Tuesday, July 2, 2013

St. Petersburg: White Nights of Summer

We truly have grown accustomed to, ahem, "turning left" when we board an aircraft; however this time was a first in more ways than one. While we have used frequent flier miles in the past with great success, this was the first time we were able to grab United Global First tickets: 

1K (Gus) and 2K (Joan)
Seat Map from SeatGuru for
Flight UA903 SFO to FRA
We had never before enjoyed such luxuriousness and attentive service while in the comfort of our own personal "suites".

Flat-bed seats that recline to full 6-foot, 6-inch beds with
 duvet and pillows, turn down service, expanded on-demand
 in-flight entertainment, and a customized dining experience

Meal service began shortly after takeoff and was surprisingly delicious. Wine service was well done ... glasses regularly replenished. After the meal we were able to take-in one or two movies each before a few hours of sleep. Later, just outside of Frankfurt, breakfast was served. We landed around 10:00 am, nearly 11 hours after departing San Francisco. This may be the first flight that we actually wished would have lasted longer. An exceptional journey from start to finish.
We spent an extended layover of 5½ hours in Frankfurt, mostly in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. Our short flight onto St. Petersburg was unremarkable. Our flight touched down at Pulkovo Airport a bit after 6:00 pm. Unlike Edward Snowden, we easily cleared customs, negotiated our way through the airport, and soon found ourselves in Russia.

We had arranged for a car service to pick us up and deliver us to the Grand Hotel Europe. Our driver, Dmitry, besides driving gave us a quick language lesson.
  • pree-VET ~ which amounts to an informal hello or "hi"
  • kak dela ~ "how are you?"  or "how is everything?" a widespread conversation opener
  • spa-SEE-ba ~ a simple "thank you"
  • duh svee-DAH-nyah ~ "goodbye" or "till (the next) meeting"
  • da ~ yes
  • nyet ~ no
  • zah-VAHS ~ when toasting shots of vodka, "Here's to you!" rather than na zdorovie or nas-toe-rovia which means "you're welcome" or "enjoy it"
Besides picking up a few key Russian phrases we noticed how spectacularly clean the city was; it seems that the municipality of St. Petersburg as well as the Russian Federation was preparing for The G20 Leaders' Summit,

to be held in St. Petersburg on September 5-6, two months away. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at our hotel.
Impressive signage, yet notice the reflection of the
 photographer and possibly an erroneous thought that
 it is the middle the afternoon ...

Check-in at reception was friendly, helpful, and all conducted in English with the exception of a simple "spa-SEE-ba" as we left for our room.

The Grand Hotel Europe, just barely off the Nevsky Prospekt, was one of the great hotels of the 19th-century Europe, it opened its doors to the public in 1875 and is St. Petersburg's oldest hotel. Its guests have included Maxim Gorky, Lenin, Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky,  Isadora Duncan, H.G. Wells, Prince Charles, Pavarotti, Elton John, Jack Nicholson, Vladimir Putin, Pierre Cardin, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, George W. Bush, among others. While it fell into disfavor in the early part of the 20th-century today it, once again, has become a elegant part of a reawakened city.

We unpacked and settled into our room. Champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries awaited...

...maybe tomorrow.

Instead we called our traveling companions Izak and Sarah and invited them to meet us in the hotel's mezzanine atrium. Izak and Sarah had arrived earlier in the day by train from Tallinn, Estonia; they had been traveling for twelve days already...

Mezzanine Café, once again it appears to be mid-afternoon
The café was perfect for meeting our friends. Greetings, exchanging stories of our trips to St. Petersburg, accompanied by very cold shots of vodka (Russian Standard Platinum) confirmed we were now comrades. My goodness, it was almost 11:00 pm and we had been traveling for almost 22 hours. We needed to get to bed; breakfast at 7:30 am followed by meeting our guide at 8:30.

Breakfast, certainly not to be missed, was noteworthy  ~
Exquisite Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling
of the dining room was spectacular
The breakfast buffet was fabulous; after finishing breakfast we quickly returned to our rooms, gathered together a few things, and returned to the lobby to meet our private tour guide. Arrangements had been made through I ♥ Travel St Petersburg with the exceptional assistance of Irina, a tour coordinator. Our tour guide, Ekaterina (Catherine), was to accommodate us with the following two-day itinerary:

 Day - One
8:30 - Meet our guide at the GHE lobby; transfer to Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo)
 10:00 - 12:00 - Tour of Catherine Palace & Catherine Park
 12:45 - 13:45 - Pre-arranged lunch at the Admiralty Restaurant
 14:30- Transfer to Peterhof
15:30 - 17:45 -  Tour of the Peterhof Grand Palace as well as the Fountains and Gardens
18:00 -  Hydrofoil back to SPb
Return to GHE by 19:00
20:00 -  Meet our guide at the Grand Hotel Europe for evening tour
20:30 - 21:30 - Private canal boat tour, Bayline Capri powerboat
Return to GHE by 22:00   

Day -Two

9:00 - Meet our guide at the GHE lobby
9:45 - 11:45 – Hermitage Museum tour, early admission
12:00 - 12:45 - Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
13:00 - 14:00 – Pre-arranged lunch
14:15 - 15:45 - Tour of Yusupov Palace
16:00 - 16:40 - St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Return to GHE by 17:00 -17:15

"Let us go," a phrase we were to hear, from our tour guide Catherine, many times over the next two days. Blessed with a beautiful sunny day we left central St. Petersburg and enjoyed a forty minute drive through the countryside to Tsarskoye Selo. Tsarskoye Selo and the town of Pushkin is St. Petersburg's most charming suburb. Renamed in Soviet times to honor Russia's greatest poet and founder of modern Russian literature, the town has numerous sights connected to Alexander Pushkin.
A statue of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is located near
Catherine's Palace in the town of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo)
However, undoubtedly Tsarskoye Selo's top attraction is the Catherine Palace. The Palace is a masterpiece of Russian Rococo architecture ~

Main entrance to the Palace and ceremonial courtyard
the photo was taken by Joan "through" the Golden Gate
(North Side)
Izak and Gus in front of the Golden Gate with Sarah
and our guide, Ekaterina, in the lower left corner. Notice
  that a double-headed eagle and a crown adorn the top of
 the gate.

Palace Chapel topped by five golden domes
(The Church Wing of the Palace)

Central façade to the Palace
(South Side)

Front, east wing of the Palace
(South Side)

The Catherine Palace was inaugurated in 1717 as the summer palace for Catherine I. The architect was Johann Friedrich Braunstein.
The second wife of  Peter the Great, for
which the Palace and Park were named
In 1733, Empress Anna Ivanovna, daughter of Ivan V and niece to Peter the Great, who succeeded Catherine I, commissioned Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrey Kvasov to expand the Catherine Palace. However, it was Empress Elizabeth Petrovna's  influence that catapulted the Catherine Palace to achieve international recognition. Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I. Elizabeth gained power by leading a palace revolt against Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovn, a regent and mother of the infant Ivan VI. She became Empress of Russia in 1741. Elizabeth, however, found her mother's residence outdated and incommodious and in May 1752 asked her court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style. Construction lasted for four years, and on 30 July 1756 the architect presented the brand-new 1,066 foot long palace to the Empress. During Elizabeth's lifetime, the palace was famed for its lavish exterior. In front of the palace a great formal garden was laid out.

Although the palace is popularly associated with Catherine the Great, she actually regarded its "whipped cream" architecture as old-fashioned. When she ascended to the throne, a number of statues in the park were being covered with gold, in accordance with the last wish of Elizabeth, yet the new monarch had all the works suspended upon being informed about the expense. In her memoirs she censured her predecessor's reckless extravagance. In order to gratify her passion for antique and Neoclassical art, Catherine employed the Scottish architect Charles Cameron, who not only refurbished the interior of the west wing of the Palace in the Neo-Palladian style then in vogue, but also constructed the personal apartments of the Empress, and a Greek Revival structure known as the Agate Rooms and situated to the west of the grand palace. Noted for their elaborate jasper decor, the rooms were designed so as to be connected to the Hanging Garden, the Cold Baths, and the Cameron Gallery. According to Catherine's wishes, many remarkable structures were erected for her amusement in the Catherine Park. These include the Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge.

Venturing inside the Palace took us up the Main Staircase ~

The stairwell occupies the entire height and width of the
Palace and is lit by three tiers of windows on both east
 and west.
The walls are embellished with molded ornaments and also
 decorative vases and dishes  made of 18th century Chinese
 and Japanese porcelain
The well of the Main Staircase is decorated with a
 ceiling painting by Pietro Liberi , Jupiter and Callisto
Just off the landing of the Main Staircase and through the Cavaliers' Dining Room ~  
Displayed on the tables are items from the celebrated
 “Order Services” (tableware) that are decorated with the
badges and sashes of Russian orders of chivalry (the Orders
 of St Andrew the First-Called, St George, St Alexander Nevsky,
 and St Vladimir).
The hall occupies the whole width of the palace and has windows on both sides. In
 summer the interior is filled with light that plays across the gilding throughout the
 day. In the evening candles, framed by mirrors, illuminate the Great Hall. The
 sumptuous Baroque decoration creates an illusion of boundless space.

Leaving the Great Hall we soon entered the Crimson and Green Pilaster Rooms ~
Crimson Pilaster Room
Against the wall, a secretaire made by the German master
 craftsman Abraham Roentgen – a rare example of inlaid
 furniture in the feathery Rococo style.
The Green Pilaster Room served as a pantry
for the storage of table silver and porcelain. 

In the Crimson Pilaster Room, a stove which
 provided comfortable radiant warmth whose
 tiles are decorated with little scenes featuring
 personages in 18th century costume.

Stefano Torelli's, A Resting Military Commander Harkens to the
Call of the Muses on the ceiling of  the Green Pilaster Room. Now
 its place is occupied by a composition on the same subject recreated by
the artist Valery Lednev on the basis of pre-war photographs.
Leaving the Pilaster Rooms we  next entered the Portrait Hall and encountered Catherine the Great ~

From the Portrait Hall we reached the Amber Room, the gem of the Catherine Palace and a sight that has been justifiably called one of the wonders of the world. Photographs were not allowed  ~

The Amber Room The walls of the room are decorated in precious amber.
(image courtesy of Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve)
A gift to Peter the Great in 1716 celebrating peace between Russia and Prussia, the room's fate became anything but peaceful: Nazis looted it during World War II, and in the final months of the war, the amber panels, which had been packed away in crates, disappeared. A replica was completed in 2003, but the contents of the original, dubbed "the Eighth Wonder of the World," have remained missing for decades.

 This room was part of the private apartments used by Alexander I
 and was decorated with restored, hand painted silk panels.

Our visit to the Catherine Palace also included a walk through Catherine Park ~ 
At present the regular part of the Catherine Park occupies the area between
 the Catherine Palace, the Cascade Ponds and the Great Pond. The central alley
of the Old Garden connects the palace with the Hermitage pavilion.
(image courtesy of Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve)

Waterway running between the Regular Park (to the right) and
 Hermitage Grove (to the left) and onto the Great Pond.

The Hermitage Pavilion
The Pavilion was often used as a venue for highly sensitive diplomatic
meetings and dinners. To ensure not even the serving staff could overhear
 the confidential negotiations, the Pavilion was equipped with a complex and
 sophisticated dumb-waiter system of levers, pulleys and moving trays that
 could deliver hot meals directly to each diner from the floor below – without
 the serving staff ever needing to enter the dining room. The apparatus is still
 in place and working.
View of Great Pond from Grotto Pavilion. In the distance, the
 Marble Bridge to the right and the Turkish Bath to the left.

A Russian Orthodox chant performed by vocal ensemble inside the Grotto Pavilion.

Arrangements had been made to take lunch at the Admiralty Restaurant ~  
The restaurant is on the second floor of the Admiralty Pavilion;
 a picturesque spot on the opposite side of the Great Pond from
the Palace.
After finishing a very traditional Russian mid-day meal we walked back towards our van. We were able to take in the beauty of Alexander Park and Palace (exterior only) ~

One of three ponds in the "landscape park" area of the Alexander Park.
The Four Comrades ~ Gus, Joan, Izak, and Sarah in
 front of the  Alexander Palace.
The Alexander Palace was presented as a gift by Catherine the Great to her eldest grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I, on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizaveta Alexeevna. It is known as the favorite residence of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, and his family and their initial place of imprisonment after the revolution that overthrew the Romanov dynasty in early 1917.

N.B.   On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a monarch, was reunited with his family at the Palace. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government. In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former Governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with 10 devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee as luxuries. As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, leading to full-scale resistance by the summer, Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughter Maria were moved in April to Yekaterinburg. Alexei was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was called The House of Special Purpose. On 16 July 1918 forces of the Czechoslovak legions were closing on Yekaterinburg, not realizing that Russia's royal family was being held under house arrest there. The Bolsheviks, believing that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the Russian royals, panicked and executed their wards.

End of the Romanovs 
(a bit lengthy at 31:43)

Leaving Alexander Palace we were soon back in our tour van and on our way to Peter the Great's Grand Palace ~ Peterhof .

The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade of Peterhof

Peterhof is a luxurious royal estate, lying on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It has been described as the "capital of Russian fountains" and "Russia's Versailles". The Summer Palace of Peter the Great includes  4 wonderful parks, 176 fountains of various forms and styles and 3 cascades, several majestic palaces, numerous gilded statues of ancient gods and heroes, and remarkable collections of sculpture, painting and works of the minor arts. Peterhof is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Samson and the Lion Fountain, view of the Sea Canal, the
Lower Park &  Gardens, and the Gulf of Finland in the distance
Roman Fountain in the eastern side of the Lower Gardens
This Roman Fountain--one of a pair, was intended to emulate its
counterpart in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. 
East Chapel of Peterhof Palace with its five domes
No photographs or videos were allowed to be taken of the interior of the Grand Palace. We entered the north side of the Palace from the Upper Park. The queue to get into the Palace was excruciatingly long. As we entered the Palace, we were  given tattered shoe covers to wear, so as to protect the highly polished floors of the splendid rooms ~ 

YouTube video courtesy of TravelVideoStore
The Grand Palace is quite narrow and not overly large. Of its approximately thirty rooms, several deserve mention.

Chesma Hall
(image courtesy of potolkimaker)
The Chesma Hall is decorated with twelve large paintings of the Battle of Chesma, a stunning naval victory of the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774. These were painted between 1771 and 1773 by the German artist Jacob Philipp Hackert. His first renderings of the great battle scenes were criticized by witnesses as not showing realistically the effect of exploding ships — the flying timbers, great flames, smoke, and fireballs. Catherine II assisted the artist by exploding a frigate in the harbor of Livorno, Italy, for the benefit of Hackert, who had never seen a naval battle first-hand.

West Chinese Cabinets
(image courtesy of Family Musil)
The East and West Chinese Cabinets were decorated between 1766 and 1769 to exhibit objects of decorative art imported from the East. The walls were decorated with imitation Oriental patterns by Russian craftsmen, and hung with Chinese landscape paintings in yellow and black lacquer.
Picture Hall
(image courtesy of potolkimaker)
Picture Hall's walls are almost entirely covered by a series of 368 paintings, mostly of variously dressed women, differing in appearance and even age, yet most were drawn from a single model. These were purchased in 1764 from the widow of the Italian artist P. Rotari, who died in St. Petersburg.
Peterhof, like Catherine Palace, was captured by German troops in 1941 and held until 1944. In the few months that elapsed between the outbreak of war in the west and the appearance of the German Army, employees were only able to save a portion of the treasures of the palaces and fountains. An attempt was made to dismantle and bury the fountain sculptures, but three quarters, including all of the largest ones, remained in place. The occupying forces of the German Army largely destroyed Peterhof. Many of the fountains were destroyed, and the Palace was partially exploded and left to burn. Restoration work began almost immediately after the end of the war and continues to this day.
Leaving the Palace we boarded the Peterhof Express, a large-size passenger hydrofoil, which returned us to St. Petersburg in 30-40 minutes. The short trip allowed us to view the expanse of the Gulf of Finland and to take in the fresh sea air. 
Another Peterhof Express hydrofoil headed in the opposite
direction. Cruising speed 37-40 miles per hour; passenger
capacity between 104 and 116.
We disembarked just behind the Hermitage Museum on the Neva River. Our van was waiting for us and returned us to our hotel. We freshened up, had a relatively rushed dinner at the Caviar Bar & Restaurant, and headed out for a private boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg and the Neva River. The boat tour left from a mooring on the Fontanka River, a tributary of the Neva, next to Shuvalovsky Palace. 
Shuvalovsky Palace on the Fontanka Embankment
View on the Winter Canal towards the Neva River.
The special picturesqueness to the canal is created by the low arch
 connecting the Old Hermitage and the Hermitage Theater in the
 background, as well as the Hermitage Bridge in the foreground.

View of the domes of the  Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood 
from under the Theatre Bridge which crosses Griboyedov Canal

Enjoying a prominent location on the Fontanka Rive Embankment
 between the Summer Garden and the Mikhailovskiy Garden, the
Mikhailovskiy Castle (also known as the Engineers' Castle) is one of
St. Petersburg's most striking and unusual buildings, a reflection of
Emperor Paul I's fascination with medieval chivalry, mysticism,
 and all things military.

The Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. Petersburg,
 founded by Peter the Great in 1703. on small Hare Island by the north
 bank of the Neva River, the last upstream island of the Neva delta. Built
 at the height of the Northern War in order to protect the projected capital
from a feared Swedish counterattack, the fort never fulfilled its martial

Beach outside the walls of Peter and Paul Fortress.
In 2008, the Federal Service of St. Petersburg announced that no
beach of Neva is fit for swimming...oh, well.
Finishing our tour of St. Petersburg's waterways we returned to the hotel...it was 10:30 pm; sunset was not for another hour or two...Belye nochi, the Russians call them White Nights: those 80°F or so evenings, running from May to the end of July, when the city emerges from long months of cold and darkness and celebrates the brief return of nearly round-the-clock daylight.

It was a very full day. Tomorrow was not far off...waking up the next morning was very difficult.
Breakfast at L'Europe was superb; creating a fair exchange for waking up. The buffet is definitely for people from different countries and it was created to satisfy just about everyone. In the background, the sounds of a piano  soothed our still sleepy minds.
The restaurant was designed in the art nouveau style. The interior
 is adorned by a stained-glass window entitled "Apollo in his Chariot,”
 by Leon Benois
After breakfast, once again, we met our tour guide Ekaterina in the lobby. "Let us go!" We had tickets for early admission to the Hermitage Museum. On our way to the museum we passed by ~
Alexander Column commemorating the defeat of
Napoleon in 1812. The 700-ton piece of granite took
 three years to be extracted from the Karelian Isthmus
 and brought down by barges to the city. The 47.5 feet
column was erected by 2,500 men using an elaborate
 system of pulleys. The monument is topped with an
angel holding a cross.
View from the Winter Palace across the Palace Square ~ The General Staff Building
 (to the left of the arch) and the Guard's Headquarters (to the right) are linked by the
 Triumphal Arch, which is crowned a 16-ton sculpture of the Chariot of Glory.
The Southern or Main Façade of the Winter Palace.
From 1762 until the February 1917 Revolution, the Winter Palace was the main
 residence of the Russian Tsars. Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva
 River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive
 attraction. The opulent green-and-white three-story palace boasts 1,886 doors, 117
 staircases, 1,945 windows, and 1,057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and
 rooms. The palace extends over 20 acres and the total perimeter measures over
 a mile. Today the Winter Palace houses the Hermitage Museum.

Heading west and pass the Western façade, then turning right on to the Palace Embankment we found ourselves facing the entrance to the Hermitage as well as a very long queue. Fortunately, after exercising the privileges of early admission tickets, we bypassed the queue and entered the vestibule of the New Hermitage.

The Hermitage is Russia’s largest museum and one of the greatest museums in the world, standing alongside the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the British Museum. The museum has about 3 million artifacts of history and culture and is visited by several million people annually. It is said that "if a visitor spent only half a minute at each piece, it would take nine years to view them all!"
The Jordan Staircase was restored after the fire of 1837 by Vasily Stasov
 who largely preserved the design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
 Starting from the Main Gallery, the white marble staircase then divides
 into two flights meeting again on the level of the first floor.

The staircase is transfused with light, gleaming gold and mirrors.

Ten solid columns of Serdobolye granite, that takes its name from the town
of Serdobolye in Karelia near which it was quarried, support the vaults of the
The painted ceiling by 18th-century artist Diziano Gasparo 
 (also known as Gaspare Diziani) representing the gods of Mount
Olympus gives an impression of an additional height to the staircase.
Reaching the first floor we entered ~

St George's Hall (also referred to as the Great Throne Room)
The 48 columned hall, with two tiers of windows, is finished with Carrara marble
 and ormolu. The parquet floor, made from sixteen different valuable kinds of wood,
 mirrors the bronze ceiling pattern. Over the throne is a marble bas-relief showing the
 composition St. George Slaying the Dragon. The magnificent and sumptuous décor of
 the hall reflects its purpose - to serve for official ceremonies and receptions
Leaving the New Hermitage we now crossed over to the Small Hermitage ~

The Pavilion Hall of the Small Hermitage
The combination of light marble with gilt stucco
 ornaments and the brightly shining twenty-eight
 crystal chandeliers make it particularly impressive.
The hall is adorned with an arcade of columns
 supporting a graceful gallery.
Peacock Clock 
The clock consists of a gilded peacock on a branch, a rooster, and an owl
 in a cage. Designed by the famous London jeweler and goldsmith James
 Cox and brought in pieces to St. Petersburg for Catherine the Great in 1781,
 the clock is still in working order. Each time the Clock chimes, the peacock
revolves, opening its tail and moving its head, The owl turns its head and
 blinks, the cock opens its beak and crows. To tell the time, you must look
 at the mushroom by the tree.
Leaving the Small Hermitage we entered the Old Hermitage ~

The Malachite Vase near The Council Staircase
The malachite [green] vase in the "Russian mosaic technique" was
produced at the Yekaterinburg Lapidary Works in the 1850s.

Madonna and Child (Madonna Litta)
A late 15th-century painting of the Madonna nursing the infant
 Jesus which is generally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. The painting
      came to the museum in 1865 from the collection of Count Antonio Litta in Milan.

Dead Boy on a Dolphin in the Majolica Room
The impressive sculpture is attributed to Raphael's disciple
 Lorenzo Lorenzetti. The story behind "boy on a dolphin "is
 that the boy and the dolphin were very good friends and always
 played together. unfortunately, one day the boy died. The heartbroken
 dolphin carried him to shore where he stayed with his body until he,
 too, died.
Madonna Conestabile
Its name comes from the Conestabile family of Perugia, from whom it

 was acquired by Alexander II  in 1871. The Tsar presented it to his consort,
 Maria Alexandrovna. Since then, the painting has been on exhibit in the
 Hermitage. It was attributed there to Raphaeland this attribution has never
been contested.  The work is usually judged on stylistic grounds to be an early
 work of the artist.
Raphael's  Loggias
A reproduction of Raphael's celebrated loggias,
erected in the Vatican Palace by architect Donato
 Bramante and painted by pupils of Raphael after
 his sketches and under his supervision. The loggias
 forms a high, well-lit gallery, the ceiling of which is
 decorated with 52 paintings based upon biblical stories.
The walls are completely covered with paintings in which
themes from classical mythology are interwoven with
 plant design and the representations of animals and birds.
 The Hermitage copy was made at the end of the 18th
century by a group of artists under the supervision of
 Christopher Unterberger. The work of replicating was
 carried out in the Vatican. Painted canvases were brought
 to St. Petersburg, stretched out on frames and inserted
 into the walls of the Hermitage loggias specially built
 for this purpose by Giacomo Quarenghi.

Armor for Man and Horse in the Knight's Hall
The Hall houses part of the Hermitage's extremely rich collection of
 arms and armor that numbers around 15,000 items. The display of
 Western European artistic arms of the 15th to 17th century presents
 a wide range of tournament, parade and hunting gear, as well as armor,
 edged weapons and firearms.

Something worth noting, look not only at the paintings, sculptures, and artifacts but also appreciate the floors, ceilings, walls, and doors.

Patterned Parquet Floor in The Twelve-Column Hall
The hall has an unusual parquet floor made in the form of a
 colorful mosaic in different varieties of wood.

Exquisite Painted Ceiling of The Tent-Roofed Room
The Tent-Roofed Room gets its name from its unique gable roof. Today the
room contains paintings of the Dutch and Flemish schools. The Hermitage
 possesses one of the world's best collections of these schools, numbering
             over 1,000 canvases.

However, there are some monumental paintings that just should not be missed ~

Antonia Zarate
Francisco Goya
Return of the Prodigal Son
Ascending to the second floor, we were treated to a marvelous collection of French Neoclassical, Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin, is displayed there in the southeastern corner. It also displays paintings by Camille Pissarro , Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley, Henri Morel, and Degas. Modern art is displayed in the rooms on the southern side of the second floor. It features Matisse, Derain and other fauvists, Picasso, Malevich, Kandinsky, Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio Morandi and Rockwell Kent. Our favorites ~
Great Pine and Red Earth
Paul Cézanne

Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary

Cottages at Auvers-sur-Oise
Vincent van Gogh

Tahitian Pastorals
Paul Gauguin
Henri Matisse

The Red Room
Henri Matisse

Portrait of L.N. Delectorskaya
Henri Matisse

Portrait of the Artist's Wife
Henri Matisse
Composition No. 6
Wassily Kandinsky

Upon leaving the Kandinsky Room, literally in a hallway, we enjoyed these eclectic and unlabeled artifacts ~

Leaving the Hermitage we boarded our van; after a short trip of 4-5 minutes we were standing in front of ~
Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
This Church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated
 and was dedicated in his memory. The Church is prominently situated along the
 Griboedov Canal; paved roads run along both sides of the canal. On March 1, 1881,
 as Tsar Alexander's carriage passed along the embankment, a grenade thrown by an
 anarchist conspirator exploded. The tsar, shaken but unharmed, got out of the carriage and
started to remonstrate with the presumed culprit. A second conspirator took the chance
 to throw another bomb, killing himself and mortally wounding the tsar. The tsar, bleeding
 heavily, was taken back to the Winter Palace where he died a few hours later.
YouTube Video taken by Joan of the breathtaking interior of
the Church with audio: The All-Night Vigil by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Crown of four jasper columns which stand
on the spot where the tsar was murdered.

The walls and ceilings inside the Church are
 completely covered in intricately detailed
 mosaics — the main pictures being beautifully
depicted biblical scenes or figures — with very
 fine patterned, ornate borders setting off each

Mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator under the central dome.

The magnificent marble tiles on the floor of the Church – the work of
Italian masters – cover an area of 6,544 square feet. In addition to marble
 the floor is inlaid with different semi-precious stones such as jasper, topaz, rock
crystal, and  granite.

The Church has a single altar and three apses.

Joan and Gus on the Griboedov Canal bridge
south of  the Church.

Izak and Sarah on the  same bridge behind
  the Church.

It was time to break for lunch. Lunch, today, was a traditional Russian mid-day meal and rather unremarkable. However, two dishes, that were noteworthy  and present a severe juxtaposition with  the posted images from the Hermitage and the Church on Spilled Blood  ~ 
Russian or Olivier Salad
Today's popular version of "Salade Olivier" — containing boiled
 potatoes, dill pickles, peas, eggs, carrots, and boiled beef/chicken
 or bologna, dressed with mayonnaise — is a staple of any Russian meal.
(image courtesy of Melanie Cooks) 

They are little balls of minced meat wrapped in thin dough and boiled
 in water. They are especially delicious with different sauces - sour cream,
 mushroom sauce, tomato sauce, and also with butter, vinegar, or mayonnaise.
(image courtesy of Thoughts and Happenings of a Stay-at-Home-Mom)
These two ubiquitous dishes represent simplicity and comfort while the Hermitage and The Church majesty and glorification...Gus enjoyed the salad and the dumplings while awed by the historic landmarks.
Following lunch we next visited the remarkable and mysterious Yusupov Palace ~
The Moika Palace or Yusupov Palace
Once the primary residence of the House of Yusupov . The palace was
designed in 1760's by a French architect, Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe.
 The building was the site of Grigori Rasputin's murder in 1916.
(image courtesy of Jewels du Jour)
In 1830 the Palace became the property of Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov, who was one of the richest and the most powerful persons in Russia.
Grand Staircase on the Second Floor
A masterpiece of craftsmanship and design. The columns, sculptures,
 balusters, vases, and walls are all carved from white Carrara marble. 
The three-level  crystal chandelier hangs dramatically above the staircase.
From the Grand Staircase we began our visual education of what it meant to be very rich, yet not belonging to the Russian Imperial Family, in 19th century Russia ~

One of several very rare Gobelin tapestries

The State Bedroom

Plafond decorations in the Great Rotunda. The dome symbolizes
 the starry sky and was done by painter Alexei Travin.

The Blue Drawing Room

Exquisite Parquet Floor
in the Red Drawing Room

Beautifully painted ceiling and a 132 candle crystal chandelier
 in The Dance Hall. The pilasters though are of fake marble.

Bust of Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov

Statue of Wrestlers
The two young men are engaged in the pankration, a kind of
wrestling similar to the present-day sport of mixed martial arts.

The Prince's Loge in the Gilt & Velvet Rococo Palace Theater
The theater has been herald as one the world's most impressive theaters
 with its gilded gold ornaments throughout the theater. The ceiling up close
 is just unbelievable. The Yusupov's had the theater designed to impress the
 Tsar of Russia and also other kings and queens of Europe that visited. It is
 believed that the stage was once graced by Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin.

The ceiling of The Small Art Gallery

Portrait of Zinaida Yusupova, in Russian Costume,
hanging in the Antonio Vighi Hall.
Princess Zinaida Yusupov was born in 1861, the second daughter of Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov and Countess Tatiana Alexandrovna de Ribeaupierre. The unexpected death of the eldest daughter, Princess Tatiana, left the young Zinaida sole heir to the largest private fortune in Imperial Russia. She married Count Felix Nikolaievich Sumarokov-Elston. The older son of Zinaida, Nikolay Felixovich Yusupov, was killed in a duel with Count Arvid Manteuffel, over Countess Marina von Hayden, the latter's estranged wifeThe parties and their seconds met as agreed at dawn on the 5 July 1908 on Krestovsky Island; Nikolay was mortally wounded by the second round of shots and died. Prince Felix Yusupov II, in similar circumstances to his mother Zinaida's, became heir to the immense Yusupov fortune.

Felix Yusupov and his wife,
 Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, 1913

Prince Felix Yusupov II married Princess Irina, niece of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II in  1914. The Yusupovs were on their honeymoon in Europe and the Middle East when World War I broke out. They were briefly detained in Berlin after the outbreak of hostilities. Irina asked her first cousin, Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia to intervene with her father-in-law, the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to permit them to leave, but offered them a choice of three country estates to live in for the duration of the war. Felix's father appealed to the Spanish ambassador to Germany, and won permission for them to return to Russia via neutral Denmark to Finland, and from there to St. Petersburg.

Prince Felix  is best known for participating in the assassination of Grigory Rasputin, the faith healer who was said to have influenced decisions of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.

The Palace, to be precise - its cellar, became the setting of the murder of one of
the most scandalous figures in Russian history - Grigory Rasputin. Nowadays
the cellar where the dramatic events took place houses the exhibition "Grigory
 Rasputin: Pages of Life and Death". Visitors to the exhibit can see wax figures
of "the mad monk" and plotters as well as other items of interest.
The murder of Rasputin has become something of a legend, some of it perhaps invented, embellished or simply misremembered by the very men who killed him, which is why it has become so difficult to discern the actual course of events. What is known is that having decided that Rasputin's influence over the Tsarina had made him a threat to the empire. On the night of December 29, 1916, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov  , and the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich apparently lured Rasputin to the Palace by intimating that Yusupov's wife, Princess Irina, would be present and receiving friends (in point of fact, she was away). The group led him down to the cellar,

Palace Wine Cellar
Passage way to the site of the murder.
where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a large amount of cyanide. According to legend, Rasputin was unaffected, although Vasily Maklakov had supplied enough poison to kill five men.

Determined to finish the job, Prince Felix became anxious about the possibility that Rasputin might live until the morning, leaving the conspirators no time to conceal his body. Yusupov ran upstairs to consult the others and then came back down to shoot Rasputin through the back with a revolver. Rasputin fell, and conspirators left the Palace. Yusupov, who had left without a coat, decided to return to get one, and while at the Palace, he went to check on the body. Suddenly, Rasputin opened his eyes and lunged at Yusupov. He grabbed Yusupov and attempted to strangle him. At that moment, however, the other conspirators arrived and fired at Rasputin. After being hit, he fell once more. As they neared his body, the plotters found that, remarkably, he was still alive, struggling to get up. They clubbed him, with an iron bar, into submission. After binding his body and wrapping him in a carpet, they threw him into the icy Neva River. Two days later, Rasputin's body, poisoned, shot four times, badly beaten, and drowned, was recovered from the river.

Three months after the assassination, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in the February Revolution. Following the abdication, the Yusupovs returned to the Palace before travelling to the Crimea. They later returned to the Palace to retrieve jewelery and two paintings by Rembrandt, the sale proceeds of which helped sustain the family in exile.

Our tour guide, Ekaterina, once again declared "let us go!" While we certainly could have spent more time at the Palace, we left and climbed back into our van. We headed toward St. Isaac's Cathedral our next scheduled stop. To our surprise our driver stopped at Matrёshastore, a Russian souvenir shop. Ekaterina explained that the shop had clean restrooms available to the public. Suspicious that our guide was trying to make a few extra rubles, but not in the mood for a confrontation, we went inside. As souvenir shops go it definitely was "upscale" and even enjoyable to browse; yet make no mistake, it was a shop catering to wealthy tourists and was terribly overpriced...Caveat emptor when prices are in Euros and the country you are in is not in the Euro zone.

Matryoshka Dolls
This hand painted set of nested dolls were spectacular. We,
Joan and Gus were tempted, thought it  represented a great
memento or keepsake...but not for € 1800.

Disappointment that our guide would possibly mislead us, in order to maybe collect a referral type commission of 10-20% ($230-460), soured us on her and our driver for the balance of our time we spent with them.
A short drive of no more than 5 minutes and we were at St. Isaac's Cathedral. The grandly proportioned St. Isaac's was originally designed as the world's largest Orthodox Cathedral. Its architectural distinction though is up for debate; some consider the massive design and highly ornate interior to be excessive and ostentatious, but others revel in its opulence. Tsar Alexander I commissioned the construction of the cathedral in 1818 to celebrate his victory over Napoleon, but it took more than 40 years to actually build it. The French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand devoted his life to the project, and died the year the Cathedral was finally consecrated, in 1858.
The domed Cathedral has a height of 333 feet high and is gilded with 
over 100 kilograms of pure gold. The dome is decorated with twelve
 statues of angels by Josef Hermann.
The main entrances, in the longer sides, form beautiful porticoes,
 modeled on that of the Pantheon in Rome, each with 16 monolith
 columns of polished red Finnish granite, 54 feet high and 7 feet thick,
 with bronze bases and capitals, arranged in three rows. In the shorter
 sides  are smaller porticoes, with eight columns each. A total of 112 red
 granite columns with Corinthian capitals, each hewn and erected as a
 single block
The Nave
Once inside, the overwhelming nature and grandeur of the
 Cathedral is immediately evident, even though the full size
 of the Cathedral is still for the most part hidden. The primary
 sanctuary is large enough to accommodate several thousand
 people; the entire Cathedral accommodates 14,000 worshipers.
 As you walk inside, your eyes are almost immediately led to look
 at the walls, and then the ceiling. The lower halves of the walls are
 covered with exotic stones of all colors, columns made of marble
 and granite, and gold. The vertical nature of this design directs
 attention to the murals that adorn the higher half of the walls, which
depict scenes from the Bible.  

Main Dome of the Cathedral
 A mural of heavenly figures covers the inside
 of the dome. One of the most interesting parts
 of the dome is the dove, representing the Holy
Spirit, that is placed in the skylight in the center
of the dome. The stone floors mirror the shape
 of the dome, with a circular pattern and a center 
point situated directly underneath the dove.
 The Sun, the Moon, the Stars and Groups of Angels
Painting on plafond by Fyodor  Bruni
Mosaic of The Ascension of Christ
The interior was originally decorated with scores of
paintings by the great Russian masters of the day. The
 cold and damp conditions caused them to deteriorate
 and Montferrand ordered their recreation as mosaics,
a task that was only partially completed.

Main Sanctuary
Situated directly in front of the stained glass depicting Christ. Two
 massive golden doors are slightly ajar, giving a peek inside to the 
altar and the stained glass. In the foreground of the sanctuary is one
 of the most ornate displays in the cathedral. Ten malachite columns
 and two lazurite columns divide portraits of holy figures lining the
 wall. Golden chandeliers hang from the ceiling, illuminating the
 portraits and bringing out the brilliant color in the exotic stones.

 The Stained Glass Window Depicting Christ
Unusually the stained glass has Christ dressed
all in Catholic red without a hint of Orthodox blue.
Fresco of Christ, part of an  iconostasis 
 just to the right of the alter doors, by
 Karl Pavlovich Bryullov.

An ascended Christ and Archangels
perched on an arch above the Royal Doors outside the main alter. The
inscription on the arch roughly refers to "Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty-- he is the King of glory."
Psalm 24:10


It was nearly 5:00 pm and our evening was only beginning.  We left the Cathedral and returned to the GHE. Isaac Izak made arrangements for dinner at 6:30 to be followed by a performance of a Folklore Show in the Nickolayevsky Palace at 9:00.

After cleaning up and changing into dinner and theater clothes, we were off. A short 10 minute walk and we were taking an elevator to the sixth floor of restaurant terrassa. We were seated at a table outside, on the terrace, and thought that we might be in Southern California ~

Joan & Gus at terrassa
 Features an open kitchen, wonderful views (including
Kazan Cathedral), and stylish interiors. The menu is
prodigious, almost shocking: each turn of the page is
 like discovering a new restaurant. A short list of the
 cuisines on offer include Georgian, Russian, Thai,
 pan-Asian, sushi, pastas, pizzas, salads, seafood, and
soups: you name it and they seemingly seem to have
 it on the menu.
The experience was enjoyable; while the food was a bit "con-fusioned" and the service a bit slow, there was a full bar, a very good selection of fairly priced wines, fun people watching...Russian girls (including some staff) who are dressed to impress, and the wonderful company of our good friends.

We finished dinner and walked back to the GHE. A hotel van drove us to the theater. Upon picking up our tickets at "will call" we joined a long and disorganized queue. We, for the first time, encountered a "Soviet-era-like" shortage...no reserved seating, first-come-first-serve, even a little bit of pushing and shoving in order to gain an advantage. As the earlier performance let out the mass of people waiting rushed into the theater, literally scrambling to secure adequate, if not, preferred seating. We were able to get seats on the right side of the theater, near the exit, with an unobstructed view of the stage. The performance of "Feel Yourself Russian" soon began ~

 A combination of circle dance and chorus singing. This dance is mostly
 performed by women. In wedding dances, the girls will run their hands
 up and down their arms to embellish the beauty and embroidery of their
 costumes, for pulling the sleeves up during  movement is key. The bride
who dances with a handkerchief(notice handkerchief of the left shoulders
 of the dancers) presents it to her husband, who then ties it over her head

Costumes were beautifully designed with great detail. Typically, the
clothing for the dances was based on specific events, such as holidays,
 and would vary between these events. For women, they would wear a
holiday headdress, an embroidered shirt, a belt, and an ornamented
apron. Men  would wear shirts, a belt, narrow pants, and high boots.
The color red was incorporated in many of the dance costumes
 because the color is associated with beauty in the Russian tradition.

A fast dance consisting of expeditious music and Russian squat work or
 knee bending,  is among one of the folk dances that are prominent in Russia.
This dance is not choreographed, but consolidates a lot of stomping.

A dance step in Slavic folk dancing in which a male dancer sits
on his haunches and kicks out each leg alternately in front of himself.
Requires good balance and substantial leg muscle strength
The show was colorful, energetic, entertaining, and a perfect ending to a wonderful day in St. Petersburg. We travel to Moscow tomorrow on the high speed Sapsan train.



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