St. Petersburg - City of Czars

We arrived early in the afternoon from Helsinki and transferred to the boat, the M/S RUSS around three P.M. Saturday and within an hour two of us left the boat, found the subway, the Prolyetarskaya Station, and took off. We first met a woman in the subway station who asked us if we needed help. She was from Moscow visiting friends. Said she was coming to the United States to visit someone in North Dakota! She asked us if North Dakota was one of the better places to visit in the winter. She looked at our expressions and just laughed, sounds like the Russian winters she said! So nice.

We also met two men from Cleveland who were there to setup a Disco Bar for some entrepreneur in St. Petersburg. We asked if the Russians couldn't figure out how to do that and they said "No!" There doesn't seem to be much money around but everyone seems to be able to smoke and drink. Great priorities! Of course with nine months of darkness and cold I guess you do what you have to!

We got off at the main stop downtown and started to walk around. What a surprise, we were right in front of the Winter Palace . We walked back to the boat, about 15 blocks, and it was wonderful. About 70 degrees and people having coffees and drinks at side walk cafes. Entertainment groups dancing, singing, and trained dogs doing tricks for the people passing by. Also met an artist at the Winter Palace, doing pen and ink drawings to help pay for the Technical School he was going to. All in all, a great way to start the first day in Russia!

On Sunday we were invited to go to the Hermitage Theatre to see the ballet preformed by various dancers from the famous Mariinsky (Kirov company). Carol and I got dressed up, me in a dark suit and gold tie and she in a smart black dress. We looked outstanding compared to some of the others, shorts and messy shirts! Getting into the theater is exciting as you walk up several flights of stairs in the Winter Palace and then walk across an enclosed bridge with windows overlooking the canal and the Neva River. The theater is one of the oldest and one of the most beautiful theatrical buildings that survive in St. Petersburg and was erected in 1785 by an Italian architect, Giacomo Quarenghi. Since the theater was to be built in the shortest possible time, the walls of the Old Winter Palace and the apartments of the Czar Peter the First were used. The building is designed like an amphitheater. The walls are decorated with sculptures of Apollo and the nine muses. Two and three operas a week were performed. The Empress Catherine the II lavished large sums of money on importing composers, artists, and dancers for her entertainment. Very few ever saw the theatre, just the members of the royal family and maybe 20 or 30 invited guests. The theater has only 250 seats and in the 1980s a full reconstruction was undertaken. In 1989, the Hermitage Theatre had its second birth as the premier theater in St. Petersburg. The next day we just ran around the city on our own enjoying the weather and sights.



Tuesday was another great day, drove to the Puskin Village and then to Petrodvorets, the summer palace of Peter the Great, famous for its collection of life size gilded statues standing on terraces facing the Gulf of Finland with enormous fountains everywhere! The apartments are sumptuous and were created by Empress Elizabeth using Rustler to accomplish a blend of medieval Russian architecture and Baroque. The throne room, much like the one in Catherine the Greats palace, is huge and the walls are covered with gold leaf and mirrors. I tried to count the candle holders on the walls but stopped at around 400. Lots of servants busy making and lighting candles if nothing else. The ceiling has an enormous painting on it and all in all, the palace is a delight to view. The rooms have been or are being renovated back to the original format. Special artisans are creating silk wall coverings, pargued floors, frescos and many other arts that would be lost without this interest in preserving their history.


Catherine the Greats Palace

We also stopped at Catherine the Greats Palace that originally was begun by Empress Elizabeth. Catherine extended the palace but took off the gilding on the huge statues that look like they are holding up the building because it looked like too much even for her! Building is white and blue with gilded roofs and is situated in hundreds of acres of park, canals, lakes, beautiful trees, and walk ways that you could spend days walking around and enjoying the scenery.


State Hermitage Museum

Finally the one main reason to come to St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum. An enormous building on the banks of the Neva River that stretches for blocks. In reading about the construction, I realized how little life meant to most of the aristocrats. The building is enormous and was built within about four years. In the course of that time approximately 40,000 people died, most from working outside in the winter at freezing temperatures and mixing plaster and doing other work and then having to come into the rooms that had fire places roaring with fires to heat the rooms to 90 degrees or more in order to dry the plaster for fresco painting. There are rooms covered with gilding, rooms covered with Malachite, ivory, frescos, Italian crystal chandeliers, and so on. Painting everywhere. One enormous room had nothing but Rembrandts, dozens of them it seemed! This museum is like Louver, too much to see and to little time. The lighting is extremely bad and there doesn't seen to be any temperature control. The building is in bad shape but they are starting to do some repair work outside and am told they have asked the Louver and Metropolitan Art Museum to send some personnel that can help them in restructuring the Hermitage. There is more information available concerning the State Hermitage Museum.

Worn out! Time to take the boat and begin our trip to Moscow covering rivers, lakes, canals, and locks!



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