Tag Archives: St. Petersburg

Sochi Games Underway

The Sochi Olympics are kicking off and should be a fine time and hopefully incident-free aside from the misplacing of 30,000 condoms and such.

I myself missed going to the 2012 London Summer Games because I never got an invitation. Apparently Canada already had their gymnastic team in place.

I’ve been to Russia six times, although never to Sochi. I was always in St. Petersburg, with one side trip to Moscow. I’d been fascinated by the country since the days when Father David Bauer’s Canadian National Team had such trouble against the teams they’d ice from there. And when the 1972 Summit Series took place, I was beside myself.

I was there in 1991 with my first wife and two kids, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, and I was there when the new Russia was rebuilding. I’d see the elderly and often wonder how they and their family and friends could live a life where at any time, a knock on the door could mean ten years in a Siberian work camp for usually the most pathetic of reasons, like being seen eating candy that was favoured by some of Stalin’s enemies.

I married my second wife, Luci, in Russia. And the day after the fairly unusual ceremony, I had to return to Canada and never saw her for a full year until she was able to join me.

I spent a winter there, saw hockey games, drank beer, and once was invited to a school to talk about Canada to young Russian students in an English class.

Russia can be difficult, it’s not North America, and although they now have supermarkets and fancy cars and luxury movie theatres, it’s still very different, and your patience can get a serious workout.

I strongly suggest that maybe sometime, instead of going to Mexico or on a Carribean cruise, go to Russia instead. You’d be amazed.

Here’s a little clip of Russian good samaritans.

Not Quite For Russian Juniors

I was leaning toward Russia in today’s World Junior semi finals action against Sweden, mainly because Luci’s Russian, and of course the idea of a possible Canada-Russia gold medal match-up.

Even though the true Canada-Russia novelty wore off years ago.

Canada still needs to beat Finland later today and Russia needed to overcome a strong Swedish bunch, which they didn’t do. So the original plan is out the window.

It wasn’t to be for the Russian juniors as Sweden held on for a 2-1 win, and it’s not the end of the world for me, considering a couple of Swedes are Habs draft choices, including big Jacob De La Rose, a 6’03” 187 lb left winger, and right winger Sebastian Collberg, who checks in at 5’11”, 175 lbs.

We also saw a little nastiness at the end, a sweet reminder that Sweden and Russia aren’t exactly crazy about each other. Maybe it goes back to the late 1700s when the two were at war and St. Petersburg was forced to build a beautiful fortress to keep the blond-haired foreigners from sailing down the Neva river and pillaging and doing other nasty deeds.

Good day for hockey. Two junior tilts and the Habs clashing with the Senators. Makes it hard to fit in grocery shopping, which is going to happen anyway, as long as the car starts.

So it’ll be Sweden against either Canada or Finland. Now I’m forced to drive Luci to the Russian grocery store in Brossard so she can pick up some fish and kalbasa. I’m sticking with cheeseburgers.

Below, St. Petersburg’s Peter Paul Fortress. I have an original nail from the Fortress, which Luci’s son Denis found near the top of the steeple when he was helping to fix it up.

Peter and Paul Fortress

 

Good Old May 10th

Today is a good day for me, even with a depressing Habs hangover.

Twelve years ago on this day, Luci and I were married in the Palace of Marriage in St. Petersburg, Russia. We had gone through an unbelievable amount of red tape and craziness, but it got done, surprisingly enough. The Russian bureaucracy doesn’t believe in making things go smoothly. I have no idea why.

The whole thing involved going from one place to another for several weeks, getting papers stamped and translation notarized and things getting duplicated and this and that. It drove me crazy. I’m not exactly the patient type to begin with, and I felt like jumping into one of the nearby canals.

If you want to get to know St. Petersburg quickly, just go through the process of getting married. You’ll see all corners of this massive city in no time flat.

When all the papers were finally rounded up and stamped, we took them to the Palace of Marriage a few days before the big day, and the lady on the ground floor examined everything, put another stamp on, and then sent us up four floors to another lady, who told us when we would be married. The lady downstairs couldn’t do this. It took two people.

On the day of the wedding, the lady who was to marry us was late, and when she did show up, she married us while she still had her coat on. We were expecting some sort of ceremony, but all she did was say a couple of things and have us sign something, then she left as quickly as she had come in.

The wedding party stood there looking at each other, wondering what to do next, and eventually our friend Katia lined us up, stood behind the pulpit, and married us properly. It might not have been official, but it was way better than the official version.

Afterwards, we all headed to a great club just off Nevsky Prospekt called Money Honey, in the heart of St. Petersburg, where a rock band was playing and Russians danced all over the place.

A year later, in Powell River, we got married again, at the Moose Lodge, where, once again a rock band was playing and people danced all over the place.

Luci is my second wife and is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s been a great twelve years.

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Habs Restaurant In Russia

In the winter of 2000/2001 I was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and while there Luci and I heard about a restaurant in the inner core off Nevsky Prospekt called the Montreal Canadiens Restaurant, of all things. So one day we went for a long walk and found the thing. We went in, looked around, made reservations, and came back later.

A good time was had by all, the food was good, singers on stage sang Russian songs, dancers danced up a storm, pictures of players like Frank Mahovlich and Guy Lafleur  hung from the walls, and the vodka didn’t burn at all going down. The place was slightly expensive, but when you find a place called Montreal Canadiens Restaurant in the middle of Russia, it has to be done, right?

Not long before we were there, a group of NHL greats, while on tour in Russia, had booked the place and partied there, and the manager was as proud as punch to show us the autographed stick he got from the old pros. He handled it like it might shatter at any minute.

I have to give it them, they tried hard, but I think it’s been long closed. I seem to recall we were the only ones there, and all this cabaret stuff going on which must have really added to the overhead. The servers wore hockey jerseys, as you can see, and really didn’t look all that enthusiastic about having their picture taken with me. Frank looked pleased though.

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restaurant

 

Natasha Says Happy 2013

This is my stepson Denis’ wife Natasha, wishing you a Happy New Year from Russia. She’s a tremendous gal, smart,(she notched straight A’s throughout university), she spends hours helping daughter Anastasia with school work, and she was as easy going as can be when the bunch of us drove to California last spring. She also has a lovely smile. Denis is a lucky guy.

Natasha helps manage a hotel in St. Petersburg, where she works 24 hours on, 24 off, which has to be tough.

Natasha

Below, Natasha with hubby Denis and Anastasia

Russians

Leningrad ’91

The first time I went to Russia, with my two kids and first wife, was in 1991, when St. Petersburg was still called Leningrad, and when historic changes were underway. Statues of Lenin had been toppled, revolution was in the air, the U.S.S.R. and its communist ways were in the process of collapsing, and although we were warned not to go because it was such dangerous times, we went anyway.

Leningrad was exactly as I had pictured it and wanted it to be – dark, old, strange, just like in books and films, and I was so excited. We came in by train from Helsinki late at night and our Russian friends hadn’t received our letter saying we were coming, so we were alone and more than confused when we stepped onto the train station platform. Eventually, a fellow who spoke English asked if we needed help, and things got sorted out thanks to him. Surprised the heck out of our friends too.

Russia has changed over the years, with fancy cars, mega-movie theatres, high fashion, and serious money being thrown around now, but back then it was the real Russia to me, the one I expected and wasn’t disappointed with. It was also the bargain to end all bargains. Almost everything was dirt-cheap. Eight of us went to a restaurant one night, had chicken or beef meals with all the trimmings, plus a couple of pitchers of Cokes along with dessert, and the entire bill came to the equivalent of seven bucks. Now it would be several hundred at least.

Here’s a few photos from our big trip 21 years ago, when Russian citizens still had to line up for hours to buy a few things in shops, when many ordinary Russians had no choice but to share an apartment with several other families, and it goes without saying, when life wasn’t easy for all but the chosen few. It was also a time when it was very unusual for westerners to see the inside of a Russian home, it rarely happened, and I was very proud that we were able to experience that. (It took some serious red tape). I also attended a meeting of the Leningrad Montreal Canadiens Fan Club, where they made me their first non-Russian member.

When we got back home, I wrote a full-page account of our trip, which was published in the Calgary Herald. It was all very heady times, and I have wonderful memories of this huge trip, which also included Stockholm, Helsinki, and Copenhagen along the way..

Wanna See Some KHL?

My Russian stepson Denis Brel went to a KHL game a few days ago in St. Petersburg, and it just happened to be Ilya Kovalchuk’s first game at his new home rink after returning to his homeland due to the lockout. Denis says the rink holds 12,000 people, but 14,000 squeezed in, because to see Kovalchuk was a big thing on this night.

The video is 16 minutes long, and please don’t mind the semi-darkness at the beginning, which lasts about 55 seconds. Denis started filming as the lights weren’t quite turned on, and carries on from there. And once they’re on, we see the cheerleaders lined up and the players introduced, and then it’s on to game action.

I think it’s all very interesting, and the fans seem to be having fun. Home team SKA won 7-2 on this big night, but what surprises me is that Kovalchuk (#17 in blue) has been made captain of SKA, even though his season could last just weeks or a few months. So NHL players aren’t just taking jobs over there, they’re taking captaincies too.

Denis’ website, which he shares with his dad Anatoli, who is one of the leading hockey historians in all of Russia, (and I say that without hesitation), can be seen here. – Brels’sHockey