Peterhof, Monplaisir and The Great Cascade

by Rachel on November 6, 2009

Grand Palace, Peterhof

Our last day in St. Petersburg found us in the hotel lobby meeting “Anton,” the least capable of our ever-changing Russian guides. We were off to a hydrofoil that would carry us from St. Petersburg to Peterhof, a 35-minute ride across a portion of the Gulf of Finland. The views were grand but the boat reminded me of those far too frequent news stories about ferries capsizing in some foreign land – “all aboard drowned.” It could easily happen here. The boat looked like it had been built during the first week of the Russian Revolution and was being held together with chewing gum and tin foil. One of the notable advantages of the otherwise miserable US litigation system is the complete absence of tourist vessels of this sort.

At Peterhof we found a number of palaces surrounded by acres and acres of outrageously gorgeous gardens and dazzling fountains. Though we gazed from afar at the Grand Palace (its photo is above) Katya, our guide of the prior day and apparently the big boss, had instructed Anton to skip it and its crowds, lines and poor ventilation (I know not whether we also missed out on more bodily harm-inducing booties). We instead made our way through the trees to the smaller Marly Palace. My younger son (the one with the WC emergency of the day prior), was not so impressed by Tsarist excess and gave not a hoot about yet another set of gilded rooms and interminable chatter about this exquisite credenza and that attractive armoire. My wonderful cousin and I decided to be the ones on the five year-old entertainment committee. She knew of a fountain sure to delight any Tsarist excess-weary five year-old. Known to the locals as “The Tricky Fountain,” it sprayed water at unpredictable moments. In the US or the UK such a fountain would be electronic, but in 2006 Russia it was controlled by a gentleman in competition for the Olympic medal for bad attitude whose daily job it was to control the popping water by pressing a lever with his foot. He would wait, and as soon as a curious child got close enough he’d press the lever and POP, the kid would get soaked. Although there was a nearly constant stream of delighted children jumping in and out of the water, the fountain man made sure to take absolutely no pleasure in their delight. We decided therefore to do double delight duty and enjoyed the children in the fountain for ourselves and for him as well.

We had lunch in one of the palace restaurants. The tour-arranged lunches were all of the same form; some sort of small salad, followed by soup, a small entrée of meat served with a side, and then dessert. All of the lunches in St. Petersburg were at worst quite good, and at best exemplary. The Peterhof restaurant served us a lovely creamy vegetable soup dusted with a generous sprinkle of, SURPRISE, dill. The main dish was a less stellar Beef Stroganoff dusted with, um, dill. It was our fourth day of Beef Stroganoff for lunch and despite the fact that my maiden name and the name of many of my then traveling companions, sounds remarkably like STROGANOFF, it had begun to lose its charm. Would it be too much to ask for some chicken or lamb, or beef in a form other than Stroganoff? The dessert was a plate full of super scrumptious crêpes that thankfully had not been dusted in dill or I would surely have run screaming from the palace. Once lunch was finished we wandered back through the gardens to the mini-van and I said a prayer of thanks to the ferry G-d that I was spared a second ride on the shipwreck bound tub.

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