Trip Start May 26, 2010
15Trip End Jun 10, 2010
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This will be the story of our second day in St. Petersburg. This day would be spent entirely within the city. It was an unforgettable experience, even better than the first day.
The weather was flawless all day. Just a few scattered clouds. Temperatures were average for this part of the world. The high was around 68 F (20C).
Our guide met us at 8:00 AM (0800) and we headed into the city. We stopped downtown to get a taste of everyday Russian life in the city. We took a short ride on their Metro train, their subway system. The Metro was built starting in 1955. It is buried very deep as it had to go under the river. What an experience! It was absolutely mobbed with people rushing to work.
We were warned by our guide to stand to the right on the escalator, as people run down it to make their train
ran past us as we descended. Russia is truly blessed to be without American trial lawyers, as the country would be bankrupted by them in a week. Riding an escalator is dangerous enough without running up and down. We then waited at the platform, as a train screamed to a stop. The trains run much faster than in the USA too. We jumped on with the herd of people, properly warned that the doors close quickly and don't retract when they are hit. The doors slammed shut behind us as we grabbed a hand hold and flew away from the station. We got off at the next station, trying not to get run over by the
commuters running to their jobs. We returned to the surface on another fast and long escalator as people ran by us. It was, to say the least, an interesting and entertaining experience.
Our next stop was at a local food market. It was full of an incredible variety of fresh fruits, meats, pickles, cheese, chocolates and very expensive caviar. We did buy some chocolates for gifts, and had fun watching the buzz of activity around us. Our guide told us that most people shop at supermarkets and that this place was too expensive for most of the local people. It made me think of the Soviet Union, where this kind of store was reserved for only the elite who had hard foreign currency. Everyone is equal under the communist system, however a very few were much more equal than others.
We got back in our van and headed to Peter and Paul's fortress and cathedral. This is the spot where the city was founded.
The location is on the Neva River, and it overlooks the Hermitage
We left the fortress and battled heavy traffic. We crossed the Neva, and headed to the winter palace, the Hermitage.
The Hermitage is now one of the premier museums in the world. It holds some 3,000,000 (that is not a mistake) pieces of art from all over the world. Our guide indicated that to see all of it properly would take 3 weeks. We had less than 2 hours and had to battle massive crowds. It was not enough time, but that's the price we pay for only 2 days in the city.
The museum stretches through a series of rooms in the palace. These rooms once served the czars, and are appropriately ornate. Now they contain the art pieces. The Hermitage was damaged during the war, and is also under constant renovation.
One key issue they face is the deterioration of the art as they do not have proper climate control to maintain the collection. I cannot imagine the cost to properly climate control this massive series of buildings, but it needs to be done, and soon.
A highlight of our brief visit was the Diamond Room. This room requires separate admission. It contains a collection of gems perhaps unequalled anywhere. The czars collected gems just as they collected art. They were given unbelievable gem filled gifts from foreign leaders during state visits, as was the custom in the 18th and 19th centuries. These gems are beautifully displayed in perfectly lighted security cases. A special guide is provided who describes the history of each item
We then visited the Italian collection. We saw two priceless Leonardo da Vinci originals, The Madonna Benois and the Modonna Litta. It was worth trying to get through the mob scene to see these incredible works of art. We also saw many Greek
sculptures and even an Egyptian mummy. I think they are right, it would take 3 weeks to see everything. We didn't even scratch the surface.
Our next stop was a local restaurant for lunch. It was a real local restaurant, not a tourist restaurant where the large groups go. We enjoyed 4 different kinds of piroggis, made from pastry in the Russian tradition. It was like eating a thick pizza, and it was delicious. They make them as large pies, then section them up into manageable pieces. I had egg/onion and whitefish. Annie had salmon and a cottage cheese version. They were doing a brisk take out business all the time we were there. It was fun.
Our next stop was the famous Church of our Savior on the spilled blood. The exterior of this stone church is beautiful, with incredible gold domes, but that's not the highlight. The interior is the highlight. The entire interior is filled with magnificent icons, all made of tiny stones in a mosaic
Everything has been meticulously restored, the process taking over 20 years. Incredibly, it was nearly demolished by the
Soviets, who wanted to extinguish all traces of religious life. It's impossible to understand the Soviet mind, which would
destroy such treasures. Thankfully they never got the chance to complete their evil work.
After leaving this cathedral, we made a brief stop near the Mariinsky Theater. This is a "modest" palace that is now the heart of the Russian Ballet. My sister loves ballet, and had asked me to take a photo of the theater for her. She loves all art forms, and I thought of her many times as we toured the city.
Our last stop proved to be an interesting one. Our British friend David had asked to include Yusupov Palace. This palace was built by a rich businessman, and it is most famous as being the spot where the infamous Rasputin was murdered. Rasputin was a strange character in Russian history, controversial to this day. He was an advisor to the last czar and his family. His appearance is unforgettable, truly a sinister look. I'll spare you the history, but if you wish to learn more about this character just google his name. He is revered by common St. Petersburg residents. The palace itself was not as ornate as the official palaces, as no one wanted to show up the czar. The Russians maintain a wax museum in the basement, with
images of the conspirators who killed Rasputin, along with Rasputin himself
image is claimed to not be aging while the other images are deteriorating. The story of murder is bizarre, as Rasputin survived poison and two gun shots and still did not die until he left on the Neva River in the winter and froze to death. If you read about Rasputin, I don't recommend it as a bed time story!
We ten returned to ship. We took a group photo with our guide, then bid her farewell. She was super, and made our visit
We sailed out of St. Petersburg through a narrow channel. We passed some old Soviet military bases and many moth balled navy ships. After dinner, I passed out for an hour. The 2 whirlwind days were complete exhausting, but well worth the fatigue. Try to visit St. Petersburg if you can.