Saint Petersburg, 16-19 October 2009
Now who would have thought that I would pick Russia for my next trip…
Well, I tell you, Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) was on my list of places to see for a while now. Initially our plan was to see Moscow but I heard some negative stories about it (I think you can imagine what people are like when they are the generation of 'new money') and Saint P had a more pleasant sound to it anyway.
Well - as soon as we entered the city it was evident that this is where Russia's riches have been hidden for centuries. The elaborate architecture with incredibly detailed ornaments and sculptures. The Hermitage in all its glory (building and contents). The large number of churches and cathedrals where gold and precious stone are used lavishly and the clear evidence of the neoclassical architecture being replaced by the more romantic archictural style in the late 1800's.
My proper camera lens still needing replacement and my tiny camera not being able to handle bad photography weather, I am not very happy with the pictures, but it can't be helped.
While photographing some of the richness of the churches, I was not so much in awe of all its beauty but actually disgusted by it, when you realize many people worked on this for years on end at less than acceptable wages. How else could these riches be kept going?
On the other hand, what impressed me was the incredible taste the Russian high society must have had, it is evident in the buildings, carpentry/woodwork, plasterwork, ornaments, sculptures and the way the city is laid out. You could just see the huge dinners and danceparties taking place and hear the rustle of the long evening gowns of the ladies. Even if it's not your taste, it's still impressive.
By the way…..did you know: Peter the Great resided in Holland for quite a while? He studied shipbuilding in Zaandam (I used to live there!) and his house still exists, and Amsterdam (live there now!), and later put this to use in helping build Russia's navy during his reign. Also the canal-layout is very much like we see in Holland, especially Amsterdam. They say Peter was very much influenced by the Amsterdam city layout.
I think I can limit myself to the main feature of this trip though: The Hermitage. Originally a palace, it was extended by Catherine, the granddaughter of Peter, for the purpose of storing and later also exhibiting the many pieces of art she started collecting. Each extension (upwards or sideways) reflects the need for more exhibition space. In the early days of her collecting moods she focused mainly on Dutch and Belgian artists. Later on she broadened her taste and I think the collection is an incredible portrayal of different art styles that were developed during her life. You can imagine that you can spend years to view it in its entirety; apparently there are nearly three million works on exhibit. (Louvre, eat your heart out.)
When it comes to our visit to The Hermitage we were lucky in three ways:
- we found out on time that it is closed on Mondays (on Monday we met some people who had not)
- we managed to skip the enormous lineup by paying a guy who knew a guy (it's bad, I know) which saved us 1,5 hours and
- we ended up being guided by a curator of the museum because there were not enough English tour guides available. It took her a while to unfreeze (it was clearly beneath her dignity to be showing tourists around the place) but once she got going there was no stopping her. Her knowledge was incredible. Thanks Anna!
Mmm. What else to tell. Had caviar (but not the Belluga, because we both felt that was just ridiculously priced) served with blini's and sour cream, yum yum. Had good food everywhere and it's a fun place to shop.
Even the bad weather could not stop us from having fun.
Which we had. We laughed from start to finish.
Thanks Natasja…and get your walking boots out of the closet, next year it's Cornwall! Or something like that.