Today it is cold and snowing and blowing, not very pleasant at all. But Russia in December is no place for complainers. Get over it!! I have to go out and identify what I may (or may not) have seen yesterday. What is the USPS motto – “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” – yep, that sure sounds like me … I’m off on my rounds!
Later in the day -
The metro experience was much better today – still a bit intimidating, but I did get to my destinations. Last night I looked up what the sights I wanted to see and located every one on the map, so I was confident that I could do a lot in a short period of time (well, while there is some daylight).
First stop – the Hermitage. Located in the heart of St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage is one of the greatest museums in the world, rivaling the Musee du Louvre. The museum complex includes the Winter Palace, the Great Hermitage, the Small Hermitage (a retreat for Catherine the Great), the Old Hermitage and the New Hermitage … confused?
The basic display areas of the State Hermitage occupy 365 rooms in the Main Museum Complex. This consists of six buildings constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, and the New Hermitage display the collections of monuments of culture and art of the ancient world, Western Europe, Russia and the countries of Asia, as well as archeological collections.
The Winter Palace of Peter the Great is a unique architectural monument dating from the first quarter of the 18th century. The official residence of Peter I between 1720 and 1725 was located on the territory now occupied by the Hermitage Theatre. In the part of the palace which has been preserved, there is a memorial exhibit dedicated to Peter the Great. In his rooms – the study, dining room and woodworking shop – the decor has been recreated using genuine articles that belonged to the Emperor. Here the so-called ‘wax effigy,’ a posthumous sculptural portrait of Peter I, has been put on display.
Across the River Neva, on Vasilyevsky Island, is the the palace of St Petersburg’s first Governor, Alexander Menshikov. The Mishikov Palace, erected in the 1710s-1720s, is the location of the Hermitage exhibition works of art from the first part of the 18th century.
Also across the river from the Hermitage, the Fortress of Peter and Paul is a bit challenging to get to, following unmarked streets to the river and then across a wooden bridge to the island. The fortress was originally intended as a defense against the Swedes, but was later converted into a prison for political dissidents. Peter the Great’s oldest son was tortured here, and Dostoevsky, Gorky, and Trotsky spent time at the fortress as well. Peter the Great (Peter I) supervised the construction of the fortress himself, living in a small cabin (named, what else, Peter’s Cabin) which is now a museum.
The General Staff building was erected during the years 1820-27 and is an outstanding architectural monument in the style of Russian Classicism. The Eastern Wing of the building, where civilian ministries of the Russian Empire once were housed, there are both permanent and temporary exhibitions of the Hermitage. The Museum of the Russian Guard Regiments is found in the General Staff building.
Along or near Nevskiy Prospekt, there are Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian and Lutheran churches, a Buddist temple, a synagogue, and a mosque. One of the most famous and most beautiful churches of St. Petersburg is Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood. The church was erected on the spot where emperor Alexander II was murdered. The exterior features a number of “Russian-style” domes. The interior walls are covered with mosaics based mainly on the New Testament and follows the canons of Orthodox iconography from the Nativity to the miracles of Jesus.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is in the center of St. Petersburg and is one of the world’s largest cathedrals. The tower of St. Isaac’s Cathedral dominateds the skyline of the city and on a clear day, its gold dome is visible from far out in the Gulf of Finland. It was officially designated a museum in 1931, but the cathedral still holds religious services on major holidays.
The Statue of Peter the Great astride a rearing horse has been in place at the site chosen by Catherine the Great since 1782. It is considered a good luck charm for newlyweds who have their photo taken in front of the bronze horseman.
On the way back, I wandered through some of the shopping areas. Prices for souvenirs range from ridiculously expensive crap around the area of Church of the Spilt Blood to very moderate prices in the areas less traveled by tourists. I meandered through the food market – supermarket, I guess. Grocery shopping here is a serious activity, a combination of the floor of the NY stock exchange and a farmer’s market. It was quite something to see.