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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Feting First Wives at a Seaside Palace

Itar-TassLyudmila Putina
While their husbands hunker down at Konstantin Palace to talk about North Korean nuclear missiles, oil and HIV, the world's premier first wives club will feed on lighter fare.

It won't be shopping sprees and late-night rides on St. Petersburg's famed canals -- security demands the wives spend most of the three-day trip on the palace's 1,000-hectare grounds -- but for Lyudmila Putina, Laura Bush and the other first ladies there will be plenty of concerts, cocktails and chitchat.

They will be treated to an intimate performance of a renowned children's choir at Lindstrems' Cottage. They will meet some of the leading lights of the Russian stage. They will learn a little about traditional Russian handicrafts.

They will be feted, with their husbands, at an introductory banquet Friday night hosted by President Vladimir Putin and his wife at the sumptuous Petrodvorets, another palace.

And, of course, they will have a chance to explore the royal retreat nestled against the Baltic Sea, strolling through its lush gardens, taking in its many beautiful fountains, admiring the statues of gods and heroes.

Perhaps the most substantive item on the agenda will be a group discussion about education.

The discussion will include Lyudmila Verbytskaya, the dean of St. Petersburg State University; Andrei Volkov, an adviser to the Education and Science Ministry; and Sergei Danilov, the deputy director of a leading St. Petersburg school.

"It will be an informal discussion, where the first ladies will talk about how they educated their children, what makes a good teacher, what makes a good education and how to improve it," a Kremlin spokesman said.

The discussion should be of particular interest to Laura Bush. The 59-year-old former schoolteacher has made education a priority while in the White House. Flavia Franzoni, the wife of new Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and also 59, might have some thoughts to share about education policy, too: She has been teaching sociology for three decades at Bologna University.

On Saturday, the first ladies and their husbands will gather at the palace's Dutch Hall at 7:30 p.m. -- after facing another barrage of reporters and television cameras -- for a grand dinner. Russian officials did not disclose what would be on the menu.

The trip is likely to be one of the last official foreign visits for Bernadette Chirac, wife of French President Jacques Chirac. The 73-year-old French first lady surprised many in France when she endorsed a woman socialist to replace her husband next year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's husband, Joachim Sauer, is opting to stay in Berlin. The reclusive chemistry professor also dodged his wife's inauguration and the World Cup, which was hosted by Germany. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is divorced.

Also attending the summit will be Cherie Blair, 52, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair; Laureen Tesky Harper, 43, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; and Margarida Sousa Uva Barroso, 48, the wife of Jose Manuel Barroso, the chairman of the European Commission.