When you travel with Insight Vacations (Insight) on one of its “easy pace” journeys, you can choose your own speed. With so many optional excursions available, you can fill up your personal itinerary to the brim, or simply decide to sit on the sidelines. It’s up to you.
As a photojournalist invited along to document Insight’s Easy Pace Russia journey, I’m offered complimentary tickets to all ten of its optional experiences, and I gladly accept. Like, tonight’s performance of the ballet Swan Lake 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 fairytale. 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 casts 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.
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. And, a bit of caviar wouldn’t hurt.
Go here for complete information on Insight’s six itineraries to Russia, as well as more than 100 other premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
A high-speed Sapsan train whisks me off to Moscow tomorrow, but before I bid St. Petersburg adieu I’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.