Day 5 - St. Petersburg, Russia

July 5th continued...

After speed shopping we went to the Hermitage. It was more crowded than Catherine’s Palace had been. Kate went ahead to get our tickets and passes for each of us to use our camera on the tour. The idea was totally crazy to me since we were going to see art work and generally we would not be allowed to take photos, especially with a flash. But that is how it is. The Hermitage itself is actually several buildings all connected, including the Winter Palace, which was where our tour started. We began be walking up the Main Staircase or the Ambassadorial Staircase, this was the stairway used by all the important visiting dignitaries. From there we visited the Small Throne Room, St. George Hall and The Pavilion Hall which had the famous peacock clock, some very impressive mosaic floors and the large Italian Skylight Hall. Unfortunately, there were so many other tour companies and groups in the museum that you could barely move.

The museum is huge. I was very worried that we would not get to see what I wanted to, especially since our group was very diverse in our insterests. The information that Kate told us about the rooms was very interesting, but I was stressed as we followed Kate through the “required” areas of the museum. One of the first areas we visited after leaving the palace section of the museum was the special exhibit that I really wanted to see. It was an all impressionist exhibit that I had read about prior to the trip. In fact, I not only read about the exhibit, but I also read about the history of each painting in it. We were not able to take any photos in this exhibit since the ownership of the pieces is a very grey area, but it was great to see these paintings. In color they actually appeared darker than how they looked in the book, but at the same time you really could see the artist’s changes to the paintings.

From here we saw two da Vinci pieces on display. You had to slowly squeeze your way through the mass of stopped museum patrons to see either of them. In the museums Spanish collection they have one Goya and in another area they have a Michelangelo sculpture on display that was as hard to see as the da Vinci’s were. The museum was so hot and crowded that when we got to the permanent impressionist collection which included Renoir, Monet and Gauguin among others, only a few of us wandered through. I saw some wonderful paintings that I have always wanted to see, but did not find the Matisse section before we all gathered to go to the next stop on the tour.

The palace opens to Palace Square, with the Alexandrian Column in the center. The square is where the revolutionaries stormed to end the Tsars rule. It was hard to really tell the size of the square because they were setting up for an Elton John concert while we were there. It did not seem that vast with vans, trucks and hundreds of chairs all lined up. We got photos of the monument and surrounding arch before climbing back into the van. Our last stop for the day was The Church on Spilt Blood located near the Field of Mars and on the banks of the Griboyedov Canal.

It is an incredible image, the “onion” tops on the towers, all decorated in enamel and the tiled exterior. While it may not be as large as Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, it is a beautiful representation of the style.
church on spilt bloodThe church, like most of the other maintained buildings in the city is a major tourist attraction, so we had to battle our way through people go get in. Once inside we had to wait a little while so that Kate could get our passes and our camera tickets. Again, we were allowed to photograph inside as long as we paid the fee. The interior is small and like the exterior, is completely decorated in mosaics. In Russian Orthodox Churches there are no pews, so the limited space in the building was all open. There were some shrines, but the top one is for Alexander II, for which the church is named. The church was built by his son on the spot he was fatally attacked. Above this spot that his blood fell is a canopy, but the flooring is not in place. So the actual ground in which the blood spilled is exposed. When you look past all the decorations that designate this area you can see the cobblestones of the ancient street.

It was a very long day by the time we got back to the van. We definitely saw some interesting things on our first day in St. Petersburg. For example, it is customary for brides and grooms to visit the historic monuments of the city with their photographer after their wedding. We saw couples in their formal wear at these various sites. They did not bring the other members of their bridal party or seem to mind that hundreds of tourists were walking through their backdrop. This happens any day of the week too. We were here on a Thursday and at each place we visited we saw at least one bride and groom.

Once at our port, we quickly made our way back through the customs trailer, a simple return of the plastic card and another stamp in the passport before re-boarding the ship. On board I took a much needed, but unexpected nap before meeting everyone for a quick dinner at the Horizon Court. We headed to the casino instead wherer Chris was itching to take part in a Texas Hold’em tournament. When Tina and Brad arrived, I went with them to watch a show – the famous Russian Troika Dancers. I was glad to be going to the show because I thought it would be cool, however it was painful. I could not wait to get out of the show. I thought that since these were local dancers it would have been more of a cultural experience. It was like watching a show in Vegas at an off the strip hotel. The dancers where mostly just walking around the stage, the costumes looked like they were bought at a costume shop and at one point it did turn into a show girls performance.

When it was finally over we went back to the casino to meet up with Chris. He had lost his first tournament and was waiting to try again. Tina and I got everyone drinks and then headed to the roulette table. Each starting with $100, she played until she was completely out and I went for a few more spins and walked away when I had my $100 back. Chris wanted to watch the other players for a while, so I played the “I Dream of Jeanie” game again and gained $13 before heading to bed.