Thursday, October 19, 2006

Days of Glory

Monday, October 2

Weather: Dreary, overcast and misty.

We started the day early, departing at 8:15am for our first stop, Catherine Palace.

We've been divided into mini-vans in groups of eight. John and I have been grouped with three couples from SC on our trip. The six of them bonded remarkably quickly. Our SC tour organizer mentioned that she tried to group people with similar interests. Apparently, John and I were the odd men out, as it were. Our guide is Zenya, a compact and seasoned guide of the city. She is fairly tolerant of the inane questions peppered at her by the member of our van who seems to have no connection between thought and speech.

The drive to Catherine Palace is almost 90 minutes. By the time we arrive and enter the gates, John and I are sharing knowing smiles during the endless onslaught from this vapid woman, our "Grand Inquisitress." Another wife in the crowd is similar, but has no concept of personal space during a conversation - a "close talker" as I call it.

Catherine Palace, enormous and restored, is splendid in its mix of real and faux finishes. Many rooms, had photos of the building before and after the devastation of WWII. I can't help but wonder, though, how much of the restoration is accurate to what was there before and how much artistic license was taken. Regardless, the result is amazing and overwhelming in its scope.

The portrait below is of Elizabeth I of Russia, daughter of Catherine the Great (I think). The German milkmaid genes from her mother seem to have blossomed her into quite a big girl.

These are some of the rooms we toured in the palace.

This is Catherine the Great.

I believe this is her father-in-law Paul. We saw several versions of this portrait during our trip.

I had always thought Faberge's expertise was in jewelry and fine metalcraft - didn't know they'd moved into electronics.

I think I've decided how to redecorate my apartment.

Ceiling mural - a bit dark, unfortunately.

More ceiling murals.

Some beautiful cased cobalt cut crystal.

On the same grounds is Alexander Palace, used as the primary residence of Nicholas II and Alexandra prior to the revolution. Less than one-fourth of the building is open to view. I was struck by how much less ornate the rooms were.

Catherine the Great

Nicholas II and Alexandra

Nicholas II

From Alexander Palace, we travelled into the middle of St. Petersburg to visit St. Isaac's Cathedral, a municipal building sometimes used for religious celebrations (as are most of the churches in the country, it seems - more on that later). Most recent use was for the re-interment of Maria Feodorovna on September 28, 2006, fulfilling her wish to be buried next to her husband, Alexander III, some 80 years after her death. The guides here speak of the Romanoffs with an odd mix of pride and embarrassment over the accomplishments and deeds of the Tsars.

We declined to visit the Russian Museum, taking the opportunity to visit a nearby tourist trap souvenir shop. They saw John coming a mile away. He completed most of his gift-shopping here. I made a couple of small purchases, somewhat deterred by the inflated prices.

Our final stop was Pavlovsk, the palace of Paul I, husband of Catherine I and father of Alexander I.

The building is rounded, similar to the Basilica in Rome. Photographs were not permitted inside.

Dinner was less impressive this evening. Choices of battered cod or roast beef with potato. As John ordered the cod, a fellow passenger avidly discouraged his choice. In a thick Jewish brogue, she announced that she'd marry the chef in an instant, know she'd " down to a size 8 in six months. I love it, completely inedible!"

We boarded buses again after dinner to attend a local production of "Swan Lake" at the Conservatory Theatre, across the street from the Royal Maryinsky Theatre (dark on Mondays). The Kirov Ballet and Orchestra is in New York while John and I are in Russia - ironic? Riding over, John and I speculated as to the anticipated quality of the production. I offered that I was hopeful for a live orchestra - John hadn't considered that, which led us to further ponder whether we were about to attend the Russian equivalent of community theatre.

More to come...

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