Second Afternoon in St. Petersburg

Trip Start May 20, 2011
Trip End Jun 06, 2011

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Flag of Russia  , Sankt-Peterburg,
Sunday, May 29, 2011

On returning to our van we then headed out to Peterhof, about a 45 minute drive to the north-west of Pushkin. Peterhof is another large palace complex but is known primarily for its garden and fountains, of which there are some 150 in all sizes and shapes.  The fountains are all gravity-fed, drawing their water from several large ponds above the grounds, which in turn are fed from the hills above the town.  The fountains are turned on in the mornings and off late in the day to allow the feed ponds to refill.

The main palace itself sits on a terrace overlooking the Gulf of Finland, about half a kilometre north.  There is a formal garden to the south of the palace and a much larger park to the north containing most of the fountains which lies between the palace and the gulf.  Directly below the palace there is a terraced set of fountains called the Great Cascade which leads down to a channel that runs out to the gulf.  In olden days boats would come up the channel from the sea right to the palace.  The centerpiece is a fountain with a large golden statue of Samson wrestling a lion.

To either side of the Great Cascade in an open and formal garden are two large bowl fountains.  The western one is called the Italian Fountain and the Eastern one the French Fountain, after the nationalities of their creators.  We walked past the French Fountain and  into the woods down a path running in a north-easterly direction toward the gulf. 

About half way to the gulf was a pavilion where eight paths intersected and in the centre was a fountain depicting Adam.  In a similar location to the north-west is a corresponding fountain of Eve.  Proceeding down the path toward the gulf we encountered our first Russian squirrel.  Russians are apparently very fond of their squirrels which are red in the summer but develop grey coats over the winter,  This particular specimen was still in transition with a grey tail and streak down the back.

At the end of the path, right on the gulf is a lovely little palace and associated gardens called Monplaisir.  This palace is a quite modest one-storey building in red brick with a red roof. but was partly designed by and a favorite spot of Peter I.  To the west of the main building is a yellow building with white trim called the Catherine Block.  It is memorable partly because it was from here that Catherine the Great set off to Moscow to depose her husband Peter III.

On the Gulf side of the palace is a statue of Neptune.   It is apparently considered good luck to touch his foot and leave a coin on the pedestal.  As we passed there was a fair pile of coins that had accumulated.  I was amused to see an old woman in a babushka walk up and scoop handsful of coins into her purse and then scuttle off. 

We walked around the outside of the Monplaisir Palace and peered in the windows, and then strolled through the garden.  The garden has five fountains, a central jetted one called the Sheaf, and four fountains adorned with gilt figures in which the water flows down over a bell-shaped surface.

In various places around the park are trick fountains where fountains shoot water unexpectedly.  Czar Nicholas II was apparently particularly fond of giving surprise soakings to his guests.  Bundle of laughs, those Czars.  We stopped by one of these fountains that randomly shot water over a garden bench.  Folks were racing back and forth and it wasn't clear just how the water was triggered.  In another spot there was a mob of people standing on one of the main paths with umbrellas and in due course great jets of water soaked the crowd.

At another intersection of paths is a large statue of Peter I standing on a high pedestal.  He is wearing thigh-high boots and people were attempting to toss coins into the boots at the back of the fountain.  This is again supposed to be good luck and is also discouraged by the authorities but there was a policeman nearby who was ignoring the attempts.  Not sure how the coins get retrieved from the boots.  To the east of this statue is another fountain called the Sun fountain, which sprays water in a vertical pin-wheel pattern. 

Returning to the southern side of the park we came upon two large fountains called The Roman Fountains.  They are columnar in style, done in granite and faced with marble panels.  Near them is another cascade down the side of a slope called the Chessboard Hill or the Dragon Cascade.  The cascade is in four tiers, each of which is decorated in black and white chessboard squares.  At the top of the cascade are two large dragons spouting water.  Down each side of the fountain are a series of statues.

Completing our tour we walked back up a path to the main palace.  On the way we passed another pavilion below, called the Orangery.  It is a curved pavilion with a garden and pool in front of it.  The centerpiece of the pool is a gilded fountain of Triton Fighting a Sea Monster.  The central fountain is flanked by four bronze turtles.

Fountained out, we rejoined our van for the drive back into St. Petersburg and the ship.  Again as we drove back into town we passed more monuments and saw a fair amount of new construction.  At one point we passed a strange large spherically shaped building.  It is apparently a shopping mall called the Baltic Pearl, and is the focal point of a major development funded by the Chinese.

After a long and busy two days we were glad to get back to the ship and have a bit of time to rest and relax before dinner.  Doing the small group tour proved to be a super choice as we had nice companions, a great guide, and the fact that we were in a small van made it easy to zip about.   We subsequently talked to some people who were on the "official" Holland America 2-day tour and they were not impressed.  Being on a large bus made getting around difficult; it was hard to manage a group of 40; and on one of the days they ended up pulling into a shopping centre parkade and having lunch at McDonald's!

Upon leaving St. Petersburg we sailed past Kronstadt, on Kotlin Island, which at one time was a major naval base, protecting the city from the North.  The island was a major naval base during Soviet times and was largely closed to the public but since has become accessible again, with a bridge now joining it to the mainland.  As we passed we could see the golden dome of the town’s cathedral as well as some old military facilities and rusting warships.  It had kind of an eerie feel to it with all the abandoned buildings about but it was still clearly used to some extent as there were active ships in port and even sailors to be seen waving at us from the deck of one ship as we passed.
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