Thursday, September 3, 2009

St Petersburg, Here we are!

I have been stalling on this blog post... Just not sure I can put in photos or words exactly what St. Petersburg was like and all that I learned and soaked in. I will try for the sake of posterity, in hopes when I am old and grey this description will make me remember at least some of St. Petersburg's magic.
When we docked our group banded together, determined to be one of the first off the ship. We heard nightmares of folks being stuck for hours in lines and immigration and we had too much to see and do for that to happen. We were ready to pull out our elbows if needed to make a clean exit. Thankfully though the worry was all for naught. It was smooth sailing and we were out and into Russia in a total of 5 minutes. Our group just stood there and looked around. "We are in RUSSIA," we whispered. RUSSIA! It was like we all needed to pinch each other to prove it was so!

Yep, this housing complex was how I pictured Russia......the gorgeous sky, bridges, and river were not how I pictured Russia. Our morning welcome was fantastic. I had no idea how European-feeling the city would be. While still retaining that uniquely Russian attitude.Connor was happy to be in St. Petersburg!We drove the length of Nevskiy prospekt - St. Petersburg's equivalent of the Champs Elysees. An epic boulevard that spans 4.5 km connecting the city and built during the time of Peter the Great. We had fun learning all about Peter and Catherine (both "greats"!) Halfway down Nevkiy prospekt we got out to walk around. We saw the famous and prestigious school of Russian ballet. As you can tell, our little monkey wanted to just pirouette right away from us....guess she won't be tanduing with grace to this dance school anytime soon!After this outing we pledged to always bring the stroller with us - no matter how short the stop!The Smolniy Convent was just down the street and was a special treat. The deep turquoise blue captivated me. Unfortunately the sun backlit during our time, so I have supplemented with some internet shots. Here are our photos:Driving out to Peterhof we passed more Communist style housing. This high density living was everywhere. Symbols of a different way of life when housing was provided as a part of government reign.Peterhof Palace is located 23 km from St. Petersburg along the Gulf of Finland. Here Peter the Great attempted to build a seaside palace to rival Versailles. We explored both the Upper and Lower Gardens and the Monplaisir garden palace. While the grandeur of Versailles may not be matched in the palace structure, I would have to say the gardens rival any in the world.Splendid, surprising fountains are everywhere in Peterhof gardens. And they take your breath away. Many start empty at the beginning of the day and fill as the water flows. I had never seen fountains like that before!Monplaisir (French for "my pleasure") was indeed that. It is small and cozy while at the same time elegant and grandiose. It was a nice change from the overwhelming palaces of endless corridors and ballrooms. Located right on the sea, the surrounding sun, breeze, and water make a perfect spot for relaxation and art appreciation.Peterhof is certainly a must for any St. Petersburg tourist. Overwhelming, yes. Crowded, yes. But a necessary window to the dynasty of Peter the Great and the incredible city he founded.On the van ride to Catherine's Palace our little peanut conked out. We were without a carseat so my arms had to suffice. It has been a long time since my baby fell asleep in my arms!Next stop was The Catherine Palace. Of all the Imperial palaces, none is more evocative of both the heyday and twilight years of the Romanovs than Catherine Palace. We arrived pretty tuckered out from a full day already - but perked right up when we saw this!The palace was named for Catherine the Great - a leader we came to know in depth. Catherine's legacy as an empress and tsarina lives on. She is revered in Russia and her life and rule were and still are fascinating.At all major spots there were brides everywhere! It is a Russian wedding tradition to visit three to five places around the city that hold special meaning for citizens. There they have post-wedding photos snapped. Here is one of the many brides outside Catherine Palace. I can't think of anything more awkward than sweating with and among tourists and trekking to palaces and monuments in a puffy white wedding dress! Anything for a tradition and a photo, I guess!Catherine Palace was a "no strollers allowed" palace but luckily our little wiggleworm stayed pretty still and cooperative in our arms. Although who wouldn't be in awe of sights like these:
Catherine Palace was pretty badly destroyed by Nazis during the War. Photos attested to the extensive and painstaking restoration. The famed "Amber Room" is one such room that was ransacked. Russia has invested significantly to recreate the Amber Room and it is stunning. Golden amber covers everything in sight. Catherine Palace was a great stop. I loved the repetition of that Tiffany blue-turquoise on the palace - the same hue as the convent from the morning. There is still much to do to bring Catherine Palace back up to snuff from the effects of Nazis and Communism. But they are well on their way. I would like to come back when the Atlas statues that line the exterior are reguilded!
On our journey back into the city we rode the Russian subway. An unusual window into the grandeur and monotony of life, we took in the most beautiful metro stations and saw folks performing the most meaningless of jobs (i.e. a woman looking maybe 1/4 awake in a booth at the bottom of the escalator with a phone beside her - guess she is supposed call if something happened?) No photos allowed in the subway, so I pulled these from the internet as a glimpse. Those Communists wanted to make their public transportation mark!
(Kirk's edit: Apparently Reid forgot that this was actually the worst part of our tour of St. Petersburg. Our guide took us to one subway station that looks nothing like the pictures below. The one we visited was the most dull, drab, grey concrete station you've ever seen. We heard other people got to visit beautiful stations, so I'm not sure why our guide decided to take us to one that was so awful. Oh well...everything else about St. Petersburg was great!)
We rode past the hallowed Mariinskiy Theatre where the Kirov Ballet Company performs. This is where Anna Pavlova made her debut along with so many ballerinas! We had hopes of seeing a performance, but it was the opera on the schedule so we passed. Definitely would have been special though - so if you go, be sure to check into it. The former ballerina in me flooded back and I longed for my tights and pointe shoes from years gone by!
Finally we ended the day at the Yusupov Palace on the Moyka embankment. This home is famed as the scene of Rasputin's murder. In 1916 a group of the city's noble elite, including one of the Grand Dukes and led by the prominent anglophile Prince Felix Yusupov, conspired to kill the one man who they felt threatened the stability of an already war-torn Russian Empire. Grigory Rasputin, a peasant and self-proclaimed holy man, had gradually won favor with the Tsar's family through his alleged supernatural powers. His control over the decisions of the family and the Russian ruler himself, put him in a potentially manipulative position and posed a very real threat to their power. Consequently, Rasputin was murdered at the Yusupov Palace on the night of December 16-17 1916, and his death proved to be an almost greater mystery than his life had been. Again, 'no strollers allowed' and by this time we were ALL beat. Connor must have felt Rasputin's ghost because she fell apart at the Yusupov Palace. She tried, I could tell she was trying to keep it together, but the floor just proved too tempting not to just lie down and stay put. So we made a hasty departure from the group halfway through the palace and went outside to watch the boats pass. You know, all in all Connor was amazing most of the day so we had no complaints. It was a lot to cram in. If I had designed the itinerary I would have spread out the palace visits so there weren't three all in one day.

There is still so much I don't understand about Russian history, but now the dots are out there and more easily connectable. St. Petersburg has been through a lot. The Bolsheviks and Romonavs are not make believe and the tales of their influence abound.

Click here for full album photos from our first day in St. Petersburg


Dallas said...

Wow, that is a lot. I have to ask about the paper shoes Connor is sporting in one of your photos - did they make visitors wear those to keep the floor clean?

Kirk, Reid and Connor said...

Yep, they made us do that in a couple places (see the sock feet in Monplaisir).