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Friday, March 16, 2012

My Room in the Grand Hotel Europe

As many of you know, my "holiday" this year was a week in St. Petersburg, Russia (March 2-8).  I know it seems kind of weird to go to Russia in winter, but I just liked the idea (Russia = winter), thought it would be great to go when there weren't a ton of tourists, and figured the weather would be about the same as that in Helsinki anyway (true--St. Petersburg is 1-2 Celsius colder unless you get unlucky and the Siberian winds come in).

Since I thought I'd be alone in St. Petersburg, I figured I'd be decadent.  Better that than having to fight my way around in a country and with a language I don't know.  As it is, one of my friends from California, Jaime, decided to join me, but since that was after I'd booked the trip and gotten the idea of decadence fixed in my mind, I kept to the original plan.

And what a plan it was!

The hotel I'd booked, the Grand Hotel Europe, is a St. Petersburg landmark and has frequently been ranked the best hotel in Russia.  I knew it was pretty amazing just by looking at the website, but I really didn't get a sense of how this luxe would affect me until we checked in.

When we arrived that Saturday I was informed that I'd been upgraded to a suite on the historic floor (Jaime and I had both booked rooms on the historic floor--that is, a floor where they'd retained the historic look of the hotel when they renovated it) because I was here to celebrate my birthday.  I kind of blinked at that, not because it was a month before my birthday, but because I'd mentioned that this was my birthday present to myself in one of the many emails I'd sent organizing the trip.  Then after a brief tour of the hotel by our private butlers (no, I'm not kidding), they led us to our adjoining rooms (more on that later), and I walked into this.

Wow.  Room itself was about 600 square feet not including the entryway, bathroom (quite large, especially by European standards, too), and sun porch.  Yes, I said sun porch.  At the end of this photo, where the plant is, you can see the entrance to it.  It stretched the length of the room; I've got a photo of it a little later.

You can see that it was all done up in 19th-century gilt-and-glitz.  Definitely not my personal style, but definitely part of the experience I'd hoped for with the historic floor.  That being said, I was astonished how comfortable all that old-fashioned looking, gilt furniture was.  Really.

This picture below gives a much better sense of the size of the room, especially when you consider that it's a king-sized bed.  What makes it even more amazing is that I was already in the room when I took this; in other words, the room's actually been somewhat shortened.

Aside from the size, I just loved being back to feather pillows and a feather duvet.  In fact, my only complaint about the room involved them.  The room was so warm that I couldn't really burrow into them without sweating, and the only way to make the room colder was to turn on the AC since the windows were bolted shut for the winter!  That being said, I suffered through, especially when I came back the first evening to find the bed turned down, slippers next to the bed, and all the containers and forms for laundry and shoe cleaning laid out artfully on the bed.  Heck, there was even a menu from which I could choose different styles of pillows if these didn't suit me.  (You've got to be kidding!)

On either side of the bed were these huge, cedar-lined wardrobes.  As you might imagine, my pathetic little wardrobe barely made a dent, especially since the Burgundy duvet was hanging from its own coat rack in the entryway.

Even though I'm not really a chandelier person, this one I liked, I guess because it's more contained than they often are.  Here you can see my entertainment system and the sitting "room."  By American standards, the TV was good, not great--only c. 37".  :-)  One thing I never got to try out was the elaborate DVD library the hotel kept.  I had my own BluRay player in my room, and if I wanted  I could check movies out from the hotel.  I suppose it would've been great if the weather had been bad, but it never got that rough while we were there.

Oh, two other things to notice: the water and the red box.  It turns out that you really shouldn't drink the water in St. Petersburg because it has Guardia in it--a nasty bacteria.  I mean, it's okay to brush your teeth with, etc., but you're taking a chance if you ingest large quantities.  With that in mind, the hotel provided us with ca. 2 liters a day for free, but I'd definitely recommend having a water budget if you're someone who drinks a lot!

The red box was my in-room espresso machine.  Yes, seriously.  In fact, the first morning I decided to make espresso (Jaime's not a big coffee drinker, so I was always craving caffeine long before he was ready for breakfast), I couldn't figure out how to make it work, so I called my butler.  Yes, seriously.

This shot was taken from the doorway leading out to the sun room.  It gives you a better sense of the room's length since it shows the desk area (where I was standing when I took the earlier pictures) and the entryway.  Right off the entryway is the bathroom; more photos to come!

The sun porch--I was in love!  It was only about 4' wide, but it was wide enough for both Jaime and I to move the big chairs from the living area out there and spend the evening talking, drinking champagne (yes, they gave us that in the evening, too, sometimes), and wondering how the other 95% lives. :-)  Although the windows didn't open, if you pulled back the curtains you could look out on Nevsky Prospekt and the road connecting Nevsky with the Russian Museum & Arts Square (the Grand Hotel takes the entire block).  The deep, granite window ledges were perfect for putting stuff on, and since all the wainscoting you see provides a cover for radiators, it was quite toasty out there.  I called it my coffee room.

Back to the bathroom.  Those of you who know me know that I don't generally rave about bathrooms or care how big they are as long as I can do my thing in a comfortable, sanitary environment.  I truly don't get the fetish for large bathrooms--the temptation to make all sorts of raunchy, psychological comments is almost overwhelming--and even this bathroom seemed a bit ridiculous at points.  But there is one thing you must notice here, something that had me jumping up and down within 2 minutes of entering the room: the tub.  And this is no ordinary tub either.  This is a European tub--a big, soaking tub where, when it's full, even someone like me floats and I can fully submerge myself without bending my knees or contorting my neck.  The fact that it was attached to a rain shower and a hand shower were just bonuses.  Yes, a real European tub when I've been bath-deprived since August.  In 5 nights, I took 4 long baths!

You know it's a class act when the tub comes with its own rubber ducky! :-)

Unfortunately this photo really doesn't do the rest of the bathroom justice, in part because it only covers another small section of the bathroom.  The main reason I took this photo, though, unfortunately is hard to see here.  Now I expect some level of hotel toiletries in a better hotel, but I was truly overwhelmed and more than a bit amused by the number of different toiletries the hotel provided, each it is own ecru container with dark blue lettering.  Yes, I had (each in a separate container, remember) a shower cap, bath salts (a decent amount, too), shampoo, creme rinse, conditioner, bath gel, mouth wash, a comb, a nail file, a dental kit, a shaving kit, a "toilet amenities" kit (don't know what that is), and various forms of cotton balls.  I suppose I should be upset that there wasn't a sewing kit, but if I needed sewing, my butler could arrange that. :-)  Oh yeah, I had huge robes with slippers, too.

In case I didn't have enough tables in the room. there was also a desk where I could plan the next day's adventures, and since we wouldn't want me to be stressed from the planning, there was a lovely bouquet of fresh roses on it. :-)  In all seriousness, this has to be the only hotel I've ever been in that had enough plugs next to the desk (4).  Oh, and they also supplied adaptors for all their plugs.

Finally--and, yes, this really is my final gloat--I had waiting for me on the coffee table this large bouquet of flowers (the photo really doesn't do it justice) and a plate with 4 chocolates from their in-house chocolate factory.  Both Jaime and I thought that was a lovely way to welcome us--he had the chocolates, not the flowers--but it turns out that everyday they'd place a tray of 4 chocolates in our room.  Jaime was much more disciplined than I about eating them right away: for me, they were an evening snack; for Jaime, a pre-breakfast treat!

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