Friday, April 5, 2013

Penner's Spotlight - Terri Wangard - Russia


Pens on a World Map
Penner’s Spotlight

Penner: Terri Wangard of Wisconsin
Location: Russia

Terri with St. Basil's Cathedral in background
Athletes expected to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games have been in the news lately. Sochi, Russia, on the Black Sea coast, will host the games. Anyone planning on attending?
I visited Russia in 2003. The cruise ship docked in St. Petersburg. Enough passengers signed up to visit Moscow that Holland America chartered an Aeroflot plane. We boarded from the rear, climbing a staircase (an actual staircase in the plane!) from the baggage compartment up to the passenger compartment.
The FAA would not have approved that flight. The attendants did not give us a safety spiel and did not make sure everyone had their seat backs up and tray tables locked for landing. Had the lady seated next to me not grabbed her drink, it would have spilled all over her. And maybe me.
The Kremlin
Three tours were offered. I selected the visit to Park of the Arts, and was disappointed. Instead of showcasing Russian art, we saw an open-air museum of sculptures now in disgrace, mostly of Lenin and Stalin. I should have signed up for the KGB tour. It may have been gruesome, but I love Judith Pella’s Daughters of Fortune series. I could have seen the place where Alex suffered.
View behind Peterhof palace
Red Square and the Kremlin were our next stop. Here I was, in the heart of, in the words of President Reagan, the evil empire. Red Square is home to a surprising number of cathedrals. We visited the treasures in the Armory where, for a $6 fee, we could take as many flash photos as we liked. Among the treasures were an illuminated New Testament, Catherine the Great’s ball gown, and Faberge eggs.
Seeing the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral was a treat, sort of. Being restored, it was swathed in tarpaulin.
Everywhere we went, our tour buses were accompanied by several police cars. I don’t know if they sought to keep us from contact with Russian citizens or preventing those citizens from slipping in with us.
Police escorted the tour buses
For the second day in Russia, spent in St. Petersburg, I chose to visit Catherine’s Palace, home of the remade Amber Room that was looted by the Nazis during World War II and never found, and Peterhof, the summer residence of Peter the Great. Both homes are over-the-top extravagant.
Terri at Catherine the Great's Palace
Having grown up during the Cold War, being in Russia was surreal. I’d look at the older people and wonder how their lives have changed, if they missed communism. Two days provided just the tiniest glimpse of a country, but it was enough for me.
Have you visited Russia or a site of the Olympic games? Please join in the conversation below.
Terri Wangard
My first Girl Scout badge was the Writer badge. I wrote my first novel in the early 2000s. A publisher had the manuscript for a year before saying, "No thanks." 
Not until I read Debbie Macomber's Twenty Wishes in 2008 did I decide to write again. In 2012, I was a Genesis finalist. My full-time job is with my family business, publishing Classic Boating magazine since 1984. 
Don't miss out on our other great travel posts from Russia here and here.
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