When you travel with Insight Vacations on one of its “Easy Pace” journeys you can choose your own speed. With so many optional excursions available, you can either fill up your personal itinerary to the brim, or simply decide to sit on the sidelines. It’s really up to you.

As two photojournalists invited along to document Easy Pace Russia, Orna O’Reilly and I are offered complimentary tickets to all ten of Insight’s optional experiences, and we accept. Like, tonight’s performance of the ballet Swan Lake (€67) at the intimate and historical Hermitage Theatre inside St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. After all, you really can’t visit Mother Russia without attending a ballet, just like you can’t ignore the country’s two epicurean delights of caviar and vodka. It’s simply unthinkable. Uh, more vodka please. Spasibo.

It was in this very theatre, designed by architect Giacomo Quarenghi in 1783, that Catherine the Great, the 18th century Empress who ruled over all of Russia for 34 years, took her seat and, as a true patron of the arts, was entertained by the very best artists, playwrights and composers of the day with a steady diet of plays, ballets and concerts.

Tonight, the theatre is packed to the rafters as many a cruise ship has offloaded its passengers who now occupy most of the red velvet-cushioned chairs. I spot an aisle seat, ask the gentleman sitting alongside it if it was already occupied, he shakes his head no, so I sit down.

Not the greatest seat in the house, where photography of any kind during the performance is strictly prohibited, but I do manage to get off a few shots of musicians warming up, then quickly close up shop and settle in as the lights dim and the overture comes to life. 

Swan Lake is a romantic ballet in four acts composed by Russian Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The storyline of this world-renowned ballet is partially based on a German fairy tale. In a nutshell, it’s about a handsome prince, Siegfried, who, of course, falls madly in love with a beautiful princess, Odette. She, however, turns out to be an elegant swan by day, a young woman by night.

Princess Odette, interpreted by a prima ballerina who plays both swan and woman, is under a magic spell that can only be broken by a man who must promise to love her forever. In bounds Prince Siegfried, light on his feet, who pledges his love to the princess for all eternity. But, the plot thickens and the music takes on a dark tone as the prince is tricked by the magician, an evil-doer named Von Rothbart, dressed all in black (of course), who cast the spell.

In the final act, like Romeo and Juliet, Siegfried and Odette perish hand-in-hand as they jump into the lake and drown together. The spell finally broken, the two lovers’ spirits lift and all the swans in the lake turn back into girls. The end.

Easy Pace Russia | ©thepalladiantraveler.com

Craning my neck, I jump to my feet and applaud loudly — BRAVO! BRAVO! — as the curtain comes down on Swan Lake.

Now, I desperately need a shot or two of vodka to calm my nerves.

Easy Pace Russia | ©thepalladiantraveler.com

For complete information on Insight’s three itineraries to Russia, as well as more than 100 other premium and luxury-escorted routes around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

A high-speed Sapsan train whisks us off to Moscow tomorrow, but before we bid St. Petersburg adieu we’ll spend some time exploring elegant Yusupov Palace, the site of the murder of Rasputin, the “mad monk” from the court of Tsar Nicholas II.

©The Palladian Traveler

Borsalino w/ props SMALL | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

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