If you’re going to go to the ballet for the very first time, you might as well go to Saint Petersburg’s historic Mariinsky Theater. And if it’s almost Christmas, you might as well go see The Nutcracker, which premiered in this very theater on December 18, 1892 with music by native son Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And if it’s The Nutcracker, you might as well go to the Sunday afternoon matinee so you can imagine an alternate universe run by nattily dressed and vaguely melancholy children.
Afterwards, you can walk the tranquil snowy streets, stopping for the best borscht in the city at a little family-run bakery where the grandma fake-scolds you for tracking melting snow onto her freshly mopped floor and then ruffles your hair and gives you some golden christmas tree ornaments in the shape of hearts, and the daughter laughs in the nicest possible way when you try to say “Everything was delicious!” in Russian. Not to be outdone, the guy at the other bakery on the block gives you some free bread just because you stop for a minute to look in the window. And then you can continue on your way, popping into the Pushkin Library which is filled with books about crafts and animals and artists who illustrated books of Pushkin’s stories, scoping out the Saint Petersburg Miniature Museum on the sixth floor of the very weird half-empty mall, and enjoying the folks enjoying themselves in big public squares and parks around the Hermitage before eating a piece of chocolate cake and catching an evening screening of Bohemian Rhapsody in the swanky conference room/”cinema lounge” of the fancy Angleterre Hotel. The people surrounding us spend the film’s duration talking loudly, playing games on their phones, and making out. Okay, so the Freddie Mercury story may not be high art but where are those kids from the ballet to teach these boors some manners?