My girlfriend, Victoria, and her twin sister, Julia, were born in St. Petersburg, Russia and immigrated to the United States with their parents in 1978. Victoria has been back to Russia a few times for writing programs and work trips, and her mother, Natasha, returned once to visit their grandmother in the mid-1980s, but her father, Leonard, and Jul had not been back since they left almost 40 years ago. Over dinner one night last year, the idea for a Gomelsky family vacation to their birthplace was kicked around, and before long, plans were in place for the trip…and I was invited!!!
St Petersburg is, without a doubt, a world-class city. Between fantastic meals and countless celebratory vodka shots, we visited almost every major sight the city had to offer, and since we were there during the famous White Nights Festival, we had plenty of daylight to work with. Led by Leonard and Natasha, we visited museums filled with priceless works of art, toured the city’s canals on low-slung boats designed to squeeze under bridges, rode a hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland to visit the amazing Petergof, strolled around the Summer Garden, took in countless cathedrals like the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s, and embarked on a rowdy 1 am cruise to view the nightly opening of the bridges crossing the Neva River (to allow boat traffic through).
The true highlight, however, was visiting the family’s old stomping grounds, including the apartment complex where the girls lived when they were young. Far from the crush of tourists on Nevsky Prospect, we took in what life looked like outside of the city center and heard stories of what it was like in Soviet-era Leningrad.
I am eternally grateful to my beautiful girlfriend and the rest of the Gomelsky family for taking me on such a magnificent tour of a part of the world I never expected to see.