22 July 2013

Impressions of St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia ---

We did a river cruise first and I didn't realize there were so many old palaces there. Many of course have been converted into museums or other things. They are mostly a classical (I'm guessing) 18th century look of sort of row palaces along the river (like row houses). Many had white stone corners and lintels while the facade was painted bright colors. Totally did not expect the bright colors in Russia.  I didn't expect miles upon miles of them along the canals.  The river trip was a bit of a blur but there was weak warm sunshine that made a light jacket just right in June!

We took a hydrofoil ride to Petershoff castle. I slept thru the ride. The time difference of two hours from Madrid and getting up super early for the tour was really painful. We were getting up at like 4am our time. What a whiner I am - I could have had jet lag if I'd come from the US!

We just toured the gardens of Petershoff which were Versailles-esque. Peter was influenced by Versailles and wanted to have something equally impressive. The fountains were lovely and gravity fed which was impressive.

We got lots of history from the tour guide Oksana thru out the two days.
Catharine the great was from Prussia (part of Germany depending on the century). She plotted with one of her lovers to kill husband Peter III and become empress for 35 or 40 years! She was known for having many lovers. She built the one who helped her kill hubby Peter a palace on the river called Gratitude palace.

A long bus ride to Pushkin followed where the palace of Catharine is. Catherine's palace was huge from the outside, light blue, white and gild nearly in a circle but the small buildings on the opposite side were kitchens and staff quarters. The anterooms and the throne room were recently restored (since the 1970s) after being burned by the Nazis on their way out of Russia (we were told this several times). The public rooms had so much gilding, pounds of gold leaf! I think a second rococo style. It was so ornate and grand. Definitely worth the trip and effort  to go there. The entire palace is still not restored from the Nazi exodus. I did not expect the Soviet era to have taken such an interest in their history. I guess I thought they were busy rewriting or doing away with history, so this was interesting to me. Perhaps a pride issue?

We signed up for an evening folk dance show so the tour dropped us in a coffee shop in downtown where a tour minder stayed with us (I assume so we didn't wander off and have to report us to the police again). The girl was in her first year in University in philology and was studying Spanish so we practiced Spanish and talked about Spain and Russian life.

She took us over to yet another palace where the hopping and dancing was in the ballroom. Whistles and amazing glittery trimmed costumes accompanied the dancing. I often find the tourist shows a bit cheesy but this one was well done. It was just the dancing, no schtick in-between things.  At intermission, the Asians in the crowd (the majority) shoved me out of the way to get to the crackers and champagne. Shove may be too gentle of a word actually. I guess they are used to conditions so crowded they just shove and push to get what they want. Or maybe it's a vacation urgency thing. It was harsh but we enjoyed the show and recognized that this was local artists and dancers trying to make a living at their art who probably had other jobs they had to work as well like most artists.

Next time Day 2 of the sprint around St. Petersburg.


  1. I wouldn't have thought of any city in Russia having multiple palaces, but that might be my Western bias coming into play. It's hard to imagine housing in Russia without thinking in terms of huge, ugly, and impersonal apartment complexes constructed by the government.

    Did the Soviet government seize that palace properties and use them for official business or to house high-ranking officials I wonder?

  2. I just read an article that the new government is thinking of seizing the palaces in certain areas that could be lucrative as real estate investments. Perhaps the seizing never ends in Russia?