From Russia with Love…and Vodka

Hermitage and Winter Palace Images of mystery and intrigue.  And Martinis with Russian Vodka. 

We’ve all seen the spy movies and the Russia stereotype; gray, gloomy rain-slicked streets, shadows illuminated by flickering gas lamp posts.

But it’s not dark and dreary. Two days in St. Petersburg, on a recent Baltic cruise, quickly dismissed the Hollywood image. It’s a beautiful city, filled with over 500 former mansions and nicknamed, “the Venice of the North.”

One of the many building at the Peterhof.
One of many palace buildings on the grounds of the Peterhof, the imperial summer palace of the tsars.

Our private tour took us along the bumpy cobblestone streets of St. Petersburg and across several wrought iron bridges over the Neva and Moika Rivers. I found it impossible not to get caught up in the intrigue of Russian history.

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin, known as Rasputin the Mad Russian and a favorite of Tzarina Alexandra, was said to have been the target of several assassination attempts throughout St. Petersburg. Because of his outspoken beliefs, claims of mystical healing and influence over the Royal Family, he quickly fell out of favor with the military. Rasputin was known to have accepted money for political favors, turned around and gave it to the needy and poor.

On a cold December night in 1916, he was murdered along the riverbank in front of Moika Palace. The identity of his assailants has never been confirmed.

On a bridge over the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia
On a bridge over the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia

Our private tour guide, Misha, took great pride in showing us the bridge where Rasputin finally succumbed to his attackers. The myths and legends surrounding Rasputin still live on with the people of Russia. There are constant reminders of the Revolution, Rasputin and their beloved vodka nearly everywhere you visit . Shops greet tourists with colorful trays holding shot glasses of various Russian vodkas. And speaking of vodka…

What’s a visit to Russia without bringing home a bottle of real Russian vodka? Carefully placed in excess bubble-wrap, I lovingly carried home a true local Russian vodka which I had purchased in a small tchotscke shop. I don’t think I will open it any time soon…or at least not until I re-visit St. Petersburg and purchase a replacement.

Believe it or not, according to my tour guide, no one says “Na zdorovje” as a Russian drinking cheer. Literally it means “You are welcome”, but it is only said as a reply to “Spasibo”- Thank you.

In tribute to Rasputin, here is a drink in his honor:

Grigori Rasputin, 1915
Grigori Rasputin, 1915

Mad Russian – will make one very nice, very generous-sized martini.
1 oz. Vodka (preferably Russian vodka!)
1 oz. Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
1/2 oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/2 oz. Butterscotch Schnapps
5-6 oz. Milk

Blending Instructions:
Fill glass with ice, add 1 shot each of vodka and Kahlua and the 1/2 shot each of Baileys and butterscotch.
Add milk.
Shake or stir

And don’t say “Na zdorovje!” Say, “Za zdorovje” (literally “For health!”)

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