Sunday, October 22, 2006

Farewell, St. Pete!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Weather: Misty, dreary and overcast

Before I go any further, dear diary, I seem to have caught the attention of one our serving wenches, a blonde named Ira (short for Irina, I believe). Foretold of my Broadway aspirations (how fame does precede one!) she appears eager to return with me and to take her place within Brighton Beach society.

Once again consigned to the confines of our minibus, we set out for Peterhof. Over the river and through the wood, it seemed, we traveled the St. Petersburg highways and byways.

As we climbed into the van, we found the Grand Inquisitor had taken it upon herself to rotate seat assignments. John and I had stowed ourselves discreetly and quietly in the back of the van on Monday, hoping to avoid engagement with the rest any more than necessary. She attributed the shift to a command from the tour organizer, whom most of the SC crowd had travelled with before, about not monopolizing the guide as we spent the time driving. She then proceeded to monopolize the guide from the rear of the minibus, much like she did the day before from the front seat. At least from this perspective, she was less likely to notice how John's and my eyes rolled continuously at the inanity of her questioning.

Peterhof - - vast, expansive, and often compared with Versailles, was significantly damaged during WWII. Most rooms showed before and after photos to convey the level of destruction as well as the Herculean effort to rebuild. The term restoration is bandied about at every turn, but one has to wonder just how some of the decisions on color, finish, etc., were made.

The fountains and garden are a visual splendor. Interesting that the water flow is all driven by gravity alone - no mechanical pumps in use. A long central channel leads to the Gulf of Finland - the original "infinity edge" - just breathtaking.

We returned to St. Petersburg, arranging our travel to include a stop at one of the few churches that is not currently a museum, glimpses of the bronze Peter the Great statue of him on a rearing horse. Onto L'Ermitage, we made a bee line for some individual items, including the Peacock Clock, a gift to Catherine the Great from Prince Orloff. Next we fled to see the two DaVinci paintings, followed by the Raphael and the Titian room. John and I made an early escape as the view degenerated into Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. We did manage to find some of the particularly impressive rooms that were once part of the Winter Palace.
The Church of the Spilled Blood holds some of the most amazing mosaic work in the world. Interesting was an image of an adolescent Christ in one of the domes.

For me the day's highlight was the last stop of the day at Yusupov Palace. As elaborate and decadent as the royal palaces we'd seen, it was even more fascinating as a living house that was actually lived in by the family. The basement room has some creepy was figures depicting Dimitri with Rasputin as the assassination was about to begin.

I also found it noteworthy that this was the only residence that displayed a practical bathtub. My favorite part of the palace was a 200-seat confection of their private theatre. Frosted with gilt rococo moldings, I would have killed to see the backstage area.

Our ride back to the boat was tense, as the time for the boat's departure from St. Petersburg drew near. We did manage to arrive with only a few minutes to spare. We will travel overnight and tomorrow on the River Svir.

More to come...

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