Hermitage

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Being part of a group tour we didn’t have to queue to get in through the main door. I took the above after we came out, and the crowds were now inside.

The museum began in 1764 when Catherine the Great bought two hundred and twenty five paintings from a Berlin merchant. Among the paintings were  thirteen Rembrandt paintings and eleven of Ruben’s. Over her life she bought more and more artwork, and when she died in 1796 she had collected thousands of items, not just paintings, but books, drawings, jewelry, sculptures, coins and frescoes from the Vatican.

There are now three million items that can be seen, so if you spent one minute at each item it would take over five and a half years (without rest) to view them all. I was happy with two hours or so, and we only scratched the surface, figuratively speaking – we were not allowed to touch anything!

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        The Kolyvan Vase, but more like a bowl.

2.5 mtrs (8 feet) high, 5 mts (16 ft) long, and 3 mtrs (10 ft) wide and weighs in at 19,000 kilos (19 tonne). We were told that they built the room around the vase. It is made from Altai jasper, and it took two years to be carved and polished.

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Ancient artifacts – Greek , Egyptian etc

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Gold doors- there seemed to be gold everywhere.

I took well over a hundred photographs, so I am just posting a few as an example of what you will see if you ever visit, but I suggest that you have a guide – the collection is vast.

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The Italian skylight room- concentrates on Italian art.

DSC03382rMalachite urn, and the table is also malachite.

There is a Malachi vase in Windsor Castle . It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1839 by Tsar Nicholas I. It used to be in the Hermitage.
There is a story that during the 1992 Windsor castle fire there was a green urn that weighed over two tonnes, and in addition was filled with water due to the firemen trying too put out the fire. It could not be moved and the firemen saved those items that they could.
The water protected the vase and when the fire caused the water to turn to steam the outer Malachi covering fell off. After the fire had been extinguished they were able to use the pieces to reconstruct the vase to its original condition. This reconstruction was one of the longest reconstruction works after the fire.

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So much to see . . .

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So many paintings, and the more famous artists had many admirers, so much so, it was difficult to take a photograph.

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Kiosque (Kiosk) or pergola –
the poles are malachite. The original deposit of malachite was found in the Urals.

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Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace (which is now part of the Hermitage Museum).

The name of the staircase refers to the River Jordan, and the Epiphany. The Tsar would descend these stairs for the ‘blessing of the waters‘ of the River Neva, which was a commemorative celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.
In all, there are one hundred staircases in the Winter Palace alone, fortunately we only had to contend with about four.

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The Small Thrown Room –
diplomats would gather here on New Year’s Day to wish the Emperor well for the New Year.

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The Great Church of the Winter Palace.

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The Military Gallery in the Winter Palace.

There are 322 portraits of generals who took part in the Great patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon.

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Of course I had to find my old mate Kutuzov (Battle of Borodino).

Our guide did make one concession by pointing out a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, that he ‘contributed’ to the fall of Napoleon. . . .
I bit my tongue . . . . .

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St George’s Hall, AKA The Great Thrown Room, – which was where the opening of the First State Duma (representatives of the people) took place by Tsar Nicholas II in 1906.

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The Peacock Clock, which has three life sized mechanical birds, built by James Cox of London in the 1770’s. Today it only plays on a Wednesday.
Prince Grigory Potemkin bought it as a gift for the Empress Catherine II in 1781,

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Peacock Clock click on the link for a more detailed explanation and see what happens at the ‘right time’ – the film is only three minutes long.

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Thanks to friends of ours who live in the North East of England, I became aware of another James Cox’s mechanical item, which is much closer to ‘home’, if you live or are visiting the UK.

May I suggest that you pay a visit to The Bowes Museum at  Barnard Castle, Co Durham where you will find the Silver Swan, which dates from 1773.

The swan is life-size and is controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms. The Silver Swan rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.

Usually you can see the Swan in action every afternoon at 2.00. This performance lasts approximately 40 seconds.
The above explanation has been copied from the museum’s web page.

After checking the details it appears that the original swan was 3 feet in diameter and 18 feet tall. It is thought that originally there was a waterfall behind the swan, which was stolen while the swan was on tour.

The swan was displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867 where Mark Twain saw it and commented on it in his book,  Innocents Abroad.

Silver Swan  a short piece of film to show the swan moving, it lasts for forty seconds.

James Cox worked closely with John Joseph Merlin who was Cox’s chief mechanician – the name they gave such a person in those days. Merlin was good at promoting himself at balls, arriving in outlandish costumes etc- The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 4th March, 1778 described him as “Mr. Merlin, the mechanic”.
At one ball he arrived wearing roller skates, which he had just invented, and skated around the ballroom while playing the violin. The problem was that he had not yet worked out how to stop, and so crashed in to a mirror, worth £500, and destroyed it, and his violin.

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Back to the Hermitage – the above is the symbol on the top of Alexander’s Column, which is an angel holding a cross.

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The column was erected in the Palace Square in front of the Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum – to celebrate  the Russian victory over Napoleon.
Built between 1830 – 1834 and designed by a Frenchman,  Auguste de Montferrand. . . . . who had served in Napoleon’s army, and had been awarded the Légion d’honneur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rostock, Germany

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The old part of Rostock (rebuilt after WW2) – the white piano was being played while we walked around and it was very pleasant to hear it in the background.

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The day was warm and the children seemed to be having great fun dodging the intermittent water fountains.

Rostock was to be our last port of call for this Baltic cruise, before we headed back to Southampton. This year is the 800th anniversary of the town.

Our guide was a twenty eight year old university student, who was very good and offered his services as a tour guide in his spare time. His English was excellent.

Our coach transported us from the port to the old part of the town, which was about a twenty minute ride.

During WW2, Rostock was targeted by the RAF because of two aircraft factories in the vicinity. Bombing the factories also meant that the town received a lot of hits.

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     Both above & below from the internet – note the church which is still standing today.

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The market square and the building in front of which the cars are parked, is the town hall.

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The same square today, with a small market in operation, and the pink building is the town hall.

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The guide told us there aren’t any photographs of the destroyed city on display, and the only public acknowledgment is a painting inside St Mary’s,which was the only church that survived.

Rostock has become one the most popular ports for cruise ships in Europe, and tourism is now one of their biggest industries.

We started are walking tour near the modern shopping are.

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Kröpelin Gate – first mentioned in 1280,

Rostock used to be a walled defensive city and you entered via one the many gates, this gate is 54 mtrs (177 ft) high. It is now a free museum.

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Part of the old wall.

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They’ve reconstructed the support system for the defenders to fire over the wall.

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I think this columned building part of Rostock University.

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The university –

The yellow columned building is to my left, and the children playing in the fountains are just behind me.

The university was founded in 1419, which was seventy three years before Columbus discovered America.  Today they have 14,000 students and 2933 staff.

On the 500th anniversary of Rostock University Albert Einstein received an honorary doctorate in 1919, which made the university the first place of higher learning in the world to honour Einstein in such away. Unlike many other academics, Einstein’s doctorate was not revoked during the Nazi period.

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No 14 was our guide – the statues I think depict various virtues, justice, modesty, diligence etc.

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The coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which existed from 1815 to 1918, is displayed at the very top top of the university entrance ‘tower’.

In the park in front of the university there is a statue –

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depicting another solider of the Napoleonic wars, and I was very surprised to see him because I didn’t realise that he came from Rostock.

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Gebhard Leberecht von Blüche

The one consuming passion of Field Marshal (and later Prince) Blüche, was to beat the French under Napoleon. Blüche had been a solider most of his life, mainly fighting the French. His life story reads like a boys own adventure story.

During Napoleon’s ‘one hundred days’, after he had escaped from the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1815, the British (with contingents of Dutch & present day Belgium troops), and the Prussians under Blüche’s command, marched to combine their forces so as to face the French.
Napoleon’s tactic was to aim his army at the allied weak spot, which was the join of the two main armies, and force them apart, so that he could deal with each army individually.
This is what happened at Charleroi, and according to Wellington, who was surprised at the speed of Napoleon’s advance, commented that he (Wellington) had been ‘humbugged’. He also said about Napoleon, ”By God, that man does war honour’.

Once the allies had been split Napoleon attacked the Prussians at Ligny, and won the battle, but he was unable to destroy the Prussian army.
The failure to destroy the Prussians, was the decider two days later during the Battle of Waterloo. Wellington decided to hold his ground because he had been promised by  Blüche that he would rejoin Wellington as soon as he could.

During the battle of Ligny,  Blüche was severely injured after being trapped under his dead horse. He bathed his wound in liniment of rhubarb and garlic and after a good dose of schnapps he rejoined the army. Not bad for a seventy four year old.

As he climbed on his horse he said – “I have given my promise to Wellington, and you surely don’t want me to break it? Push yourselves, my children, and we’ll have victory!

After Waterloo Blüche was invited to London to be formally thanked for his help. This was his second visit having visited after the fall of Napoleon in 1814.

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British cartoonists had a field day of Blüche tanning the behind of the Corsican.
Picture from the internet.

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Ratschow Haus – the Ratschow family lived here in the early 20th century the dark brick appearance is north German brick Gothic, and the front that can be seen is the only piece left after the bombing – the remainder of the house behind is a 1950’s construction, and was opened in 1961 as the municipal library, which is why you can see  it referred to as  Stadtbibliothek, which means library.

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St Mary’s Church – (St Marien), 770 years old and still going strong, for the history of the church click this link St Mary’s church.

During the bombing all the area was on fire and it looked like,the church had caught fire. Click on this link about Friedrich Bombowski  to read how he saved the church.

The church is Evangelical Lutheran (Protestant) denomination and still has regular Sunday services and daily prayer time.

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North German Gothic brick – they made the bricks because of the lack of stone & rock to use as building material. The baked red-ish coloured bricks arrived in the area around the 12th century.

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The church is famouse for housing an astronomical clock, which was built in 1472 and still going.

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At the top of the clock, on each hour, the Apostle go around, and cross before Jesus before entering Paradise – Judas is not allowed in . . .

The clock  shows the daily time, moon phases, month and the zodiac sign.
The calendar is valid until 2150, having been reconfigured in 2018, which replaced the previous re-configuring in 1885 to 2017. The clock is the only one of its kind to still operate with its original clockworks.

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Close up of part of the face . . not sure how to interpret the information. The pointer on the left is pointing at the 18th of the month – we were there on the 18th July.

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The huge organ with-in the church.
Installed in 1770, and it has 5,700 pipes and requires 83 stops.

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The pulpit, note the size compared to the man in red viewing the pulpit.

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Perhaps the sermon went on a little longer than planned.

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Baptismal font – still in use.

Made in bronze, and began its life at Easter in 1290. It is decorated with scenes from Jesus’ life, and supported by four kneeling men representing Earth, Fire, Water, Air. The font was hidden during WW2 so that it couldn’t be melted down for munitions. The bird on the top is an eagle.

About a ten minute walk from the church towards the river, and we were close to snack time.

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A small craft brewery near the river.

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Of course I was forced to drink Maureen’s, as well as my own, because of her celiac condition. Everyone in the group was presented with a glass to take home as a memento.

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The bagel soaked up the beer, for a pleasant ride back to the ship.

 

 

 

Oбед = lunch

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Lunch on our second day, was at our own expense, but the guide made sure that the restaurant that we visited was able to cope with 12 of us dropping in for a meal.

I asked the guide for a traditional Russian light lunch, not borscht or beef stroganoff. She’d chosen a restaurant that offered a type of wrap – it’s advertised in the above picture.

We all sat at different tables in blocks of four, which was the layout of the restaurant.

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We had a chat with the waitress, who was very pleasant and tried her best to understand us, but her English was very limited and our Russian was nil. I was trying to ask for a gluten free dish for Maureen, and we didn’t get anywhere until I called the guide over to help with the ordering.

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Our first priority were the drinks – I wanted Russian beer and the waitress kept pushing German beer, which was not much different in price, but when in a country I like to try their own beer.

The Russian beer, based on the menu card, was fine, but I was a little concerned because of the beer mats. The above beer mat is for Krusovice, which is a Czech brewery named after the village where it originated.

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 The crown shown, is not Russian, but Austrian, so as the beer I drank was draft beer, I am not sure if it was Russian or  Czech or even German.

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Regardless it was a pleasant drop that hit the thirst spot.

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Maureen’s gluten free meal – it looked attractive and from memory Maureen enjoyed it.

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I ordered the above, which was filled with a Chinese type vegetables, with chili sauce on the side. I’d only seen pictures and worked out that you could have two for a certain price or one for a cheaper price. I wasn’t sure if they meant double fillings or two full wraps, so just picked one, which was a specialty of the house. I thought that if they were small, and I was still hungry, I could always order another. As you see one was enough. Puff pastry filled with stir fried vegetables – it was OK, but I didn’t think this was particularly Russian – but I might be wrong.

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The experience was entertaining, the food OK, and beer cold, and we were on holiday so, can’t complain. The meal & drinks for both of us, cost less than USD $15.

Are You Free, Captain Peacock??

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Elisseeff Emporium on Nevsky Prospekt.

Elisseeff Emporium reminded me of a visit to Fortnum & Mason’s in London. Elisseeff Emporium food hall was part of retail and entertainment complex, which was built in 1902/03.

Before this new building was constructed in 1881, there used to be a restaurant on the corner, which anti-tsarists used to dig a tunnel from the restaurant under the side road that can be seen from Nevisky Prospekt, in an effort to plant a bomb to kill Czar Alexander II. Everything was ready, but the Czar didn’t pass that way on that date. The Czar was assassinated later.

After the new building was completed it was under the control of the Elisseeff Brothers who were merchants.

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The shop in 1904 – found the picture on the internet.

After the revolution in 1917 the shop was operated by a State company and called Gastronom No. 1, and so called until the 1990’s, when it was operated as “Eliseevsky shop” (a public listed company) in 1995, but the enterprise never really got off the ground, and there were various attempts to open businesses including opening as a perfume shop.

After a long period of restoration the shop eventually opened in 2012. The operator retained the old feel and the food hall now offers the traditional seven different food areas.DSC03454c

I took this as we entered, and later had to crop out certain 21st century signage – they just didn’t fit.

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It is a popular tourist spot – in the centre under the large pineapple, people were enjoying cups of coffee or tea.

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Piano music – classical tea time music that one would expect, was played by the invisible man. The keys were computer controlled, as you can see two keys have been played – it was quite relaxing.
The Australian readers would liken it to the live pianist in the David Jones Department store in Sydney.

DSC03457c The price of the middle white item is 120r, I think this means grams, so on the right it states 240 PY6 / RUB, so I assume it is 240 rubbles.
As far as I can make out 240 rub = USD $3.50 (approx) for 120 grams (just over 4 oz) of the cake.
The PY6 is a symbol for the Kopeks & it seems the Rubble, and there are one hundred kopeks in the rubble.

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They had individual stands dotted around, as well as traditional counters. The lady in red on the right is sitting for tea & cakes and just above her you can see a waitress.

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Fish counter all well presented.

DSC03459r Lightly salted salmon & trout & the eel was smoked cured.
Trout is 100 grams for 320 PY6 about USD $4.70
Eel 100 grams = 800 rubles about USD $11.75 (About USD $53.30 / Ib)

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Turkish delight and other sweet dishes.

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Hampers & dry displays – had a feeling of Christmas – but it was July . . .

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Decadent cakes for the proletariat.

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My favourite counter – glorious cheeses –
Swiss Briee – 100 gram (3.5 oz) 690 PY6 about USD$10.13

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Hard cheeses – young goat milk cheese – 800 (USD$11.75) for 100 grams.

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Special occasion cakes

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All items are made with chocolate – except for the tea set . . .
Chocolate shoe 240 grams = USD $22.00 (1500 rubles)

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They also sold foreign delicacies -couldn’t make out the price in the photograph for the British item.

They also sold wine and Champagne. Quite an interesting thirty minutes.

 

St Petersburg – Part four

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We were picked up from the ship at 7.30 am for another day of sight seeing with TJ Travel.

Our first stop was the the souvenir shop owned by the agency so that we could pay for our two day’s of sight seeing. The shop was quite large and the items on display interesting and not all that expensive, but looked better quality than other shops that we had visited. The cost for the two full days, which included lunch on the first day  was less than half of a similar itinerary offered by the cruise ship, and our group was only twelve people as against 40 to 50 for the ship’s tours. A little research returns a lot of money.

As we entered the agent’s shop we were offered tea or coffee or vodka, plain or flavoured, so of course, some of us had to try the plain & flavoured followed by cold water. It was 5.00 pm somewhere in the world, it was just that we weren’t there at the time.

Back on the bus for the day’s viewing.

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Kazan Cathedral

They began building in 1801 and finished in 1811, and it was General Mikhall Kutuzov, who visited the new cathedral to pray for help against Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.
At that time the war against France was called ‘the Patriotic War’. Later, after Napoleon had been forced to leave Moscow and retreat over the land that he already ravished, and the Russian had burned during their scorched earth retreat, it was the beginning of the end of the Grand Armée of France.
After the French retreat the cathedral became a memorial to the ultimate victory of the Russians  against the French.

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While looking at the outside of the cathedral I saw this statue and thought I recognised the individual, because of my interest in the Napoleonic wars.

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I was correct it was General Mikhall Kutuzov – I asked the guide to make sure,  and she confirmed my observation. I didn’t go in the cathedral and spent some time talking to the guide about Kutuzov and the battle of Borodino in 1812. She seemed surprised at my interest, because I wasn’t Russian.

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Across the road from the cathedral is Singer House, as in Singer Sewing Machine.

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Also known in St Petersburg as the ‘house of books’.

Originally to be built as a skyscraper, similar to Singer Sewing Machine’s head office in New York.

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Their head office was forty seven stories, built in 1908 and was the tallest building in the world until 1909.
Singer management wanted a similar building in St Pertersburg.

St Petersburg would not allow a building to be taller than the Winter Palace, which was the emperor’s residence. This would limit the height to a six story building and 23.5 mtrs. The architect added a glass tower and then a glass globe on the top. It gave a feeling of height without overshadowing other buildings.

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In the first world war it was the US embassy for a short while, and in 1919 after the Revolution, it was given to the  Petrograd State Publishing House and soon became one of the largest bookshops in St Pertersburg, which is why it carries the title of House of Books.

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As I took the pictures of the Singer House I saw this building across the road. I’ve no idea what it is or its history but the one thing you notice in St Petersburg are the magnificent buildings that are no longer ‘Palaces’ or the homes of the aristocracy, yet still have that wow feeling that makes you wonder who lived there, who were they, and what happened to them . . .

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As we approached the landing stage to board our river cruise I saw another ‘I wonder?’ which was next door to much more modern building ‘White Night Music Joint’.

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‘White Night Music Joint’, fails to conjure up thoughts of 19th century balls with well dressed officers escorting gowned ladies on to the dance floor.

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We boarded our boat on the Griboyedov Canal, to sail down to the Neva River.

As we sailed under the first bridge a young man, perhaps no more than fifteen years old, waved at us, so of course we all waved back, and thought nothing of it.

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Buildings for the imagination on both side of the large canal.

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The next bridge and guess who is waiting to wave at us?
He waved, we waved, and he started running again.

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The next bridge – we were late or he was a lot fitter than we thought, and he was waving.

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All our yesterdays on both side of the canal.

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Our running man is there again, and he must have waved to us from five or six bridges before we entered the Neva River and lost sight of him. As we passed under the ‘waving’ bridges, the cheers of the passengers got louder, because he must have run miles, and at a very good speed, to beat the boat so as to be waiting on each bridge.

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We’ve entered the Neva River – could we have asked for better weather?

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 The Peter & Paul fortress from the river.

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The small beach of the fortress.

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The river side buildings and another tourist boat chugging along.

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The yellow building is the Admiralty Building that I’ve mentioned before.

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Who lives here now?

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I wonder if they sell homes with water views or is that just in Sydney?

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We followed other boats and did a 180 degree turn to go along side the pier for disembarkation. It did go through my mind that we might meet our bridge runner, perhaps for a tip – he certainly deserved one for the entertainment that he gave us.

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The crowds have started to gather at the Hermitage Museum, as we are ushered in via a side door.

I never saw the bridge runner again.

 

 

 

 

 

St Petersburg – part three

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Peterhof Grand Palace.

After seeing Catherine’s Palace we had lunch and were taken to see the fountains. There are 144 fountains and they are fed from a reservoir about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), and none of the water is pumped because it is all gravity fed.

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We approached the palace from the landward side rather than the seaward. We did not enter the palace itself.

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The white building is the church of The Grand Palace.

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Where ever you looked there were fountains.

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We moved round to the front of the palace only to see more and more fountains.

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I’d read about the fountains and I’d been told of them, but when you see them in ‘real life’ it is something else considering their age and the sophistication of funneling the water to each of the 144 fountains in operation.

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The Sea Canal, which is open to the sea – you can visit the Palace area via boat from St Petersburg. To get to the Palace one would walk alongside the canal bank.

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You could have your photograph taken with people in period dress and the fountains in the background. The crowds around the period dressed attendants were to my left, the above picture is just to give you an idea what would be in your picture other than yourself.

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I can’t remember how much they charged.

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Definitely should be on everybody’s bucket list.

In the centre, on the rock, is a Biblical statue from the Old Testament – Samson and the Lion – it also represented Russia’s defeat of the Swedes.

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A closer picture of Samson killing the lion and the water pours forth.

In 1734 the Russians decided to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava. Once again it was a symbol of Russia defeating the Swedes, and they chose Samson as the hero, and of course the Swedes were the lion.
A special pipeline was built to carry the water because the Russians wished to maximise the height of the water. They created wooden pipes to carry the water the four kilometers from the water supply. It was completed in 1736 and the water shot up to a height of 20 mtrs (66 feet).
During WW2 the statue was looted by the German army, but the statue was recreated by the Russians in 1947.

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The Grand Cascade.

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In the centre of The Grand Cascade is a grotto, which contains a small museum of the fountain’s history.
There is an exhibit of a bowl of fruit (it’s not real fruit), which is a copy of a bowl of fruit on a table built under Peter the Great’s directions. The table is booby-trapped with jets of water that soak visitors if they reach for the fruit. I’m told that the grotto is linked to the Palace by a hidden corridor, which is so well hidden I didn’t see it . . . .

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Here’s the sad part with a sliver lining.

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The Grand Cascade of the fountain, and the Palace behind, at the end of WW2.
Picture taken from the internet. You can see the grotto openings.
The Russians have done a marvelous job of reconstruction.

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Everyone was photographing everything – a perfect day thanks to the weather.

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Triton fountain

The Sea monster attacks Triton, the messenger of the sea and the son of Poseidon, but Triton’s powerful hands pulls the sea monster’s jaw open, and we have an eight meter (26 feet) water jet gushing out. The turtles crawl away in terror from the fighting enemies. Water jets spurt from their mouths.

Triton represent the young Russian navy that defeated the Swedish navy  in 1714. The Swedish fleet is the sea monster and the four turtles the allies that supported Sweden.

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Chess Hill or Dragon Hill as the water flows down. Funny, but this cascade reminded me of the cascade at Chatsworth House in the UK, which was completed in 1703.

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cascade

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I think this is called the Roman Fountain, but I’m not sure.

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Adam’s fountain. 1721-22

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Eve’s fountain. 1725-26

Both located on Marly Avenue, which is equidistant from  the Sea Canal. The water from the fountain does not get sprayed, but jets up, and upon reaching seven meters splits in to large drops and falls back to earth. These two fountains were never defaced or stolen so they are the originals created in the early 1700’s

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Sea Canal as we walked over a bridge toward the park and our transport. The Palace and The Great Cascade can be seen.

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We’d met our guide at 8.30 am, visited various places of interest along the Niva River, and walked around Catherine’s Palace – all before lunch.
A short break for lunch and we started walking again around the fountains. It was a hot day, and a full day, and now we had a thirty minute walk through the park to our transport.
I must admit that I was very pleased to see the bus, and climb aboard into a cool air-conditioned environment. We had a forty five to sixty minute drive back to the ship.
We arrived at 6.30 pm, educated up to my eyes balls in history, admired the fountains and felt jealous of the children running in and out of the water spray on such a warm day, but overall it was a great day, and well worth the money – which we had yet to pay on the morrow, befor our second full day of touring.

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After we’d hit the freeway / motorway, it didn’t take all that long before we saw the ship. You can see the freeway built over the water – I took the picture from the rescue centre at the stern of the ship – aka The Sunset Bar.

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St Petersburg – part two

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Catherine’s Palace at Peterhof (Petergof is the Russian spelling)

It was a warm day and I didn’t envy the staff in their period costumes. The picture shows the north side of the palace, or what was called the carriage courtyard.

The palace originated in 1717 by command of Catherine 1 of Russia. If you like a good tale look her up, because Voltaire  commented that her life was was nearly as extraordinary as that of Peter the Great himself.

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Views before we entered the palace, which was behind me.

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As we entered the building we went were asked to pass through security. I could see two men sitting at a desk watching us, so I climbed the small flight of stairs and entered the building. Only after passing through an archway did I realised that I’d passed through an X-ray machine, and shouldn’t have done so due to my pacemaker . . . .I checked the machine – it wasn’t working and didn’t look like it had been used in months, so I didn’t expect an ill affects. Normally security X-ray machines are very visible, with attentive staff, and I just wait to be patted down.
Before entering the viewing area of the palace we were given paper overshoes to cover our outdoor shoes, so as to protect the flooring.

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Two pictures to try and show how large the palace is – you can just see a small group of tourists. I was standing in the middle, which is the picture above my X-ray comment.

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Now facing the other way.

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Everywhere I looked I saw gold and more gold. Some real some not, but which is which?

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Afternoon tea?

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A piece of fruit?

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The ballroom or Great Hall – our party was only twelve so not sure how many parties were going around. The room was 800 sq mtrs (8611 sq. feet) and in its day it took 696  candles, framed by mirrors, to light the Great Hall after dark. Note the ceiling  . .

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Tried for a better view of the ceiling, but . . .I didn’t have the flash on . .

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Part of the dance floor. Everywhere was elaborate to show power and wealth.

Now here’s a tale – Catherine 1 (as she became) had been a maid in the household of Peter the Great (he was born 1672 – died 1725) and he reigned as Tsar from 1682 to 1721 and then as Emperor of all Russia from 1721 to his death in 1725.

He took a fancy to Catherine and it is thought that they were married in secret in 1707 – and they had twelve children, but only two daughters survived in to adulthood.

Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petetersburg in 1703, and while he waited for the city to be built he and Catherine lived in a three roomed log cabin, which his soldiers had built in three days.

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This is the historic site, but the cabin is inside this building, which was built later to protect the original log cabin. They lived as a normal couple, she looking after the children and the cooking and Peter tending the garden.

What Catherine suggested during a battle against the Ottoman Empire in 1711, is the bases of Voltaire’s comment. After the battle Peter the Great was so appreciative of her suggestion that he married Catherine again in 1712, but this time in public, and she became the Tsarina and later Empress.

They had two surviving children Anna 1708 & Elizabeth 1709. Both were illegitimate, but after Peter married Catherine in public, he legitimised the children.

Elizabeth was very like her father and he treated her as his favorite. In 1724 Peter betrothed Elizabeth to her cousin, who was a prince of impeccable background. By 1727, she was seventeen, her fiance had died, her parents had died, and her half nephew was on the throne. In 1730 her sister Anna became Empress on the death of her husband. She reigned until her death in 1740. There followed a year of regency until Elizabeth seized power and became Empress. She died in 1762 on Christmas Day.

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Elizabeth was extravagant with her clothing – she had 15,000 dresses – see a sample of one above. She never wore the same clothes twice.

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We passed in to a more private area of the palace .
Nicholas I – reigned 1825 – 1855.
He created the first Russian secret police.

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Alexander III of Russia 1881 – 1894

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   Alexandra Feodorovna (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918) – the Empress of Russia.
She died from a single shot to the head.

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Nicholas II of Russia – reigned November 1894 – March 1917.
Shot five times in the chest, 17th July 1917.

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I think this is the State Study of Alexander I.

There is so much to see, that a single day might not be enough, and to absorb all of the information is a feat in its self. A ‘bucket list’ destination for anyone thinking of visiting Russia. For me, the visit exceeded my expectation.

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Finally the Amber Room.

Photographing isn’t allowed so I had to download from the internet.

The original Amber Room was intended for the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, but it was installed at the Berlin City Palace. It was designed by a German sculpture and a Danish craftsman. It remained in Berlin until 1716, when Frederick William I, the King of Prussia, gave it to his friend and ally Tsar Peter the Great. Eighteen boxes were shipped and it was installed in the Winter House in St Petersburg.

In 1755 Czarina Elizabeth ordered the room to be moved to the Catherine Palace. The room covered about 17 sq mtrs (180 sq feet) and the Amber walls were studded with semi-precious stones, and backed with gold leaf. The estimated value today would be around USD $142 million.

In June 1941 the room was looted by the German army, and they dismantled the whole room within 36 hours and shipped it to Königsberg, Germany (which is  Kaliningrad today) and the room was installed in the castle. Alfred Rohde, a German art expert, took control of the Amber Room because his specialty was amber.

The room was on display for two years while he studied every aspect of its creation. In 1943, the end of the war was in sight, so he was ordered to repack the room and send it to safety. In August of 1944 the city was bombed by the allies and destroyed and the castle became a ruin.
Alfred Rohde managed to ship out part of the room, but he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, so he and his wife decided to stay in the city, which was now under siege by the Russians, during the battle of Konigsberg. The battle ended on 9th April 1945 with a Russian victory.
Rohde was fifty three, when he died in hospital on the 7th December 1945, and took the information about the Amber Room with him to his grave.

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As usual with famous losses or finds we have the ‘curse’ –

according to the curse Alfred Rohde and his wife died of typhus (he didn’t), while the KGB were investigating the room (I don’t see the connection, but who am I to comment?),

General Gusev died in a car crash after talking to a journalist about the room  . . .another long bow . . and German army solider, Georg Stein, who was an amber room searcher, was murdered in a Bavarian forest in 1987 -connection??

The reconstruction of the room began in 1979 and it took twenty five years.

President Vladimir Putin, and the then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, dedicated the new room to mark the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg.

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The flag of St Petersburg.