Thursday, August 22, 1991
We woke up and had breakfast. We had fried eggs, bread, and Pepsi. Nicolas gave me Soviet passport covers, cigarettes, and other pins. After breakfast, we all took the bus to St. Peter and Paul Fortress. The church had an incredible altar. What pisses me off is that everything is under restoration so you can’t see much. Ana traded the white jacket she had for a watch so that was good. We then took a boat to the River Neva from the fortress. It cost 50K and it went around for 15 minutes, then it dropped us off at the Winter Palace which was convenient. We then walked (again) through the Winter Palace Plaza and saw Leo get on a horse and ride around on it. She looked hilarious and that too is captured on video tape.
After that, we walked to St. Isaacs Church & Plaza and passed by the Aeroflot office. The church is awesome because it was wasn’t being restored so you could see every detail. It is probably one of the best churches in the world. We also climbed up to the bell tower. Leo’s mom almost died, but she survived the climb. The view was incredible. No pictures or video was allowed, but we snuck a few shots in. After church, we went back to the Pan Am office to check the flight again and the agent assured us it was empty and we would have no problem.
After that we went back to the Astoria Hotel to watch some CNN, go to the bathroom, and buy some chocolate and Sprite. Everyone was hungry, so we went to the Literary Café. The Spaniards at the hotel highly recommended it. Well, it costs five rubles just to get in and a typical Russian meal was only 150 Rubles per person (that’s about $5 USD). We wanted to leave, but we were hungry. We had bread-like things that were cold, caviar, tomatoes, soup, beef, and ice cream. Everyone hated it because it costs a lot. We were getting used not paying for meals, so this was a big shock to us. The only good thing about the place was that there were two women played the violin and piano throughout lunch and the atmosphere was typical Russian, ornate, and elegant.
After that, we had to go to the LED hotel to change money again. Ana and I changed $8 USD each so we would have enough money for taxi and other things. Then, Anne, Vivian, Ralph, and I took a cab to Art Unlimited. It’s an art store that wasn’t that good. Ralph bought a nice water color for $1.50 USD. As soon as we left the place, hustlers hounded us with watches, shirts, sweats, etc. I traded two Pan Am headsets for an awesome Soviet watch. I also swapped my Coppertone T-shirt for the LED Hard Rock Café shirt. Even though the shirt is fake because there is no Hard Rock in LED, I still wanted it. I think it was the best trade so I am happy.
After that, we walked to the Palace Plaza and there was a concert that was about to begin. We decided to go back to the hotel. We took a cab there, stayed, and tried to rig a late dinner at the hotel, but it didn’t work. We had some bread, but to our surprise Leo’s Mom saved us some Pepsi, more bread, and some butter. We pigged out and then Anne, Leo, and I took a bus back to the concert. We took the wrong bus so we had to hail a cab, which took about 30 minutes. Finally, we got there and it was awesome.
There were people everywhere: on top of the statue, on top of cars and vans, and every inch of the plaza seemed to be occupied. The rock concert was held to celebrate the failed military coup. Everyone was enjoying it. The music was good and we stayed for about one hour. After that, we walked back to the Astroia hotel so Leo could meet this guy. I get diarrhea so we left the hotel. I had the biggest pain in my stomach from all the non-complete meals.
On the way back to the hotel, we saw this guy grabbing this girl around her neck and the girl was screaming. We didn’t know if they knew each other or not, but it looked violent. Come to think of it, it was the first time I saw anyone angry and violent. The people are great, friendly, shy, happy to talk to you and quite funny. On that note, I forgot to write about some of the people stories from that day. We had stopped at the black market earlier in the day. People were hounding us to buy everything. No one would trade anything for the Pan Am items. They all laughed at Anne and I. It was funny as shit. Leo told some guy, Gregory, that she was going to give him sneakers and to wait for her tomorrow at 1700. He was hitting on her and she wanted to get rid of him so this poor guy thinks she’s going to give him some sneakers.
After the concert, we went back to the hotel and we heard the neighbors arguing again. The bitch took another tour without the cargo guy. We packed, showered, and went to bed. Oh, by the way today was Ralph’s birthday (28 years old). In the morning, we went to his room with a Twix bar stabbed with a candle and sang him Happy Birthday. It was the best we could do.
UPDATE ON SITUATION: Everything is stable now. They arrested the military heads who tried the coup, Gorbi is fine, people are happy, we are safe, and our parents will live!!!! By the way, I would definitely pay to come back. It was great and the experience was once-in-a-lifetime.