dasvidaniya russia…

We are just now drifting away form the coast of Russia and I must say, I am going to miss it. I could have easily spent another week (or two) even just in St. Petersburg because there is so much to see and do. We’ve hardly been on the ship at all, yet we’ve only scratched the surface of such a culturally, historically, and intellectually interesting place.

Just when I thought we were running out of palaces to look at, we spent today on a daytrip to see the summer palaces of Catherine the Great and Paul I (her son). It’s hard to say, but I think I may like her palace best out of those that we have seen (which has been so many by now!) It was different than seeing any of the other palaces because firstly, both of these palaces were about an hour from where we are. Additionally, they were both damaged heavily in the war (particularly Cathetine’s palace) and have since been meticulously reconstructed and refinished – it’s really amazing how they have recreated such intricate metalwork, wooden inlay in the floors, and sculptures adorned with gold leaf. And that’s on top of rebuilding from the basement up, pretty much!

We visited Tsarkoye Selo first, to see Catherine’s palace which was very different from others we have seen because of it’s sprawling layout and beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, much of the original artwork was stolen by the Nazis, who used it as a prison at one point – but in it’s place there are now beautiful pieces that came from The Hermitage. The palace is still actually in the process of being refinished (I believe only 30 rooms are done now). We got to see what seemed like a lot of the palace, however, including the Amber Room where the walls and picture frames are all made of beautiful amber of different shades. It was funny to learn as well that Elton John had thrown a birthday bash at the palace, leaving two grand pianos (Steinways, one black and one white) as gifts – which are still there today.

Next we traveled not far to the town of Pavlovsk to see the palace of Paul I. Our guide told us that Catherine wasn’t keen on living with her son’s family (even in opposite wings of her palace), so she essentially kicked them out by building them their own palace commemorating the birth of their first son… pretty wild! This palace was not as huge or gaudy as Catherine’s, but was interesting to see because the architectural style was so different from that of Catherine’s palace.

I’m not sure that Catherine or Paul’s palaces fell into this category, but we did learn about the origin of “The Hermitage”. Quite simple really, the word comes from the word “hermit” – one who is away and secluded from others. More interesting, however, is that many of the great palaces had a hermitage on the grounds, where there would be no stairways to the second floor – only a lift. This was so that confidential matters could be discussed on the second floor in absolute privacy. They also used complicated and impressive lifts for meals to the second floor, where guests would request food and their piece of the table would rise up from below to serve them within minutes. Pretty cool!

When we got back, we were running late and still wanted to run some errands before on-ship time, so the bus dropped us off near St. Isaac’s downtown. We ran to the Hermitage so that Amy could check out some books, and then rushed around trying to find postage stamps (for our postcards) and browsing things for sale in the stalls. There was a girl (not much older than us) by the stalls, as well, who had a little cub/bear on a chain which was pretty funny – they charged people to have their photo taken with it and it was so cute, playful like a puppy. Unfortunately we have had hell trying to find postage stamps here… no one seems to sell them other than the post office which we haven’t been able to make it to (and it closed earlier today). I’m disappointed because I’ve been sending postcards from every country, plus saving stamps from each country in my journal, but I’ll survive! On the upside, we did buy some other cool stuff… like Amy got a really funny “McLenin’s” shirt (McDonald’s style) and I finally found a genuine lacquered box that I adore.

We took a cab back to the ship, which by the way is a very interesting experience here in Russia. I’m not sure if you’re safer on the sidewalk or in a cab… I think it’s a tossup. The cab drivers drive about ten times more all-over-the-place than they do in New York, and the traffic situation altogether here just seems like a mess. There aren’t lanes marked on the roads in a lot of places, and you’ll see seven lanes spontaneously trying to merge into two lanes before crossing one of the bridges across the river… We also had the same cabbie yesterday and today which was amusing, though we couldn’t understand him half the time. He talked absolutely non-stop (half of it was cursing at other cars on the road - I think he can drop the f-bomb almost as eloquently as Igor’s dad). The rest of his chatter was asking about where we’re from and such. He laughed about Arnold governing California, tried to communicate to us (both days) something about some people on our ship which we didn’t understand, and was swearing in English thinking it was funny when we could understand him. The alternative to taking a cab is a pretty long walk to Nevsky Prospect, the main street… maybe 30-40 minutes, depending. The problem with walking is that the biggest scariest intersections are the ones without crosswalks/lights. Even with crosswalks, you can never be sure that a car isn’t going to fly up onto the sidewalk, and you could be in the middle of crossing a street when a car comes flying through a light and almost hits you. We found the best strategy was to follow the clumps of Russian people who seemed to have better traffic-dodging tactics than us (though they would try to talk to us then and we felt so stupid not being able to respond intelligently in Russian!)

Well I am dead tired, especially after spending so long getting pictures up on my blog (they changed the whole system on me so the html I wrote out in advance no longer is working and I had to redo everything!) They’ve been coming on the intercom constantly for the past two hours, as well, looking for a few people who seem to have not made on-shop time (they’ll suffer consequences of being stuck on the ship at our next port and not allowed to leave)… so I am looking forward to a good night of sleep without any interruptions or announcements on the PA system.

Plus… we gain an hour of sleep tonight!!

catherine’s palace

inside the palace walls, a beautiful lake

ornate gate of catherine’s palace

paul’s palace

one side of paul’s palace, adorned with sculptures


At 7:43 PM, Anonymous Andrea said...

All I have to say is... did you ever get to use "ya hachu pechenya"? ;)


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