A Travellerspoint blog

29: By myself again

rain 15 °C
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Another leisurely start today, as Kate and my only plan for the day was to see the Church of the Spilled Blood and do some souvenir shopping!

The Church of the Spilled Blood is a St Basils look-a-like but is actually the church that was dedicated to Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated in the 19th century. The church is impressive as St Basil's on the outside but quite different on the inside. For starters it was built only a hundred plus years ago as compared to St B which was started in the 16th century. St B is a rabbit warren of small tiny cathedrals all joined together by little corridors whereas CoSB is one big church. Every wall and roof within CoSB is covered in mosaics dedicated to Christ and stories from the bible.. So impressive! It has been lovingly restored since the early 70s as the church was used as to house food stuffs and theatre props for almost 50 years prior!

I have to say that the Russian Orthodox churches that I have seen so far have just blown me away with their brilliance. It will be interesting to compare them to some of the great Catholic cathedrals of the world!

Kate and I then spent the remaining couple of hours searching for "just the right" souvenir for our respective relatives. Kate left me just after lunch for the airport and I've spent the remainder of the day catching up on my blog and fixing up accomm etc for my next trip.

Posted by weary_feet 00:54 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

28: 10:1

rain 14 °C
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Nice leisurely start today. Its only Kate and myself left of my small touring group and we wanted to see some of the cathedrals here in St Pb and also take in the Political Science Museum of Russia.

The cold change moved in yesterday evening and so we are quite rugged up today and feeling the chill! (The temp has dropped from probably 29 yesterday to about 15 today-- its incredible that the temp can fluctuate that much between two days!!) We decided to take in the political history museum first so headed back over the Neva towards the Peter and Paul Fortress.

The museum is housed in a famous ballerina's old mansion that was once the offices of Lenin and the early Bolshevik party! The museum is potentially the strangest one i've ever entered. For starters, some parts are under renovation which makes the tour route extremely disjointed! So we arrived at the museum and bought our tickets and were given a tour map and v confusing directions of how to navigate (wasn't helped by the fact we couldn't understand the Russian/ broken english instructions we were receiving).. So we started to walk thru the rabbit warren that was this museum.

Although not very clear the museum takes you through the political changes of Russia since the end of the 19th century.. It should (and i was really hoping) have been the most interesting museum I'd ever been to.. but unfortunately it didn't live up to expectations.

It spent some time showing us where Lenin's offices were in St Pb and gave us a basic over view of the Feb and Oct Revolutions.. It then skipped forward until Stalin's time, however the tour map route took you from the Oct Rev'n to a special exhibition on the death penalty and then to Krushchev and Breshnev era and then finally back to Stalin.. Totally confusing (and even more so because very little of the exhibitions were in English).

Needless to say the museum gave both Kate and I a really good giggle. Firstly, it was funny because it was so poorly organised (chronologically) and secondly because of the quantity of staff! Kate and I (and probably only 3 other tourists) were the only paying customers in the museum.. From a staffing point of view there was a little lady sitting (normally asleep or reading a trashy novel) in every room (to make sure we didn't steal any treasures from the museum-- by the way, this is the norm as this has been the situation in every museum we've been in since starting the trip) there was also a security guard (who was reading a book), an information desk lady (doing nothing because there wasn't anyone to help), a lady selling tickets into the museum and a lady checking tickets.. All in all, Kate and I estimate that the ratio of staff to tourists was probably something like 10:1.. Just amazing! As you can see the collective thinking is still alive and well in non-communist Russia!!

After deciding we had, had enough of the confusion of the museum we took off for St Isaacs Cathedral. St Isaacs is one of the largest in St Pb and is also one of the best because it has a huge cupola (similar looking to the white house in US actually) that you can climb to view the city. The church itself is gorgeous inside. Frescos cover every wall and the whole roof.. Incredible.. The view from cupola is awesome (chilly but awesome!)

By this stage the rain had just started to drizzle so we decided to head for shelter and find some dinner.. Borscht of course!

Posted by weary_feet 00:41 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

27: The Russian Pose

sunny 28 °C
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Considering the time I got to bed I was back up at 9am to go see more sites of St Pb. We decided to spend the day going out to the Peterhof. Peterhof is the original summer palace of the Romanovs and has the most spectacular water fountains I have ever seen.

Today is Russia Day so not only is it a Sunday today but it is also a public holiday today so we knew that it was probably going to be crowded. We decided to go today because the palace is closed on Mon's and a cold change is due through which will mean the weather is likely to turn ordinary.

So first thing was first we had to line up to get tickets to get to Peterhof. (Peterhof is about half an hour away on a hydrofoil.. you need to cross part of the Gulf of Finland to actually get to the palace). The line up was something incredible and didn't seem to be moving. I was in charge of today's site seeing (we were taking it in turns to work out how to get there, how much etc) so I went hunting the ticket box itself. As it turned out everyone was sheep lined up on the wrong line so I went right to the front of the queue and after probably 20mins or so got our tickets for the boat. By 12.30 we were snug in the boat and off to the Peterhof.

The palace is absolutely incredible. It has been described as the Versailles of Russia and I can understand why! On arrival, you walk down this water and tree lined colonnade right up to the palace itself! At the front of the palace is this incredibly large Neptune fountain that is flanked by cascading fountains.. Absolutely incredible! We made our way up to the palace (so that we could see the museum inside) and discovered another incredibly long line up.. We decided to forgo the palace and just stick to the grounds (which are huge). It was the nicest way to spend the afternoon strolling around the park admiring the many, many fountains and beautifully manicured gardens. Just bliss (esp after being inside all day yesterday).

We've noticed a really funny phenomenon here in Russia and we have dubbed it the "Russian Pose"... Anytime Russian people pose for a photo they put on an imitation model pose (no smile, body turned slightly to the side, bum sticking out, leg forward, eyes looking down the lense-- you get the picture) which is hilarious! Every photo that a Russian person takes involves a person in the foreground... Really funny.. I mean nearly all of my photos (and everyone else on my tour) involves taking a really beautiful photo of a building, plant etc not every photo needs to have a human pose!!!! I'll keep my eyes open during the rest of my trip and see how many other poses I can find... We all know of the Japanese pose-- 1 hand up showing the peace sign... The Hawaiin pose-- 1 hand up in the "shaka" mode... The Chinese pose-- two hands showing the peace sign and head tilted to the side... Lets see how many more I can discover during this journey!

Today is technically the last day of our tour so many of my tour mates have left during today making it a little sad! Tracey left after lunch and Karina is leaving v early in the morning! A fairly early night tonight and another day tomorrow spent touring museums!

Posted by weary_feet 22:17 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

26: ABTG

sunny 29 °C
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Early start today for our day traipsing thru one of the largest art galleries in the world, the Hermitage. The Hermitage is built within the old Romanov Winter Palace and occupies the entirety of the palace and the New Hermitage (which was built by Catherine the Great after the Winter Palace was completed to house her art collection).

Its almost a case of are you there to see the art or see the palace? In fact for me the palace itself probably outshone the art! The Hermitage's collection is impressive- Da Vinci is the head line act but the Hermitage also boasts; Raffael, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Monet, Picasso, Carravagio, CeZanne, Van Gogh, and Matisse to name only a handful of the 100s of artists on display. But for me the highlight was easily the grandeur of the Winter Palace.

I arrived at the musuem at 11am and left after 5pm and still only saw really 1 of the 3 floors! The Hermitage is enormous!! The Hermitage is also super duper popular.. Holy smokes, thousands and thousands of people would have traipsed thru the museum today.. And no I'm not exaggerating. Every room you entered you would be sharing it with minimum 50 other people.. In fact getting close to the Da Vinci's (there are two) took me at least three quarters of an hour! I have never seen so many people in one tourist attraction ever.. (I guess I'd better get used to considering we are now in high season!!)

In fact there were that many people (and particularly flag raised tour groups) that I've created a new acronym for travelling.. ABTG (Another Bloody Tourist Group).. The funniest thing happened to me today when I had finally elbowed my way to stand in front of one of the Da Vinci's. I was standing in front of the painting listening to my audio guide tell me all about the painting's hidden meanings etc when I was very strongly poked on the shoulder and spoken at in rapid Russian (with strong gestures) to get out of the way by one of the tour guides. By this time I'd been at the Hermitage for many hours and was hot and tired and rudely answered "No" and refused to move. Just hilarious, because the tour guide then got quite huffy and spoke really loudly (in my ear) to her group in Russian until they eventually moved on to the next painting. I mean, I know the tour groups don't have all day to stand around in the Hermitage admiring paintings, but really, if you aren't on a group you are continually poked, elbowed and pushed out of the way by the 50+ sheep who are following each of those god damn flags/ umbrellas/ fake flowers and some nosey annoying chick.. Has anyone else noticed that predominantly all tour guides seem to be chicks?

Anyway, that is really the only blight on an otherwise incredible day. Not only did I spend my day learning more about classical paintings (and artists) but I got to do it in one of the most amazingly dazzling palaces in the world. The grand stair case alone is enough for me! It really is a debate whether the headline act at the Hermitage is the art or the palace!!

By the time 5pm had come around my feet were SUPER sore, my neck and shoulders felt on fire so I decided to return to the hotel. This evening was our final night all together so we went out for a final farewell dinner at a Georgian restaurant. Unfortunately the dinner wasn't fantastic and was really expensive.. Another funny thing occurred this evening.. So we all went to this Georgian restaurant. The restaurant not only served food but had live music (some Russian crooner style singer). To put it bluntly the music was loud, was in Russian and wasn’t that good.. So we were talking pretty loudly just so that we could hear each other talk! Half way thru the meal a lady (sitting at a nearby table) gets up and starts abusing us. Yelling at us in Russian, gesturing wildly (you get the picture).. It was so out of the blue and really funny because of course none of us (except our guide) spoke Russian so we had no idea what she was getting so overly worked up about! It turned out that it was her b'day and she'd come to this restaurant especially to hear this dude sing!! Just funny!!

Believe it or not our day still wasn't over! After dinner we had already booked to go on a "white night" boat tour of St Pb at 1am! Yep that's right, if you want to see St Pb at night in the summer you have to go out at 1am (it doesn't get dark til about 12.30pm and the it starts to get light again about 2pm-- actually it is really twilighty the whole time so it doesn't really get black dark like it does at home). The boat tour is maybe the highlight of my trip in St Pb (although the Hermitage today was pretty good......). The lights from all of the palaces along the River Neva are just amazing! Every building is illuminated and so the show of the buildings is just great. The highlight of the tour is watching the bridges on the Neva open up for cargo ships! For me it wasn't a highlight at all (and in fact I was really quite incredulous that this was the whole reason for the trip).. Watching bridges open isn't that exciting! But for St Pb-ers it is a moment that shouldn't be missed!! And let me tell you that there would have been thousands out watching the bridges.. think NYE Sydney Harbour and then think of maybe a tenth of that number and you might be close to the numbers out watching the bridges open.. What's more amazing is that this is a nightly occurrence! It’s not like it happens once a year and so everyone goes to see.. it happens every night that the Neva is navigable (in winter its frozen). Apparently the numbers are big every weekend night (it’s a Sat today) but still I was blown away.

After an absolutely brilliant day it is time for me to go to bed at 3am!

Posted by weary_feet 21:54 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

25: Boobs and Bums

sunny 28 °C
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Train arrived just after 9am. We had to catch the subway one stop and then walk a couple of blocks here to the hotel. WOW is all I can say about the architecture here in St Petersberg. The city was built in the 1700s (so is fairly new for a European city) and was based loosely on Amsterdam. Peter the Great took advantage of his ability to build a brand new city and so every building here in St Pb is just superb!

We took a walk down Nevisky Prospekt (the main route to the Winter Palace) to the river Neva. St Pb is actually built on 40 odd islands so there is small water ways everywhere with ornate bridges.. Just beautiful. The entirety of the Prospekt is just amazing.. so many beautiful churches and buildings and then at the end of the street is the crowning glory (literally) the Hermitage (Winter Palace). Hermitage is pronounced "Ermiitaszh" in Russian and it is just glorious! No words can describe how beautiful this building is.. Huge columns, sky blue walls, gold trim... just awesome.

We decided not to try and tackle the Hermitage today (by the time we got there it was well after lunch time and we knew it was going to be an all day affair to walk thru the museum) so we decided to continue across the Neva to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

The Peter and Paul Fortress was the original part of the city built by Peter the Great. He built the Fortress to protect the fledging city of St Pb from potential attacks from the Swedes (to whom he had just won the land that St Pb is on). The fortress is built on an entire island and the main attraction is the St Peter and Paul Cathedral. This cathedral is the one that all of the Romanov Tsars are buried in (since Peter the Great)-- prior to Peter the Great the Tsars were buried in the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. The interior of the church is almost entirely gilded in gold! So mind blowing. Lining the cathedral is almost 50 sarcophaguses that house the remains of all of the Imperial Family since Peter the Great. The last Romanovs have also been lain to rest in the cathedral in the mid 90s after their remains were exhumed in Yekaterinburg (all except the young Nicholas and Olga, who have not been found).

The remainder of the island encompasses other museums related to maritime history, space exploration (believe it or not) and a prison museum. We decided to only view the prison museum (as we didn't have heaps of time and the weather today is HOT). The prison housed the most notorious political prisoners since Peter the Great. Each prisoner was deprived of the ability to communicate in any way to anyone. No prisoner ever saw anyone except their jailer. They were unable to write letters or receive letters and were not allowed any reading material. Speaking was banned and all transgressions were punishable by being put in a completely dark cell with no food, light or heating for more than 3 days. Must have been a really tough environment! More than one inmate committed suicide. I was surprised to see that women were also kept in the prison and were treated the same as their male counterparts!

After the prison we decided to call a day and made our way back to the hotel for a well deserved night's sleep!

Off tomorrow to the Hermitage!

Posted by weary_feet 11:12 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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