Do svidaniya St. Petersburg
Trip Start Aug 23, 2008
10Trip End Sep 09, 2008
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Once again, our private tour paid off and we were allowed early entrance to the Palace which afforded us the luxury of visiting without the masses and getting in and out. We were allowed to take photographs here with the exception of the most beautiful room of all, the Amber room - but more about that in a moment.
The size of this palace is unreal. As you can see from the photos - it was hardly possible to capture it with the camera. A few facts about this Palace - it was a gift from Peter the Great to Empress Catherine I. The majority of the work and building however, was re-built by their daughter Empress Elizabeth. One of the most famous and beautiful rooms in this palace was the Amber Room. We were not able to take photos in this room - but you can imagine - a room that is comprised solely of pieces of Amber.
As we walked through this palace we couldn't believe that during World War II - the Nazi's left the palace after occupying it with just part of the foundation standing. Now in 2008 they are still doing restoration and we were only able to see the parts that were finished. As with all the palaces in St. Petersburg during this time - most of the valuables were crated up and stored in the basement of St. Isaacs Cathedral in St. Petersburg with the exception of the Amber Room. They were not able to remove the Amber panels in time - so they covered the walls with false panels - but alas - they were eventually discovered and they panels had disappeared by the time the Nazi's departed and destroyed the Palace. Just recently some of the panels were found in Germany - and studies of these panels have shown that the reconstruction of this room is almost 100% identical to the original design work of the Amber Room. It was quite amazing to see. It might be possible to 'Google' this and find some photos and/or more information.
The ceramic furnaces were quite remarkable - beautiful Delft tiles - most of which have been re-created - you will see them in the photos. They are massive in size and I was curious as to why they were all done in blue and white when the majority of the rooms were of a distinct color palate on their own...
Gold, gold and more gold....what would a Russian Palace be without it?!?!
After touring Catherine Palace we headed back into St. Petersburg. We had a similar lunch as the day before - it was excellent. They had a special type of sweet today that was a dark chocolate/poppy seed and I couldn't resist it - actually either could anyone else as I noticed I wasn't the only one to have one on my plate in the restaurant.
Next stop - the Peter and Paul Fortress - built in 1703 by Peter the Great to help protect Russia - we were here to visit the Cathedral and the tombs of Russian Tsars. From Peter the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, and his family who were assassinated/murdered after he abdicated the throne. During this year, the two 'missing' children were entombed here with the rest of the Romanov family - after DNA tests proved their identity.
Next stop....resembling the famous St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood was built in honor of Alexander II who was assassinated on this site in the late 1800's. This ranks high on my list of favorite churches. This church's interior is comprised of intricate mosaics on basically every square inch. It was overwhelming to say the least. Another sad thought was that during the war this church was used as a market to store and protect the very few vegetables that the people of the city had at their disposal during the Nazi occupation. After the war, this church was used as a warehouse for an opera theatre.
Another point to mention is that during the time that the Nazi's were in Russia - they never were able to enter the city during this siege that lasted 900 days. Many people died of starvation - and the death count during this time was around 700,000 to 800,000. The residents of 'Leningrad' tried their best to continue with life while refusing to let the Nazi's enter the city.
Changing religions - our next stop was the Grand Choral Synagogue, the second largest synagogue in Europe. Jim and Glen donned their kippah's and we entered the synagogue for a quick visit. It was damaged during the Nazi siege - but has since been rebuilt like so much of St. Petersburg.
Now for a little fresh air, we headed down to the canals and boarded a boat for a cruise along the Neva River and many of the canals in St. Petersburg. Some of the bridges didn't allow a lot of head room - but we ducked down and no one lost any inches off of their height today. We saw a lot of different sites - but unfortunately I only can put a title to a few of them on the photos - as it was a bit overwhelming.
After our canal tour we headed to St. Isaacs Cathedral which houses the third largest domed structure in the world. It took only 40 years to build, was completed in 1858, and will hold 14,000 in prayer. I am not sure if I mentioned it - and for those that didn't know - Russian Orthodox services last about 2 hours and everyone - from the very young to the very old - will stand during the entire service. Even the Tsars would stand - although they did have their own special place to stand. The granite columns at the front entrance are solid red granite and the doors are some of the largest that I have ever seen.
All we had time to do now was hit a couple of gift shops - where we could buy matroishka dolls, painted balsa wood trays and containers, lacquer boxes - and although Helen kept telling me that I would buy one - I didn't.... Glen found a very cool pocket watch and Roseann and I bought some Russian Icon replicas.
Our ship was sailing at 6 p.m. so it was time to get back - we were quite tired - but thoroughly enjoyed our two days in St. Petersburg - it was quite impressive to see. It is unfortunate that it is so difficult to visit this country - I would think if it were a bit easier that more people would be able to appreciate all that there is to offer in terms of history and culture in this beautiful city.