by the Mama, who loves watching the children connect their learning
St Petersburg, Russia
Last year we read Gloria Whelan’s book, “The Angel on the Square”. So captivated by the descriptions, we added St Petersburg to our wish-list-itinerary, and we purchased the two sequels to “Angel” as well (The Impossible Journey and Burying the Sun, both of which we enjoyed immensely). Jgirl14 even corresponded with the author, hoping to learn more about the process of writing.
Imagine our delight to round the corner of a most fancy building (The Hermitage, actually) and see her standing there on one foot, still clutching a cross atop her taller-than-we-had-imagined column. We found her, the angel.
That was yesterday at the end of a long walk. Today we returned for a less tired look and to explore the Hermitage too.
Elegance in the extreme.
Treasures beyond rich.
You get an inkling for why there might have been an uprising, a revolution!
This is one place that must be seen to be believed. Chandeliers with enough bulbs to illuminate a small city hang almost modestly from highly ornamented ceilings, and not just one or two of them! Walls are adorned with one of the most comprehensive art collections in the world (although if I may be critical, the lighting is dreadful – full sunlight streaming in so in some cases you cannot even see the pictures unless you stand to the side, and some of the paintings are covered with glass, but not even non-reflective glass). Underfoot perfectly-laid swirling parquet patterns and intricate mosaics lead from one hall to the next. Even the sheer number of rooms is mind-boggling; over 300 of them. Navigating through the maze is not difficult – each doorway marked with a golden number plaque is on the colour-coded map, and the profusion of windows allows you to get your bearings from the embankment or square outside. Children hone map-reading skills in an effort to guide us around. We follow a tour group along a corridor. They stop in front of a clock, our attention is grabbed by a pink-gowned beauty hanging on the wall.
“Maria! There she is!” And quickly (but sedately, of course) we move along to see if her sisters and brother share this corridor space. One sister, yes. Two sisters, yes. We found them! But no brother, just two pictures of father. Back and forth we wander between the paintings, comparing them with our own mental images, telling Dadda all we can remember from our novel-reading.
On we walk in search of the dining room, where everyone was eating before being arrested. Here. Right here. This room. Really at this table? This chipped white table? I resist the urge to reach out and touch it.
The poignancy of the moment is interrupted…..where’s Tgirl5? Not with her mother. Not with her father. Not with her Grandpa. Not with her buddy. To be fair to her, she had not been directed to stay with any of these in particular – we had been wandering en masse, enjoying together. But Tgirl5 is not in the dining room. She is not in the adjoining hall. She is not in the room next door. Retracing our steps, we do not find her in the corridor with our novel-character-friends, nor in the named-by-us “ballroom”, nor in the “throne room”, nor the generals’ gallery with its missing pictures. Ten minutes has passed. We regroup. Grandpa and remaining children settle to wait in one spot while Rob heads in one direction and I make for the wide sweeping staircase with its red carpet held in place with golden rods. Being the weekend, it is busy and I struggle to spot rainbow-coloured legs amongst the mostly-dark-clothed crowd. Back and forth, up and down, another ten minutes passes. Where *is* she? Back to meeting spot. I take a ticket from Rob’s pocket so I can get back in to the building if I need to leave. We separate and look some more. Back to the meeting spot again. No Rob. He has embarked on a whirlwind tour of every single room on the second floor, and even at his long-legged pace, it’s going to take a full twenty minutes. I, meanwhile, set out in search of an information booth or Lost Children Room. Back along the now-familiar corridor, through rooms already oft-traversed towards the broad staircase, at the top of which is gingerly stepping a little girl in bright pants holding a grandmotherly hand, which has already given out lollipops and chocolates and toffees and a banana. The small one is obviously trying hard not to sob too much, but when she looks up and sees me across the expanse, she runs, dissolving into my embrace. I found her! Profuse thanks offered to Helpful Babcia, relief is quickly replaced by wondering. How long will we have to wait for Rob to turn up? Will we be able to find that Renoir I passed, but couldn’t look at? Will we find the da Vinci again? We do. And Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, Gainsborough, unknown painter……you name it, it was there. Well, almost. We couldn’t find any Constables in the British collection, but it’s quite possible there are some tucked away in the archives – less than half the works are on display at any one time. So many paintings.
Kgirl10 comments, “I can see why they didn’t want to sleep when they were taking the pictures down.” She’s referring to the removal of the pictures during World War II in case of bombing, a little snippet of information remembered from the Whelan trilogy. Real life and fact-based fiction merge into a new story.
Before the Hermitage Visit we managed to squeeze in a walk to the Summer Gardens (closed for drying out after the snow until next week!) and passed a magnificent church on the way. Strains of Vivaldi filled the air as an old man in black coat busked beside the canal. Cultured beauty.
St Petersburg is a lovely city. We only wish we could have longer here. There are so many museums and art galleries, cathedrals, churches and beautiful architecture, not to mention theatres with productions of everything from Don Quixote to Swan Lake (or Heaven and Hell if that’s more your scene). You could spend a month here and not run out of *culture*