Surfacing again after several months of "radio silence". The latest posts should bring things up to date. I have now moved back to the UK into the somewhat surreal world that is Flete House. I am planning to head off up the Mekong and Red Rivers in Vietnam and Laos later this month. 2023 has arrived so Happy New Year !!
A couple of eagle eyed followers of this blog have pointed out a couple of inaccuracies, including the fact the Catherine the Great cant have had much to do with the murder of Paul 1st as she had already been dead for several years when he met his demise. Off to the airport now for flight to London and a night at the Arts Club before heading back to Spain for canine reunions and Spanish reality check tomorrow.
My Russian SIM has been replaced with my Spanish one so that normal service should be resumed imminently.
I will probably make a few final tweaks and corrections, and update the Credits and Acknowledgement page, when I have recovered from what has been a full-on and amazing trip, in a country that, though a tad frustrating at times, never ceases to impress and amaze !!
Thanks for reading/following. Not sure how many of you will have seen it through to the end !
Started off at the Russian Museum – another massive collection – this time of Russian Art. All laid out chronologically so needless to say starts with a few icons..
And ends with some Stalinist propaganda and The Knight at The Crossroads.
Then onto the Michaelovsky Castle built on the site of Paul 1st birthplace and subsequently the building in which – despite his paranoia and moat & drawbridges he was to meet his demise in 1801.
Peter the Greats Summer Gardens where he built his first Summer Palace – a very modest affair…..
Next was a visit to the Ivan Nevsky Monastery aka The Lavra – the 2nd holiest monastery (apart from Sergiev Posad) in Russia. Still a working monastery but with 2 cemeteries containing the tombs and graves of celebrated Russian composers, writers artists and architects. Including Dostoevsky, Glinka, Rimsky Korsakov, Musorgsky, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Shishkin and Krylov to name but a few. Ivan Nevsky (ancient Russian Hero) is buried here – or whats left of him. The Soviets did it no favours and is in the process of renovation…….
And a few tombstones…………….
No photos inside the church as it is “active”.
Then onto Kazan Cathedral commissioned by Paul 1st just before his death to be an equivalent to St Peters in Rome. Huge and very impressive with one of the oldest and most venerated icons in Russia (Our Lady of Kazan) – much kissed and admired. Also the burial place of General Kutusov who famously defeated Napoleon in 1812. And Barclai de Tolli who led the Russian into Paris as a payback for their desecration of Moscow.
Finally no trip would be complete without a woolly Mammoth so off to the Zoological Museum so see the Berezovsky Mammoth along with some his mates.
One last trip to the Singer building to top up my new library and suitcase,
Catherine the Great gave the land and her architect – Charles Cameron to the future Paul 1st to celebrate the birth of his son and heir. Having disposed of her husband (Peter 3rd) in order to take the throne she later had Paul murdered, but that’s another story !! Paul and his wife Maria Fyodorovna commissioned the Great Palace while they went off – incognito – on a major shopping binge around Europe buying up everything they saw including clocks, porcelain, tapestries, paintings and furniture. To accommodate this extreme case of retail therapy the palace had to be extended with the addition of taller and more elaborate wings.
The grounds were landscaped and included lakes, fountains, bridges and other pavilions and palaces.
Another friendly squirrel and a golf-cart full of lilac babes off to serenade the tourists.
Then onto Gatchina – originally presented by Catherine the Great to her then lover – Grigory Orlov – upon whose death she passed it on to Paul 1st as a spare palace. A huge very different palace where Paul used to endlessly drill his small army of soldiers as he became increasingly paranoid – for good reason as it turned out.
The Nasis bombed the sh1t out of it in WW2 and renovation still continues with quite a long way to go. An enormous park with all the trimmings including the extraordinary Birch Palace which resembles a pile of logs but inside contains a very ornate suite of rooms for entertaining etc.
More costumed entertainment before we departed for the Priory Palace. I should explain at this point that due too the immensely complicated rules relating to guides and museums in Russia we were lumbered in Gatchina with a guide whose mastery of English was minimal and whose specialist subjects seemed to be Heaven, kissing icons and his hero Paul 1st. After a couple of hours of this as we headed towards the Priory Palace and I was losing the will to live, all I can say is that it has something to do with Paul 1st, The Knights of Malta (for some reason Paul was Grand Master), Jerusalem and needless to say Malta. So no further questions please …………..
Then back to the city for a final frenzy of museums, churches, icons and of course mammoths !!
They say that it would take over 60 years to cover the Hermitage if you spent 5 seconds looking at every item on display and that’s not counting the 95% of items not on display !! Or something like that !!
I cannot compete with the wonderful range of books that catalogue and photograph the various exhibits – not to mention the extraordinary surroundings in which they are housed. The parquet floors for example are mind-blowing in their detail and craftsmanship. Have just had to buy a new suitcase to carry my new library home !! Anyway a brief selection.
Then onto Peter the Great’s original Winter Palace – a wooden and stone structure on the banks of the Neva, next door to its somewhat larger edifice. It is currently being excavated and restored.
Drive back from Orianenbaum and decided to do a couple of museums in order to make a change from the bling and icon routine. The first was the Artillery Museum. A VAST collection of every type of projectile ever invented and/or used (by the Russians anyway) and the vehicles etc necessary to launch them. Collection includes old & new with cannons captured from Napoleon etc. Also an entire area celebrating Kalshnikov and his extraordinary contribution to global death and destruction – He designed and continued to develop the AK47 – favoured by every terrorist organisation and army on the planet ! He is virtually a saint in Russia and certainly a National Hero of the highest order…………
And one of the first computers used as a guidance system for early rockets
Then onto the Kunstkammer – Peter the Greats centre for scientific and medical research, which contains many instruments brought back from his trips to Europe where he “harvested” as much knowledge and scientists, to take back to St Petersburg to try to get Russia up to speed with all things scientific and medical. Apart from instruments, including a huge globe which could hold twelve people inside as it rotated and turned into a planetarium, and botanical paintings, he included a collection of pickled embryos of unusual specimens such a Siamese twins, chickens with six legs etc, If you are squeamish – look away now !!!!
Peter the Greats close friend and political adviser Alexandr Menshikov built this palace and had intended it to be as grandiose as Peterhof, just down the road. However his grandiose plans ultimately bankrupted him and his subsequent fall from grace resulted in exile to Siberia.
The Palace then became the residence of the heir to the throne including Peter the third who constructed a miniature – well not that small – fortress where he could play war games with soldiers and even had a large lake created so as to enact sea battles.
It has far more the feel of a stately home rather than a bling filled palace although some of the decor is somewhat OTT. Unfortunately a lot of the Main Palace is covered in scaffolding as they struggle to get someone to sign off on the restoration work that has bee completed for some time……………….
And inside ……….
Then back into St Peterburg for a bling free afternoon and a few surprises….
Having separated myself from the Volga Dream team its time to venture forth alone again (or at least with guides and driver). So a 200 km drive in a southerly direction to the town/city of Novgorod. Also founded in the 9th century and ruled by the Rurik dynasty, it played a crucial role in defending Kievan Rus from invaders from the Baltic states and Sweden for over 700 years until they managed to seriously piss off Ivan the Terrible who ransacked the town in 1570 and slaughtered virtually the entire population. The Swedes finally took over in 1611 until Peter the Great sent them packing back to Sweden. It remained a quiet provincial centre until WW2 when the Germans invaded and occupied the town for 2 1/2 years – bombing and shelling most of the area. However it still has a Kremlin and a multitude of Churches and Cathedrals, most of which have been, or are in the process of being, restored. Dozens in fact as rich merchants who had sailed down the River Volkhov from the Baltic, competed with each other to build the biggest and best. Needless to say Icons and frescoes abound including some by Theophanes the Greek dating back to the 14th Century. Anyway a few examples……..
One especially special church that the the Russians pleaded with the Nasis not to touch so they bombed it to bits anyway !!
Lots of legends about Icons and Arrows from Suzdal and a weeping pigeon who still sits atop the main Cathedral………….
A huge monument in the middle of the Kremlin which is a sort of Who’s Who of Russian History that the Nasis tried to ship back to Berlin but were defeated by its magnitude and the resilience of the Russians…….
And a memorial to all who perished…
Then a long drive back to St Petersburg and check in to the wonderful Helvetia Hotel.
Off to Orianenbaum tomorrow but that’s another story………..
Day 3 in Petersburg and the last day under the umbrella of Volga Dream before I go solo again and head off to Novgorod.
We started at the Hermitage/Winter Palace with the usual familiarisation tour. Amazing rooms, furniture, vases & urns – not to mention the odd painting or two !
Then downstairs to the absolutely mind blowing exhibition of Scythian Gold & Jewellery. No Photos I’m afraid, so had to buy the book. 3000 years old and techniques that modern Jewellers including Faberge etc have been unable to replicate.
Lunch and then we headed to the Faberge Exhibition which I have to admit was a bit of an anti climax after the Scythian splendours. However some nice porcelain and many eggs………..
Oh yes and an obligatory pearl smothered icon or two.
Next came the River/Canal cruise which really should have been on Day One as its a great way to familiarise oneself to the general layout of this extraordinary city. But then as you may have gathered Volga Dream should stick to cruising the Volga as their land based activities leave a lot to be desired !!!!
Back on shore following a girl with a Tutu as we head to Yesileevs to feast our eyes on foody heaven
A statue of Catherine the Great and back to the hotel for a last supper with Jack & Judy my new pals from the Gang of Five as the S African/Zimbabwean couple Bill & Sue had gone exploring.
Some pictures from the roof terrace and then dinner with the inevitable disagreement with the staff !!
Great fellow travellers even though Bill does have a fascination for all things to do with pipes !!! And not quite sure why Judy seems to be giving me the finger – probably something I said …………….