Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 17, 2012 Vilnius, Lithuania to St. Petersburg, Russia

July 17, 2012             Vilnius, Lithuania to St. Petersburg, Russia

Our friends the Gribens adopted their three kids from Russia.  As each of the kids reached bar/bat mitzvah age, they were given the option to have their ceremony in Israel.  We were fortunate to attend Josh’s bar mitzvah underneath Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem four years ago. 

Allie decided that she wanted to become a bat mitzvah in Russia instead of Jerusalem, returning to the land of her birth.  Since her mom, Jacquie, never had a bat mitzvah ceremony, she decided to join Allie in a b’not mitzvah.   In all, 23 people are making the trip, including ourselves and two other families from our synagogue in San Rafael.  (Which I suppose means that from now on, you’ll never invite us to simcha figuring we’d never make the trip from San Francisco.   Have invite.  Will travel).

I was able to overcome the computer glitch that put us on a 6 am Air Baltic flight from Vilnius to St. Petersburg.

Our new and better 3:30 pm departure let the girls sleep in (10:30-11:00 am).

Last minute snapshot from the room..

Goodbye great Vilna hotel..

Next, we headed to a Mexican restaurant highly recommended by Lisa and Brian Fagan (and since they still live in L.A. and know what good Mexican tastes like…)

We loaded up in a taxi, headed to the Vilnius Airport which makes the Burbank Airport look like LAX, and boarded a 50 passenger turbo-prop for Riga, Latvia.

With a three hour layover, we were hoping to get into town and see a little of Riga.  Alas, with a 30 minute drive each way, we stayed at the airport, sort of enjoyed a pizza dinner (the only restaurant in the airport), and then boarded the flight to St. Petersburg.

Between the 1 hour time change (we are now 11 hours ahead of the West Coast) and flying North, it stays light until close to 11 pm.

Not happy with the hotel arrival..

The inexpensive everything of eastern Europe is over.  St. Petersburg hotels are $200-$300 night minimum.  We are staying, they tell us, in a 4+ star hotel (the plus worries me).

Checking in about 11:30 pm, we go to our rooms which are postage-stamp size cubicles (with bathroom walls made of glass so anyone in your room can see your business….

It was laughable, if it wasn’t so expensive, and real. Marci and I were so cramped in our room that I asked for the PIN for their wifi.  I needed to check the website of the London Olympics to see if the new event “mixed coordinated breathing” had been certified for the Games.  Unable to continue breathing in this fashion, we told the girls not to unpack and appealed to the reception for new rooms.  Turns out we arrived too late in the day, with rooms going on a first-come first-serve basis. 

(And did I mention the view of the dump from the window?)

After inspecting a few more rooms, each time escorted by the security guard, we decided to upgrade from “standard” to “deluxe” at a cost of $50/night.  Alas, no deluxe rooms available.  How about super-deluxe, executive, suite?  Sure enough, they’ve got one of those…  Thanks to pressure from a tired and irritated traveler (me), they cut the supplement down to about $80/night. 

We went to see the suite and discovered…..a hotel room.  Welcome to Russia.  (Any chance we can return to Belarus?)

[photo tomorrow...too late now...]

We moved the girls to the same floor…in a room that I am sure was at least 2 or 3 square feet larger than the last…and went to bed.

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