St. Petersburg

Day 6

We had to take a guided shore excursion in order to obtain a visitor visa for the day. While I would have liked to make it to a Cathedral tour – specifically the Church of the Spilled Blood – I just couldn’t make the times work. Instead, we took a 10.5 hour tour that took us to Pushkin (Catherine’s Palace) which included the reconstructed Amber Room. Actually, everything at both Pushkin and Peterhof had to be reconstructed from paintings and black and white photos that survived the war. The Germans did a lot of damage when they left. They had used many of St. Petersburg’s palaces as headquarters so they set fires and delayed bombs to get rid of evidence. The Russians apparently had a couple months to prepare for the Germans during which time they packed their most precious treasures and carted them off to the Ural Mountains. Statues that were too big were buried on the properties.

Restoration began during Stalin’s reign and continues today. Not every room is open yet in either palace. It’s been more than 50 years and some of the original historians are still working on the Restorations.

Catherine the Great’s hubby, Czar Peter, died of a case of terminal “hemorrhoids” that just happened to manifest spontaneous stab-like wounds. After that, Catherine reigned for over 30 years. Her son, Paul, having to wait all that time for his own reign, immediately passed laws preventing women from reign in Russia. There have been no female Czars since then. Kharmically, Paul was czar only 4 years before he was killed.

Amber has magical properties and is highly prized by Russians. The Amber Room panels were a gift and had originally been installed in a smaller room. The panels were lost so this is a recreation. The price of amber increased 4x once that room was made.

Both Pushkin and Peterhof were inspired by Versailles and both had their own Hall of Mirrors.

Russians bathed more and Catherine had her own bath house with hot and cold baths along with steam saunas. There were even facilities for the servants.

The inlaid floors were amazing in both palaces. We wore museum booties to protect them.

At Peterhof, we walked through the gardens (250 acres) and stopped for lunch on the grounds. The lunch started with a salad, champagne, and a shot of vodka (which smelled and tasted an awful lot like isopropyl rubbing alcohol to me). We were served bread with a circle of creamy butter and salmon caviar in the center. It was a really nice taste combination. Then came a soup and the main dish was some kind of chicken curry. For dessert they served ice cream with strawberry sauce. I used the ice cream to add to the thick Russian coffee (served black). Tasty. I started a trend of others at our table dulcifying the bitter brew with ice cream. That’s me, International Trend-setter!

We toured some of the extensive gardens. The fountains are all gravity fed so they are on all day from 11am throughout the summer. Since there is so much rain and snow, they never have to ration their water. Peter also liked to play tricks on his guests so he had hidden sprays installed so unsuspecting guests walking by something or sitting on a bench would trigger mists and sprays. The many fountains are elegant and reminded me of Caserta.

In the palace, there was no wallpaper back in the day so they used silk fabric. There were two Chinese rooms and the Russian china was cobalt web design. The chandeliers were made of crystal with gold added which produced a purple hue. The rooms were smaller and less opulent, and I liked them more.

St. Petersburg has 34 sunny days per year. The rest of the days may have some sun, but the rest of those days are mostly rain. I’ve been watching the weather prior to this cruise and I was prepared for rain. Today was completely sunny and amazingly beautiful. We’ve had perfect weather this whole trip thus far. AS soon as the Russians see sun, they strip down to their skivvies and pull up a piece of grass or stand against a wall basking in the rare vitamin D. On our sunny bus ride, every patch of public green was dotted with bodies soaking up the sun.

There are many public parks here and the fashions are no different than anywhere else. If it hadn’t been for the Cyrillic signs and onion domes, St. Petersburg would be quite similar to other large cities of the world. On some level, I expected this, yet, there is still a part of me that equates Russia with cold war propaganda images and Dostoyevsky.

Thanks to the ship, I tasted Chicken Kiev, Latvian mushroom soup (much like Hungarian mushroom stew only thinner), and borsht. The borsht was tasty, though I liked the beet soup in Riga better. The Chicken Kiev was a surprise. I cut it open to share with G and a flood of melted butter raced out of it. I spent several minutes just speculating on how they trapped the herbed butter in the center.

There was a midnight buffet and 80s dance night in the solarium. They had an ice carving demo and the setting was amazing with beautifully carved fruits and melons. Edible art.

The sunset lasted for hours. Literally. I took sunset photos every 30 minutes or so between 10:30 and midnight. It just kept getting more and more beautiful.

Comments are closed.