‘The spectacular gardens at Peterhof are remarkable for the sheer variety of styles encompassed in their layout and features. Representing nearly two centuries of European aristocratic fashion executed to the highest standards, Peterhof is like an encyclopedia of park design’.
Whilst it was still chilly in the shade, in the sheltered parts of the garden and in the sunshine it was by now quite hot as we walked along the front of the Yellow Palace with its gleaming gold leaf roof overlooking the formal gardens below with their rows of bubbling waterfalls and gushing fountains. We went first to the informal gardens and walked through the trees most of which are only fifty years old or so because these all had to be replaced because, like the Palace interior that was burnt in the fires, the German soldiers cut most of the old ones down for firewood during the occupation.
Luckily they didn’t dig the flowerbeds up because if they had then they would have come across the statues and monuments that were buried there by the curators for safety as they waited for the Nazis to arrive because there must have been a real danger that left in place they would have been used for target practice. As it was they ruined the Big Cascade, the English Palace, the Marble, Monplezir and the Hermitage all of which were irreparably damaged. The hydro-technical mechanisms for the fountains were blown up, some monumental bronze sculptures of the Big Cascade were stolen and thousands of masterpieces were destroyed.
What I suppose you would call the garden path was as the width of an average minor road in the UK as it took us away from the Palace and towards the sea through flowerbeds, quirky water features, statues of the family ancestors and a foaming fountain around every corner. It occurred to me that for the Tsar and Tsarina this garden would have been an ideal place to send the kids out to play when you wanted a bit of peace and quiet.
At the end of the path we arrived at a smaller Palace which the Tsar used for putting up visiting family and guests when presumably he didn’t want them under his feet in the Great Palace and beyond that was the Gulf of Finland which was restless today with a nippy breeze agitating the surface of the steely grey water. It was rather cold to stand around too long looking across the Gulf towards Saint-Petersburg and admiring the vista so after just a short stop we headed back towards the Palace this time through the formal water gardens.
With our backs to the Baltic Sea there was a stunning view along the canal towards the Grand Palace through rows of golden statues and fountains throwing jets of water many metres into the air. Peterhof might be unfairly compared to Versailles but in the issue of its fountains it is so much better and this is because the fountains work by gravity which means they can be run pretty much all the time because the cost isn’t as prohibitive as at Versailles where they only tend to be turned on now and again.
The Palace and the Gardens were absolutely wonderful and just being here and sitting in the gardens of the café gardens with a grotesquely overpriced cup of coffee and a cake I suppose it was easier to understand why, a hundred years ago, there was so much resentment against the Romanovs and all their immense wealth in a country which was poor and where people were starving.
It would have been quite possible to stay much longer in the Palace grounds because there are ten working museums: the Grand Palace, Monplaisir, Catherine’s Block, Marii, Hermitage, the church of St.Alexander Nevsky, the Benois family museum, Cottage, the Bath Block including Tafeldecker and Kaffeeschenk Rooms and The Kitchen, and the Museum of Collectors but seeing all of that would have involved the inconvenience of making our own arrangements to get back to Saint-Petersburg because the appointed time for the coach to leave was two-thirty so in the warm sunshine we made our way to the coach park ready for the journey back to the city.
As it was only still early Anna offered anyone on board the opportunity to be dropped off in the city rather than return straight away to the hotel and we selected this option. It turned out to be a mistake because the traffic was horrendously busy and the coach joined every other resident of the city who was out driving their cars this afternoon – it would have been quicker to go back to the hotel and then get the Metro!
As we crawled agonizingly through the streets we eventually recognized somewhere familiar so running out of patience we left the bus right there and left everyone else to continue. The people I felt most sorry for were those going back to the hotel because they would surely have been there now without this detour and it turned out that it took them another hour or so after this.
We were now at the Gryphon Bridge over the Griboedov canal and by the Kazan Cathedral there was riverboat terminus which was the departure point for a one hour river cruise so we decided that as the sun was shining that was what we do next.