|Subject: St. Petersburg Travelogue-May 31-June 5, 2002|
Here is a short travelogue of my recent side trip to Russia from Sweden. I would like again to thank everyone for all there help in the spring with the planning. At the bottom I have in included some websites that were useful in my planning. Enjoy!
St. Petersburg, Russia Travelogue (May 31-June 4,2002)
After a lot of searching and pricing I ended up booking a conducted tour for convience and wanting to maximize my sightseeing in St. Petersburg. My driver Sergie met me at St. Peterburg Airport and transferred me to my hotel called St. Petersburg Superior. The hotel is located almost on the Neva near where the battleship Aurora is moored.
I was met by my tour guide Catherine for a early morning sightseeing tour around St. Petersburg. While I am not afraid of driving in a heavy traffic I was glad I had Sergie my fulltime driver to navigate. My best to description of the traffic was utter Chao's and you would need your full attention on the road at all times. The first stop was St. Isaac's square where the main focus was a statue of Nicolas I on horseback along with St. Isaacs Cathedral with its 101.5 metre dome and 350 relief's and Statues. This area is also home to the widest bridge in St. Petersburg of over 90 metres. The next stop that I found most impressive was the The Cathredral of the Resurrection which was completed in 1883. With its central tent shaped tower and brightly decorated exterior it is truly a priceless work of art. I was told by Catherine my tour guide that it was similar to the Moscow Cathedral of the St Basil the Blessed and that I should go see it someday also. Other sites that I saw were The Admiralty, The Mikhailosky Castle, Smolney Cathedral, and the Aurora a WWI battleship.
Starting at noon Catherine and I went to the The Hermitage and the advantages of a tour guide became apparent. With a quick flash of her credentials we went straight into the winter palace without any delay. The Winter Palace of Catherine the Great was finished in 1762(initial part). When touring The Hermitage you basically are having two tours at once. One of the Baroque Palace and secondly of an art collection which is easily equal to the Lourve. One of most impressive parts of the building is the Jordan (main) staircase, which is done, in a Baroque style with Mirrors on one side of the wall and Windows on the other to give the illusion greater space. Just past the staircase the coronation carriage of Peter the Great and possibly Catherine the Great is decorated with its Allegorical paintings of Wisdom, Fidelity, and Minverva. Other rooms I found impressive were the Pavillion Hall (with the famed Peacock Clock), St. George Hall and The Malichite Antechamber. I spent the next 4.5 hours looking at the extensive collection of Peter Paul Rubens (26 works), Rembrandts (Return of the Prodigal Son), Leonardo Da Vinci (Madonna and Child and The Litta Madonna), and El Greco. The were also smaller collections of works by Henri Matisse, Monet, Vangoth, Renoir, Guagin (in particular of his time in the South Pacific).
After quick break in the cafeteria we went to the Jewellery Gallery that can only be seen with a guide by appointment. The most impressive part of the collection was from area of the Black sea where the Scythian jewellery (7-4 century BC) was found. Through my tour guide a Russian researcher explained in detail how the items were made and the history of them. In particular, A famous golden Sycthian comb with Combat scenes on it was a amazing document on what they wore during 4 century BC. One other piece of Jewellery of note was a collection of very detailed earrings that depicted the Greek Goddess Athena Nike made by a skilled Greek Artisan. The detail was so great that a powerful magnified glass was needed to truly appreciate the craftsmanship. In the end I spent well over an hour in discussion about the researcher about the collection which gave me a new appreciation for this type of art. As I returned to my hotel in the evening exhausted I came to understand that I had only seen a fraction of the Hermitage collection.
June 2-The Peterholf (Summer Palace of Peter the Great)
After a quick breakfast my driver and Catherine picked me up for a tour of the Peterholf. The palace is located about 29km outside of St. Petersburg and was inspired by Palace of Versailles. On Peter's the Greats travel through Europe he visited Loius the XIV at Versailles and decided to build a palace and grounds to rival it. On transit, Catherine explained as we passed kilometre after kilometre of 5 story buildings that they were put up in the late 1940's right after the WII to house the people of St. Petersburg.
Finally arriving at the Peterholf, Catherine spent several minutes sorting out our tickets, as there seemed to be some confusion. The first stop of the Peterholf was the palace that the majority of was done Catherine the Great's style. While Peter's style of room was simpler with extensive use of Oak Catherine preferred the much more formal Baroque style. As we toured the rooms in special shoe's (so as not to damage the floor) I was told the much of the building had been rebuilt after WWII, as it had been a high priority target for the Luftwaffe. Sadly only one room of Peter the Great's style the Oak Study is left to see. Other interesting features of note were the Main Staircase and the Audience Room that are both done in Baroque style.
As we began the tour of the Lower Park the first thing I was to see was the Great Casacade and the Samson Fountain. The Great Cascade is a vision of water and statues set in front of the palace going down what is best described as a staircase. From this your eye is led down the main canal with 11 perfectly aligned fountains on each side (as luck would have it they had just turned the fountains on the day before I arrived and in my opinion it really adds to the park) that ends at the Gulf of Finland. As I walked through the park Catherine explained that while the gardens were designed and built by the French the fountains were built by Russian Masters. Other fountains of note were Adam, Eve and the Pyramid Fountain.
While in my opinion the palace does not rival Versailles the grounds certainly do and I found it a surprisingly highlight of my trip.
June 3-Peter/Paul Fortress
First thing in the morning I was off on the final part of my guided tour, which was the Peter/Paul Fortress that was started in 1703. It was designed to hold up to 3000 people and is completely surrounded by water with a canal on side and the Neva River n the other. The fortress was never used in defence but mostly as a political prison starting with Peter the Great's Son until the later half of the 20th century. As we entered the fortress the dominating feature was the Peter/Paul Cathedral with gold leafed angel at the top of its spire. This cathedral has served as the burial place of the Russian Emperor's and their Families since the early 18th century. Recently in 1998, Nicolas II, his wife and the remains of his children were returned from Siberia (where they had been taken and killed in 1918) and reburied in a side chapel. Also the remains of Peter and Catherine the Great are both buried here.
As I toured the rest of the Fortress Catherine explained that it contained 6 bastions, six curtained walls and six gates with the main gate obviously called the Peter Gate decorated with bas-reliefs, allegorical statues and the emblem of Russia. As we exited the fortress Catherine pointed out a unusual statue and told an amusing story. Apparently Peter the Great was known to be a big man but had a small head. It looks like the artist had taken an amusing view of that, as Peter's head was really small in comparison with the rest of him.
State Russian Museum
In the afternoon at Catherine's suggestion I went to visit the Russian Museum housed in the Mikhailovsky Palace built for the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, brother of Emperor Nicholas I. This museum contains the largest collection of works by Russian painters, sculptors, and craftsman from the tenth century until present day. After a bit of an adventure in finding the entrance then securing a ticket I began to tour the museum starting with paintings and mosaics from Ancient Russian Churches. While I found the paintings from the 10th -17th century very good it was not in later in the 18th century when Peter the Great opened up Russian to European influence that Russian Artist's really begin to experiment. Some paintings that I found outstanding were The Last Day in Pompeii by Karl Bruillov (1833), The Zaporozhye Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan by Llya Repin (1878), and The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky (1850). As I left the Museum I was certainly glad I went to this Museum as it gave an unequalled view works done by Russian Artists.
The Mariinsky Theatre (formally know as Mariinsky Opera and Ballet) was built in 1783 and has an absolutely outstanding auditorium that has decorated walls and ceiling in delicate gold leaf. At Catherine's recommendation I went to the Monday night Ballet versus the Opera that was playing the night before. She went on to explain it was actually 3 mini-ballets that were first performed at the beginning of the 20th century. Two majour advantages of this was I was able to see a wider variety of ballets and they are much easier to follow for a novice.
I found the first Ballet called Petroucha was good but the last two the Schelerazade (The Harem of Shalryar) and the Firbird were absolutely outstanding. The combination of dance, custom and music was superbly woven together to recount these legendary tales. As I left I came to understand why the Russian Ballet has had a world-class reputation for over 200 years.
The next morning my driver Sergie transferred me back to the St. Petersburg airport to catch my flight back to Stockholm.
Useful websites for St. Petersburg.
you can actually take a virtual tour of the museum which is quite good
Tom, London, Canada