Friday, June 17, 2011

St Petersburg 2

Lots of walking today, and as a result I am once again sunburned and my hair hurts a bit. Oy.

We met our guide, Katya, this morning and almost immediately changed her planned itinerary, since we had already seen the St. Isaacs cathedral last night and wanted instead to see Kazan and some other buildings. But, no problems, with just the two of us in tow, so off we went to get a walking history of St Petersburg, Nevskiy Prospekt, and the various bridges, palaces and museums.

Kazan Cathedral is a slightly smaller copy of the basilica in Rome (on purpose, of course) and inside it is a lovely building -- but it still used for Russian Orthodox services, which were in full tilt this morning. We heard the choir singing, and the long line of head-scarfed women standing to greet the priest. It was a quick visit, we didn't want to bother anyone. Katya was a little anxious because she didn't have a head-covering, so we bowed out quickly.

We walked along the canals to the Church on the Spilled Blood -- a fantastical array of onion domes, mosaic tiles and niches and alcoves on the outside and even more impressively covered over every inch inside with glass mosaics. It's stunning--the mosaics are so finely done they look as if they are painted, and they cover every interior arch and dome. There are photographs of the restoration work that was necessary after WWII (it took longer to restore the church, even though it had not been physically damaged much, than it did to build and decorate it when it was new). Included the photos is the picture of the artillery shell that was lodged, unexploded, in the main dome and only discovered during restoration in the 1960s. The exterior is actually not that much more detailed than the Russian Orthodox church we photographed yesterday (and boy, do I wish we'd been able to go inside that one!), but the interior is jaw-dropping.

Onward towards the Hermitage (Winter palace and a variety of other buildings).We walked around the stables and the Marble Palace and the various other buildings along the Neva river to the entrance of the museum. The mint-green and white painted facade is impressive (if a and a number of the state rooms in the main part of the museum are still intact -- and, of course, there is the art. To even glimpse everything in the collection would take 9 years, they say, and it's a 10km walk to even go through every single room in the four buildings that make up the state museums. So, of course, we can only hit the highlights -- impressionists, post-impressionists,Dutch masters, Spanish and Italian allegory, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Titian, and da Vinci. And a dozen others that I can't rattle off immediately. It's an amazing collection (although I think there was some sort of weird attraction to giant vases from someone in the museum's past; there are a bazillion of the things.

I'm fascinated by the Dutch realist painters, and less impressed by Monet and Matisse and the like. Anyone who can paint a picture that I have to check twice to make sure it's not a photograph...that takes a level of commitment and talent that I can't even aspire to.

I only set off the alarms once, leaning in too close to see the delicate lace painted on a lady's dress in an 8x10 painting,I didn't actually touch anything, really! I might have breathed on it, though, which is more likely to be a horrible infraction.

We spent most of the day at the Hermitage. It's larger than the Louvre, which I thought was just enormous,and we only saw a tiny fraction of the art displayed, in only a few of the hundreds of rooms. I wish we could have stayed longer (or that it's open longer, so we could go back in after dinner and walk around more). It was interesting to go through with a guide, though, she was very well informed and really kept the place from being overwhelming.

Afterwards, we walked across the Palace Bridge and visited the Peter and Paul Fortress (and cathedral), on the original island where St Petersburg was founded (Rabbit island). The cathedral here is very plain, very simple, really -- and houses the tombs/mausoleums of most of the tsars and tsarinas. Surprisingly, the caskets for the all of these emperors and empresses are very plain as well -- white marble, gold cross, gold nameplate. With only two exceptions, really, the caskets (and they aren't really caskets, they have no bodies in them...what are those called? Eh, it's escaping me) are small and plain. Compare that to the almost grotesque over-wroughtness of the tombs of the scandinavian kings and queens, and it is even more notable. No giant four-poster altars with life-size statues or writing dragons and angels here. Just a gold nameplate.

We took the subway back to Nevskiy Prospekt -- not one of the really cool subway stations, but it was worth the trip just to ride the escalator down to the subway was, by far, the longest escalator that I have ever seen. The metros here are the deepest of any in the world (to get under the various canals and rivers) and it's impressive just to stand on the moving staircase and go down and down and down and down. The subway trains also move very fast compared to what we've been riding lately in Sweden and Norway. We're considering taking one of the red-line trains tomorrow, just to see the spectacular Art Nouveau stations - we'l see if we have time.

Had our anniversary dinner at a local restaurant called Gogol -- excellent food, attentive and very Russian service, and now we are completely done in. Bed, and possible sleeping late, are the only things we can manage, I think. We've been encouraged to get up at 1:25 to see the raising of the bridges, but I think we'll sleep through the alarm!

Tomorrow? Perhaps a quick foray out to see metro stations or one last glimpse of the buildings along the Neva, but we have a driver to get us to the airport at 11am and we're back to Stockholm.

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