the waste of little bottles – but if that’s all that’s on offer – I’ll deal.

The Bivouac is open to the public – which means tourists snapping picture after picture of us trying to eat, trying to relax, trying to build a fire, trying to cook. One unmounted calvary man is sharing our space – and he has his Cuirass and saddle on display. The entire world marvels at it – I’ll bet it’s going to be featured in at least 100 home movies!

Things aren’t all rough however, just a short 1 minute walk away are a frite truck that sells bratwurst – and a waffle wagon. That plus the omni-present beer tent – and it’s camping – re-enactment style!

Our plans for the evening get changed drastially when we find out that Cirque d’Soleil has planned a sound and light show called “Inferno“. The price per ticket is huge – but in our uniforms – we’re free. That’s a great price – so a group of us gather to figure out two major things – how to get TO the show, and how to get HOME!

None of this is trivial – the organizers have a bus service of sorts that goes to the battle field (we’re 5 Km away – keep that in mind), but it stops at 5:00 – and the show starts at 10:00 PM. Humm. My new best friend Sophie suggests we hitch hike- and we all agree – why not!

It’s surprisingly easy to catch a lift – or 4 as it turns out we need. Who wouldn’t stop to pick up a guy (or gal) in uniform. We’re not even armed.

Once there – we settle in for what turns out to be the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows!

The theme is of course the battle of Waterloo – and from the opening notes of ‘The Hanging Tree’ from the Hunger Games series – you know this isn’t going to be pro-war!

In addition to limitless fireworks – all coordinated to music, there’s the opening ‘Duchess of Richmond’s’ Ball – there’s a memorial act to the thousands of horses that died on this field in the form of gigantic horse puppets – lite from within, and there are real Calvary on real horses racing around the field. My favorite – the fire throwers.

Performers in skin tight outfits come out onto the walkway that seperates us from the field, and proceed to pour fire around and around them. Then they shovel up whatever they were pouring – throwing it up and over their heads. It explodes there into a huge fireballs – and pours fire onto their heads. They do that over and over again. It’s awesome!

Further from us, there are performers with fire head-dresses, and of course the huge lion mouth at the center of the stage shoots fireballs from the top – over and around the spectators.

I can’t help but think that in comparison the battle will be a sad sack event!

Fireworks finally over, we leave and walk 1 km to where they are allowing cars to travel. We again resolve to hitch our ways back to the Bivouc, and eventually we are all tucked into our tents.

Tomorrow is our first battle!

Signing off to get some much needed rest – The Soup Lady – aka M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball


200 years ago – with troops massing all thru Europe, and Napoleon fighting for the life of France – the Duchess of Richmond decided to have a ball in Brussels.

According to our informed source – so many people wanted to attend the ball – it was held in a barn!

Fast forward 200 years – and with re-enactors massing all around Brussels – the ‘Duchess’ is holding her ball again – and of course we must attend.

Word has gone out that French uniforms will not be acceptable – and gentlemen and their ladies must dress properly. The Ball will include a lovely sit-down dinner, hosted by the ‘Duchess’ and her consort – and of course ‘Wellington’ and his officers will be in attendance.

We are booked into the ‘Salve’ BnB – with in easy walking distance of the Chateau where the Ball will be held. Our friend – the Saper – is joining us – we shall be attending the ball together.

We dress for the occasion – and I must admit – we look quite fine! My seamtress has done a wonderful job on my gown, and my escorts look dashing in their top hats, canes, and dancing shoes. We look so good that one of our hostess’s neighbors comes over to see what is happening and insists on taking pictures. Our hostess even provides us with a carriage ride for the short distance – and we make our proper entrance to the Ball. The company is fine and beautifully dressed. And the Chateau is magnificant.

Properly dressed waiters in period wigs serve everyone champagne and hors d’oeuvres – and we gossip and chat till Wellington arrives. He invites us to join him on the veranda for a fife and drum concert, performed splendidly by a troop from the loyal Colonies.

They march in, perform to the attention and applause of all, and then we mount the stairs for a splendid dinner.

Our dinner companions are Dance Masters from the Colonies, a wonderful couple from the Prussian Allies, the ‘Saper’, and a Spanish Couple who enterain us all with tales of the problems Spain is having with both Louie Boneparte and their herditary King. To their minds, neither is worth the uniform they wear!

After dinner, it is time for the ball proper to begin. While my dance card is hardly full – I do have the first few dances claimed – and I hope to find partners for them all.

We begin with a traditional Polonaise – which gives us all the opportunity to check out the other dancers, and to admire the gowns of the other ladies. There are some stunning gowns, and to be honest, I suffer a bit from gown envy. Where do they find such lovely materials to work with – I shall definitely have to have a word with my two seamstresses – The Regency version of keeping up with “The Jones’s ”

The dances roughly alternate between Long line dances and Quadrilles. I of course try to dance them all – but it is a challenge to hear the Dance Master over the hubub in the room. Several times – in several languages – he asks for people not interested in dancing to retire to the sitting areas – or to make use of the terrace, but I suspect that watching the dancing is simply too much fun!

Suddenly the dancing is interrupted by a young man in uniform accompanied by two Prussian officers in muddy traveling cloaks. They run into the room – calling for the attention of Wellington! He hands him a message – and Wellington reads the note to himself and then informs us that Napoleon has ‘humbug’d’ him – and is even now approaching the city! Women gasp white the officers in attendance grab their hats and swords and promptly follow Wellington out of the room.

The remaining dancers finish the dance, but clearly the mood is no longer one of gaiety and laughter – war has come too quickly upon us.

We make our way to the cloakroom – and head back to our lodging. Tomorrow we are off to the Bivouac.

Signing off to put on her uniform and prepare for battle – The Soup Lady.

Picking up the last few pieces in St. Petersburg


We’ve done 2 to 3 museums a day since we arrived in St. Petersburg – and still have 3 more to see! First on our list is the Museum of Applied Art and Decorative Design.
Click here to see some great photos!

Described as oft overlooked – and well worth a visit – we pin-point it on the map and head out. The building is actually a school of Applied Art – and classes must be finishing up for the term. There are students everywhere – clearly getting marked on their final projects. The museum itself is interesting, but the lack of English signs has us guessing on the exact use of many of the objects. But perhaps their usefulness wasn’t really the point – it’s the level of expertise in design that would appeal to this particular crowd.

The museum was created by a rich industrialist just before the turn of the century – around 1870 – and has, like most of Russia and St. Petersburg, suffered from hard times. Like all the other museums, art was hidden away – first from the Germans – and later from the Soviets. Only now, with “The Thaw” has the work come out of hiding, and been put on display. We admire the ceramic stoves – essential for surviving a St. Petersburg winter, and can’t believe the quality of fabrics over 100 years old.

After visiting the museum, and wandering freely thru the classrooms – we visit the attached art store – and after selecting paintings ranging from $500 to $10,000 – I opt to buy some rather nifty pieces, priced right at $50 each. The art store owner tosses in some prints as well – and we leave happy with our purchases.

Our next stop is either the Museum of Zoology (they have a full whale skeleton) or the Menshikov Palace. Since I’m alone on being interested in whale bones – we opt for the Palace. Built in 1711 – it was the first stone building in St. Petersburg, and is currently decorated in the style known as Petrine Baroque. This much more understated style is in contrast to that of all the other Palaces, which have been restored to a more giltery style from 50 to 60 years later.

Interesting place – I’m not sorry we went, but it’s definitely not on the must see list.

Tonight is our last kick at the can for Theatre – and we’re seeing Don Quixote – the Ballet – not the movie or the opera! And it is something special. Yes – again there are the fab sets, the amazing costumes, the glorious music. But I do think the leads this time are the very very very best we’ve seen! The male role was made famous by Rudolf Nureyev, and while again – I’m no specialist – I thought the male lead we watched fly around the stage was clearly amazing.

Sitting behind us in the nose-bleed section were a class of young (about 12 years old) ballerinas. Clearly inspired by what they saw – you couldn’t ask for better audience members. They clapped and clapped – enjoying every minute.

Wonderful ending for a wonderful day.

Tomorrow is a travel day – we’re going to quickly do some souvenier shopping, then head out to catch the flight to Belgium.

Saying good night – and goodbye to Russia

The Soup Lady and The Intrepid Traveler.

Communal Living – Soviet Style – Still happening in St. Petersburg


During the Cold War days – finding housing in St. Petersburg was virtually impossible – so many families ended up in communal flats – one appartment shared by 2 or 3 or more families – one shared kitchen, one shared bathroom – but seperate bedrooms.

Why do I bring this up? It turns out that this life style still happens in St. Petersburg. Even though the housing crisis has long since eased up – owning your own flat is simply beyond the possible for many families – particularly if the parents are divoriced, or you are not sure you’ll be staying in the city, or you are a student. Our new friend proudly announced that she had just managed to get her own flat – and her son is 9.

We managed to experience Communal living – St. Petersburg style – personally – not by choice however.

When we arrived at the MIR hostel and discovered it was 5 very long, very hard flights up and had to change, we also knew that the Suricata couldn’t host us for the last night (the 11th) of our stay. They had previous bookings – and we were not willing to share a bunk room with strangers.

So the manager of the Suricata – Sergey – arranged for us to stay in another hostel for the last 2 nights of the stay. He even helped us move our luggage – and to give him full credit – called each night to be sure we were fine. Our new landlady spoke no English – and he was concerned.

He didn’t need to be – sometimes you can manage to communicate even if you actually have no words in common. I learned she had an altar to her dead husband, discovered she was from the Crimera and I found out that she’d only been managing this ‘hostel’ for 3 days.

She worked hard every night scrubing and cleaning, and supervised two ‘workers’ – who were being paid to do the painting and repair work. She was always up before we were – and went to bed much later.

The physical space definitely had it’s issues. The hostel is on 2 floors – each one has a kitchen and a bathroom. But since each floor sleeps 10 people at least – we’re talking 1 bathroom per 10 people. And unlike the Suricata – the shower is in the bathroom – so one person taking a shower – no one is going pee! I’m thinking that it’s a good thing that a) it’s still under construction, so the entire 2nd floor is off limits – and 2 of the 5 ‘bedrooms’ is unoccupied. We had no issues – but it did make me worried.

There was no WIFI, the kitchen was insanely small, the sink in the one bathroom was cracked, the shower on our floor had seen much, much better days, and the beds were so soft you couldn’t even sit on them without sinking down to the floor. The kitchen walls were badly in need of painting, which they were working on – so I feel a bit bad saying anything. The stairs in the hall leading up to the ‘hostel’ were cracked and sagging cement – a tad scary – but I figured they had held up this long – they should make it 2 more days!

Plus – there’s the communal living issue. One room of the flat was Tanya – the host’s – bedroom – another bedroom was occupied by a young girl attending school in St. Petersburg (clearly not a tourist), and the third room was ours. It was fairly obvious that having tourists was a completely unexpected surprise – and while they were very nice about making sure we were comfortable – some standard hostel attributes were missing. No common, no tea or coffee available, and limited cooking supplies. We all shared the one toilet – and tried politely to keep out of each other’s way. Tricky in a tiny kitchen with a table with only 2 chairs. The Intrepid Traveler is fairly sure that the other ‘guests’ didn’t have kitchen privileges – based simply on their never using them!

But we took it on the chin – the company was interesting, the location very good, and there was only 1 flight of stairs. Our kind of place!

After putting our stuff in the new hostel, we still had time for 2 museums – and a really good dinner for under $5 per person!

Our first stop was the Imperial House of Porcelain – where they have a simply amazing collection of Porcelain items – some made by the Imperial House – some coming from France, Germany, or even Great Britian. I particularly liked the ‘People’s of Russia’ series of huge ‘dolls’, carefully sculptured into dramatic poses – and wearing ‘clothes’ painted to resemble the traditional clothes from that region.

Our 2nd stop was the Andrew Nevsky Monestary – and while the church was very nice, we felt that visitng trhe graves of artists and composers like Dostoyevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, etc. was back to that Russian streak of Macabre.

As we were leaving the Monestary – we spotted their ‘tea-room’ – and decided to check out their dinner offerings. I had a wonderful Borscht – I’m definitely getting addicted to this typically Russian beet soup – or maybe it’s just the sour cream. The Intrepid Traveler opted for one of those mystery meat balls with rice – it was yummy as well.

Well fed, and suitably ‘cultured’ – we head for the Mariinsky. Tonight we have tickets to Carmina Burna – and I’m excited. As well I should be – it’s perfect. Double orchestra, double choir, kids choir on the side for balance, 3 soloists – the only thing missing is the ballet component – but even the Mariinsky must have to compromise somewhere.

The concert is completely, totally, absolutely outstanding. Perfect. There is round after round of curtain calls – and we love it. The conductor decides that the audience deserves an encore – and from the stage calls for the orchestra to play and the singers to sing. More perfection!

Moral – if you find yourself going to St. Petersburg – immediately get tickets to the theatre. It’s worth every single penny.

And the 2nd dress circle – aka Balcony – is perfect. First row – as centered as possible. Stay away from the 3rd circle – it’s the highest balcony – and I got scared going to my seat. I couldn’t stand facing outwards to slide into my row – and had to file in facing the back wall of the Theatre. That’s scary!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Avoid the crowds at the Hermitage – you won’t be sorry!


Upscale cafeteria with an open kitchen concept. Good Food - Reasonable prices. What's not to love?

Upscale cafeteria with an open kitchen concept. Good Food – Reasonable prices. What’s not to love?

View from the next to top level balcony - dramatic, awe-inspiring, amazing. I loved it.

View from the next to top level balcony – dramatic, awe-inspiring, amazing. I loved it.

The Hermitage – aka the Winter Palace – is arguably the most famous museum in the world. For us – it was the raison d’etre of our trip to St. Petersburg – and seeing it was a huge priority.

It turns out that this is true of almost every single visitor to St. Petersburg – and apparently all of them decided to visit the Hermitage on the same day we did.

I’m not kidding about the crowd. I couldn’t even estimate the number of people that filled the room with the Peacock Clock – but I will tell you that I got scared. Both the IT and I are fairly short – by any standard – but in Russia we are considerably undersized. So in a crowd – it’s easy to lose sight of each other – and where we are going. I quickly lost sight of IT – and barely could spot MP – who is easily a head taller than us both!

We made it across the room and decided – enough is enough. We are NOT going to continue following the crowd – we’ll visit ‘less visited’ sections – and circle back later in the day – audio guide in tow.

Great idea. We headed down – away from the packed in tour groups – and slowly wandered our ways thru rooms filled with Roman and Greek antiquities. Not covered by the audio-guide – these rooms – clearly much less visited – had prepared explanations in most languages – full of interesting details and tons of facts. So neat. There’s a Diamond Room down here – available only by tour-guide, and only for an additional fee. We’re going to do this another day.

The intriguing thing about the Hermitage – in addition to it’s outstanding collections, are the room decorations themselves. This was a sort of Palace for Catherine the Great – she came here to relax, and wanted the art that surrounded her to fit in to the room it was exhibited in. So there’s distinct Egyptian visual themes to the room with Egyptian antiquities, and she even had rooms copied from the Vatican made into walk ways and Galleries to display her German and Dutch works (Rubens was clearly a huge favorite of someone’s!). Glorious. Just Glorious.

By about 2:00 pm the tour groups have seen it, done it, and left. We have the museum more to our own – although hardly empty, and we can now enjoy the sections we missed. Where before we had to peer over 30 heads to admire 1 of the 2 original Leonardo Da Vinci paintings, now we can contemplate them in piece and quiet.

The cafeteria in the Hermitage is described in the guide book as dire – and I must say it lives down to it’s reputation. Memo to us – bring our own food tomorrow.

Finally even we must admit defeat. There is still literally dozens of more rooms (maybe over 200) to see – but our feet aren’t willing to take it any more.

We drag outselves out – and walk to the Fresh Market. This is another of those cafeteria type restaurants – I’ve never seen their like elsewhere – but they are hugely popular with the Russians judging by the number of Russian guests we see. You grab a tray – go to a station and order your meal. When it’s ready – sometimes within seconds – sometimes after a quick cook-off – you head for the cash. Upscale cafeteria with nice cutlery, real plates, and low prices.

We order freshly made noodles with meat – and sit down outside to enjoy both the fresh air – and the view of Nevsky Prospect – the main shopping avenue of St. Petersburg.

Very nice, very reasonable.

Now we must head back to the Theatre – this time we are in the ‘Old’ Mariinsky Theatre with it’s gilt and ornamentation. Like the new theatre, the sightlines are awesome, and while we’re in the upper decks – the stage is visually extremely close.

The Ballet this time is not nearly as ‘classic’ as Sleeping Beauty – Called the Fountains of Bakhahisarai, it’s an interesting story about a Polish girl who is kidnapped by a Tartar the night of her wedding (Polish dancing, Love scene). He kills her entire family (lots of amazing sword fighting, sabor duels, and slashing with pikes), falls in love with her, and carries her off as a captive to his home.

At home – (nice harum dancing to enjoy) – his top Concubine realizes she has been displaced – and manages to kill the interloper (stunning interplay between 2 incredibly talented primo ballerinas – then a great death scene). For this – she is put to death, and the Tartar mourns his lost loves (war dances to cheer him up fail to do the job).

The staging is completely amazing. Real spouting water fountains, dozens and dozens of dancers filling the stage (at one point – we counted over 100), glorious music – very well played, and of course the dancing.

Oh – the dancing. Not only are the soloist beyond reproach (is it possible to lift your leg that high? do that many spins when you are in the air? Leap that far? Carry that high? Fall forward onto your knees from an on-pointe position?) – but the ensembles are even more fun to watch. Even the lowest member of the ensemble would be considered amazing if they were to perform on our stage. No expense is spared on costuming – and from our vantage point the forming and re-forming of stars, loops, lines, etc. is wonderful to watch.

Much applause – lines at the toilets and the cloakroom, then It’s a taxi home again tonight.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and Friends

It wouldn’t be an Adventure if things didn’t go wrong


Our plans for today – a Monday – are fairly simple.

MP has a list of ‘must see’ items – among them the amber room at Catherine II’s Summer Palace in Pushkin. We get another rather late start, those lazy breakfast and sleeping in mornings are going to be the doom of us – and head out by metro/bus to Pushkin.

The directions, as per the Lonely Planet Guide book are simple. The Palace is only open from 12 to 2 for individual visitors – so arrive around 12.

Oh – how I wish I’d done some internet searching BEFORE venturing out to Pushkin.

Going by metro/bus wasn’t the fastest option – it took about an hour to get from our central location to the bus stop nearest the Palace. Part of that time was wasted trying to find the correct bus stop at the metro station. Fortunately, while people may not speak English – they are great with numbers and pointing – so we eventually end up in front of a MacDonalds – getting on the right bus!

We ride, and ride – the country side of the paintings we’d seen in the Russian Museum unrolling in front of our eyes. Pushkin is a town that grew up around the Tsar’s Palace, and it’s really a bedroom community for St. Petersburg. Lots of flats and square concrete buildings dating probably to the Soviet era. Landscaping is pretty pedestrian – clearly not a priority for the flat owners. Too bad too – with a bit of care these buildings might look quite nice. Today they look badly in need of a paint job and some basic concrete repair work.

Helpful souls on the bus push us off when we arrive at our destination. We walk around a corner – and there it is – in all it’s Russian dome glory! The garden that surrounds the palace looks amazing – but it is completely fenced off from us common types. Clearly you must enter from the palace ticket office.

As we walk towards the Palace, along a small creek that has been carefully scluptured with water falls and lava rocks, we notice the begining of bad news. There is a mob of people outside of the gate. Carefully lining up – no barriers, no controls – just huge long long lines.

As we get closer – we realize that there are 3 ticket booths – each with it’s own long line. We join the shortest (but not fastest unfortuantely) and then IT and MP go out hunting for lunch.

I wait patiently in line for their return.

Lunch consists of Russian Fast Food – mystery meat rolls in a yummy bread crust. I do enjoy these things – but I wish I had some Ketscup. They are really the predecessors of our Tourtiere – only hand sized!

Anyway – once MP and IT return, I decide to investigate further. It turns out that Lonely Planet was completely, utterly wrong. Things have drastically changed at Catherine II’s Summer Palace. Today you are given a time slot based on when you arrive at the ticket booth – and the slots range from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. That’s all good – but we have theatre tonight – what times are they giving out now? Given the disorganized queuing process – 3 booths, 3 lines – worst queuing method ever – it’s not a surprise that there’s no sign saying what the next times to be distributed are. In fact – there’s no information – just endless queues. I’m totally reminded of some of the opening scenes in Robin William’s film – “Moscow on the Hudson”.

Finally I can’t take the lack of information any longer, and I go stand next to the exit line at our booth – and try to peer at someone’s ticket. Noticing my interest, they kindly ask if they can help – and I explain I’m trying to see what time slots are being assigned. 5:00 PM is the answer.

Won’t work. It’s 12:30 now – we are definitely not going to hang around the palace – you can’t even visit the garden until your time slot – and then miss ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

So we pack it in – no Amber room for MP today.

According to Lonely Planet – there is another palace, almost as nice, within a short bus ride of Catherine II’s monster. It’s called Pavlovsk – for Paul I. And it sounds really perfect. We walk back to the bus stop – and after several false starts – get on the right bus to Pavlovsk. After a ride quite a bit longer than we’d hope for – the bus actually takes us right to the ticket booth of the Palace. And there is no line. Perfect.

Oops – not so perfect. The palace is closed for Sanitary Cleaning. What? Not announced, not planned, not on the schedule – just – the palace is closed. A private tour guide is standing at the ticket booth giving grief to the poor defenseless ticket agent – who can only sigh, shake her head, and repeat – it’s closed.

Having few options – we decide to make the best of what is rapidly becoming a disaster – and at least visit the park.

The garden is lovely – no two ways about that. And it is huge. I keep thinking what an amazing place to ride horseback – or to wander in a lovely dress and a parasol. We are passed by a bride and groom in a horse drawn carriage – what a lovely day and place to celebrate your wedding. (sigh)

We enjoy the surroundings, then get back on the bus to head back to St. Petersburg. Seriously hungry by the time the bus meanders back to the metro stop, we opt to eat an early dinner/late lunch of rice with a meat sauce. Then it’s onto the metro and we head back downtown.

Thinking we had plenty of time – we get off at one of the downtown stations – and we plan our walk to include another of MP’s must sees – the Bronze Horseman. This iconic statue was made famous in a poem by Pushkin, and is the northern most anchor of a large public park. We wander past St. Issac’s Cathedral, admire the horseman, take photo’s of the Russian’s enjoying the garden around the horseman, admire the river, and than continue our walk towards the Theatre.

We thought that our Ballet began at 7:30 – and are surprised at how quiet the area around the new ‘Mariinsky’ was. Where are all the guests? The staff admitts us – points us to the cloakroom to deposit our back-packs – and then shows us the elevator (wow – an elevator). We get off on the 4th floor – but when we try to enter the theatre – the very pleasant hostess tells us that we can only stand. Surprised – we walk in – to discover that the ballet started at 7:00

Oops. It’s the middle of Act I – the child has been born, and the fairies are doing their dances. We sit on the steps (we couldn’t stand for even 10 minutes to be honest) – and watch in amazement at the spectacule. This is ballet as it should be. Even from the 4th level – we’re so close to the stage I feel like I could reach out and touch the dancers.

The ‘new’ hall is all blonde wood and muted colors – but unlike the concert hall in Montreal which also features a new design – here the acoustics are wonderful, and the dancing sublime.

Time flys by – we get to take our seats for act II, relax during Act III – but most enjoy Act IV. After the evil fairy is defeated – there is the wedding feast – and all the fairy tale characters – from Puss in Boots to Red Riding Hood and her wolf show up to celebrate the marriage. The dancing in this section is no longer the restrained classical style of the first acts – instead the dancers and the audience are caught up in the fun and delight of the fairy tale characters. Oh – such fun.

I haven’t seen much ballet – in fact I can’t remember the last ballet I saw. But it doesn’t take an expert to realize that this is ballet at a vastly surperior level. The ballet corp is both numerous and well trained – at one point we counted over 100 dancers on the stage. There were kids as well – all sorted by height, all dancing with a level of experience that is shocking for us to see. It is as if they have been dancing forever – and I suppose perhaps they have!

Perfectly sculptured legs, dramaticly high leg lifts, and men who leap and soar seemingly weightless fill the stage. We can’t help but be impressed, thrilled, delighted and pleased.

We leave the theatre promising ourselves not to arrive late the next night – and consider walking home. Nope – we’re wiped – Taxi it is. Problem – where do we live. I know where it is of course – but I have no address – certainly not one to give a taxi cab driver who speaks only a spattering of English.

Decision – take us to the Hermitage – we’ll walk from there.

He does – we do – and it’s bed time!

The host at the hostel is thrilled to see us – they didn’t realize we were going to the theatre – and had expected us back much much earlier. But all is well – and we’re wiped.

Signing off – MP, IT, and you know who… The Soup Lady!

The Magnificent Russian State Art Museum is definitely not to be missed!


Lonely Planet suggests seeing the Russian Museum on the afternoon of Day 4 in St. Petersburg – after you’ve spent the morning at Catherine’s Place in Pushkin.

Are they NUTS?

This huge monster of a drop dead fabulous art museum should never be squeezed into a space on Day 4. It’s right up there with every other top museum I’ve ever seen – glorious art, and amazingly beautiful rooms that in fact once functioned as rooms. And it is huge. The collection is so massive – that there are at least 4 other Palaces used to display bits and pieces, and probably a collection twice the size of what is on view put away in storage.

To say that we found it fascinating would be an understatement. And unlike the Hermitage (aka Winter Palace) – it’s not mobbed. In fact, it’s actually a bit hard to find the entrance. It’s an understated wooden door – quite near the Church of the Spilled Blood. So it was obvious to combine the two on the same day.

We left the hostel after a light breakfast, and walked the short distance to the Church of the Spilled Blood. This church is famous for being built over the exact spot where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, for having over 7000 sq. meters of mosiacs, and for going 1 million ruples (a huge sum at the time) over budget. And it is well worth the visit.

We opted for the audio tour – which not only described the assassination in great detail, it also drew our attention to many of the intricacies of the mosaics that we would have otherwise missed.

Upon existing the church – we were quite literally at the door step of the Russian Museum – our next stop. Inside the museum and directly across from the entrance was a rather lovely cafe where we enjoyed a quick lunch before we braved the intricacies of Russian Art.

Wow – who knew that Russian Art was so amazing. I particularly loved the art from 1900 onwards – as Russia went thru it’s revolutions, wars, and hid behind the iron curtain, its artists were producing amazingly beautiful pieces of art – and who knew? The art from Russia that I saw as a child was what the then Russian government wanted me to see – but it was hardly representative of what was actually happening. Cubism and Surealism had found their way East – and quite the impression they made too.

But there was more – so much more! In addition to wonderful art, there are the rooms of the justifiably impressive Mikhailovsky Palace. We ran short of time – We had originally thought to do an English language boat tour tonight – that’s going to have to wait – but we also have reservations for a Geogian Restaurant – and that’s going to have to happen!
We quick march back to the entrance to the Russian Museum, gather our back-packs – and head out on our way to dinner. We walk past the front of the Palace – ya know, I think that might be the main entrance… – past the Mikhailosky Theatre (we’ll be back) – and to our restaurant of choice – the Aragvi. We’d ventured in the day before to check it out – tiny, cozy, priced ok – and it looked yummy.

We were welcomed graciously – and seated at a lovely table with a view over the canal. Based on my husband’s experience in Russia – I ordered a jug of Geogian Wine – and the very knowledgeable waiter proceeded to explain the menu to us. He recommended two starter dishes – a ‘fried’ chicken in a prune and spice sauce, and a dish described as dough stuffed with cheese.

Not sure about the portion sizes, we opted to have the wine and these 2 starters – and decide on the rest of dinner later.

Great plan! The 2nd dish was a huge huge pizza shaped dough stuffed with delicious cheese. By the time we’d drunk the wine and eaten the 2 starters – we were full! Stuffed even. So we opted to skip the main course and go to dessert. We shared one dessert among the 3 of us – a sampler of Georgian dry pastries that was also excellent.

Rolling out around 10:30 – meals take time in Russia apparently – we walk back home.

Nice dinner, nice day – great company. I’m begining to really like St. Petes.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and her travel buds – MP and IT