Sunday, September 6, 2009

St Petersburg, Revisited!

Day Two in Russia and we were renewed, ready, and raring for what was next! Another full day seeing incredible Russian treasures. And another day of sunshine, thankfully. This was a day of churches; we visited three major Russian churches.

We went to The Hermitage Museum (not a church, but the acclaimed, incomparable art museum) and The Church on the Spilled Blood - both of which were captivating enough to warrant their own separate blog posts. Stay tuned. This was the rest of the day (as if those two weren't enough!).... The Rostral Columns are located in St. Petersburg on the spit of St. Basil Island. They are ancient "lights" built in 1811 to guide ships. The city has 150 bridges, 9 of them drawbridges, which allow entry of ocean-going ships into the waterways and canals of the city. These bridges are opened at 2am for ship traffic to pass but remain closed (down) during the day so traffic is not impeded.Our guide, Valya, also took us to the St. Petersburg University where she is a professor. It was one of the few places the Communist Soviet Union CCCP sign remains. This might be a good time to recount our experience with our guide. She was wonderful and quite knowledgeable, but there was an odd distance and curtness; it was almost as if the entire two day tour was scripted. And even our questions had rehearsed answers. She never asked or knew our names - there were only 7 of us in the group; so we spent 2 days with someone who never knew us by name. Odd, don't you think? It was all part of the Russian experience but it was clear that as a tourist there are certain things to see and know and others remain hidden.
Back on Nevsky prospect we passed this wartime sign alerting folks that this side of the street is more likely to be bombed. Oh. Yikes. I think I would STILL walk on the opposite side even today with such a message remaining from days gone by.
We lunched at a local, authentic diner (code for cheap!) It was a pick and point kind of cafeteria line and we did lots of pointing thereby tasting a lot of Russian specialties. Here Brian and Rebecca try the Russian borsch soup. Brian said he was glad he tried it, but I noted he only had a few slurps! But he gets point for trying!!! We found the Russian Ernst & Young building! Right in the center of it all. And right next to St. Isaac's Cathedral. I loved this church. The religious icons and stories were everywhere and the church was absolutely enormous.
St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg is one of the world's largest domed cathedrals, holding 14,000 people. St. Isaac's was commissioned in 1818 by Tsar Alexander I to celebrate the victory over Napoleon, and the French architect Auguste de Montferrand was the designer. St. Isaac's took 40 years to build, and Montferrand died the year it opened. It sits on a marshy bank of the Neva River, and thousands of huge wooden pilings were sunk into the mud to support the church. The exterior of St. Isaac's is of Renaissance and Baroque design, and the interior is spectacular because of the mosaics and many precious stones and minerals used. The golden dome is covered with 220 pounds of gold. During the Soviet era, the Orthodox Church was closed to worshipers and became a museum of atheism. Fortunately, many of the wonderful 19th century works of art were retained and decorate today's St. Isaac's.
Enjoy our photos from St. Isaac's...Way at the tippy top of the dome is a dove. If you squint you can see it!Malachite and Lapis Lazuli Columns in St. Isaac's Cathedral
The sunlight streaming in seemed a fitting "hurrah!" to St. Isaac's Cathedral.The second church we went to this day was the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The Cathedral is located inside the Peter and Paul fortress, built along the Neva River.The golden steeple seems to poke out all around the city! Very distinctive and ever present. Inside this church are the tombs of almost all of the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. Also here lies Catherine the Great, empress of Russia for 34 years. It was kind of eerie seeing the all these graves after our crash course in Russian history.
Matryoshka dolls lined the streets of most of the tourist stops. We bought a Christmas-themed set and will remember our Russian adventure every December this way!Back on the ship, as we pulled out of the Russian port - exhausted and full of Russian culture and history - we relaxed on the back of the ship to say farewell. We sat first with an older couple from Minnesota, aghast with what we had just done. They recounted how especially for them they couldn't believe there would ever be a day when they would travel to Russia after a childhood of being fearful of Russia's nuclear threats and Communist regime. I was eleven when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. So my memories of Russia are of a new country rising from a harsh history...rather than theirs of fear and threat. It was an interesting difference.As we pulled away we saw these men playing on the ship. I am still perplexed by exactly what they were doing?About an hour outside St. Petersburg we passed through Kronstadt, the main military seaport protecting the city. Supposedly there were people watching us as we came and left on our cruise ship. A little eerie, but we gathered with Brian and Rebecca and toasted Kronstadt and Russia together!

1 comment:

BelgiumBound said...

Oh my! It looks like they brought in a truckload of sand, got a hose from somewhere (?) and made a beach on the ship! They look extrememly happy with their creation, whatever it is!