St Petersburg’s treasures are unbelievable. The amazing sights today just kept going and going. We began by meeting our tour guide, Maria, at 8am, and cruising through canals for an hour. As it was prestigious to build houses along the river, there were many palaces and grand houses to be seen. The Hermitage Museum was next. This museum holds so much that it takes a person 10 years to view everything in it without stopping to eat or sleep, spending only a minute at each item. Catherine the Great was the main collector of the artwork. There were so many great painters and sculptors represented- two da Vinci paintings, numerous Rembrandts, a Michelangelo sculpture, and Titians just to name a few. We would have liked to go to the modern art gallery too which housed Matisses, Monets, Picassos etc. but we did not have time. The museum also contained many ancient items such as Roman vases, Egyptian artefacts such as mummies and pages from the Book of the Dead, and a glorious old clock containing mushrooms and peacocks of all things, which Matthew loved. The Hermitage Museum is housed in the old Winter Palace of the tsars, so the palace rooms themselves were stunning. Many precious jewels were made into mosaics that covered the floor, fireplaces, columns, vases etc. The whole place was incredible, and far too much to take in properly.
Two churches were next. I’m not really a huge fan of viewing ancient churches, but these two were amazing. The ‘Church of the Spilled Blood’ had an interesting enamelled tiled exterior, and an interior that was filled with glass mosaics. It was built over the place where one of the tsars was assassinated by his son, to commemorate him. Maria explained that the tsars were seen as God’s spokesperson on earth, and so the fact that the tsar had been killed made the Russian people feel guilty. They tried to appease this feeling by building the church. I got into trouble in this church, as Matthew had moved my turnstile on the way in and so I needed to duck under it to enter. Tim’s account of it was that I was lucky to get out of Russia without being locked up. The second church, St Isaac’s, was built as an imperial church, and it was enormous. Modelled on St Peter’s in Rome, it was very similar.
Lunch was much nicer than yesterday. It was a three course traditional Russian meal again, but this time it was delicious. Our last port of call was the Yussupov Palace. This was the palace of the best friends of the tsars through the ages, and was beautiful, especially the theatre where Anna Pavlova had performed. It was made even more interesting by the fact that it was the place where Rasputin was assassinated (by the friends of the tsars as they were jealous of his popularity with the imperial family). We were walked through a fascinating display of the assassination. Rasputin was poisoned, shot, and finally drowned before he finally died, so it certainly took some effort to get rid of him.
It was all just too much to take in, and we only scratched the surface in two days. The opulence on display within one city was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Talking with Maria was very interesting too. She had a son who was six years old, and explained that he was in kindergarten Monday to Friday, from 7am until 7pm. This was apparently normal for ‘ordinary’ Russian children. On to Helsinki tomorrow!