Tag Archives: Saint-Petersburg

Russia, Saint-Petersburg Canal Boat Ride and a Crisis!

Saint Petersburg Canal Boat Tour

The boat was just about to cast off and leave so we quickly paid for our tickets and joined about twenty fellow passengers on the open deck at the rear. Some of them were wrapped in complimentary blankets and Kim asked for a couple but I thought this was rather unnecessary as it was pleasantly warm sitting in the golden glow of the sunshine in the shelter of the adjacent buildings.

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Russia, The Peterhof Palace Gardens

Peterhof Palace Gardens

‘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.

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Russia, Tsars in our Eyes – The Grand Palace at Peterhof

Although the sun was shining there was a keen wind blowing in over the cold waters of the Gulf of Finland and we shivered as we queued for entrance to the Grand Palace and fended off the attention of the opportunist souvenir sellers.

Thankfully it was only a short line so we soon passed through the doors and the security and were inside where we were obliged to but plastic slippers over our shoes so that we wouldn’t damage the parquet floors that we were about to walk over.

Sometime during the late seventeenth century Peter the Great visited western Europe and whilst in France he was so impressed with the Palace that Louis XIV had built for himself that he returned to Russia with plans to build one for himself and at this site thirty kilometres from Saint-Petersburg he began the construction of what was to become known as the ‘Russian Versailles’.

The tour began by climbing the ceremonial staircase which led to the restored state rooms on the first floor and then quickly to the lavishly gilded Ballroom and the splendid turquoise and white Throne Room.  Everything was pristine and there is a good reason for this because the restoration is only recently completed.

During the Second-World-War German soldiers destroyed the Palace, looting the rooms and using whatever would burn for firewood to keep themselves warm in the bitterly cold winters.  Anna reminded us of this several times but neglected to tell us that apparently some of the damage was also done by the Soviet Air Force when it bombed the place to try and remove the uninvited guests!

After the Throne Room there were more rooms to follow and as we passed through Anna expertly distinguished between originals and reproductions.  The Germans were famous for what they called ‘Blitzkrieg’ which translates as ‘lightening war’ and when they invaded somewhere they didn’t hang about and after beginning the campaign at the end of June it took them only a couple of months or so to reach this place so the curators didn’t have a great deal of time to do the packing.  They knew also that Hitler’s team of archaeologists and historians, the Ahnenerbe Organisation, would soon drop to catalogue and steal the precious exhibits and take them back to Berlin.

By now most of the men were at the battle front so the work of removing the works of art, the furniture and the ornaments fell to the women who had to make heartbreaking choices about what should be saved and transported west to the Ural Mountains for safe keeping knowing that what they couldn’t take would be certainly looted.

All this thieving was a two way thing of course and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.” Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union but Red Army officers started removing the large art collections and treasures that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and Germany has started to return to Russia paintings and other items plundered by German soldiers from 1941 to 1944. In 1997 they started giving back one of the most prized possessions stolen by the Nazis, the Amber Room, an ornate chamber of mosaics and gold taken from the Palace of Catherine The Great at Pushkin near Saint-Petersburg.

The guided tour took us through a succession of rooms each as lavish and extravagant as the one before it – the Blue Drawing Room, the Picture Room, The Divan Room, the White Drawing Room, the Audience Room, the Tsar’s Bedroom, and Peter The Great’s Oak Study.  There were galleries and chapels, music rooms and libraries each with its own special treasures to show off, some genuine, others perfect replicas but all heavily guarded by a watchful security guard in each room.

They had two principle duties, first to make sure no one shoved a priceless antique up their jumper and made off with it and second to make sure no one took photographs and that explains why I have had to use scanned images here rather than any photographs of my own.

Something that surprised in all this was the interest in and reverence of the Romanovs and the Royal Family, I had always assumed that there would be an anti-monarchist presentation in the historical sites but here as elsewhere there was no mention of Lenin and the Revolution and the rooms were full to overflowing with royalist paintings and mementos and I was drawn to the conclusion that Royalty must be better for tourism than the Bolsheviks.

It took just over an hour to walk through the rooms of the Palace and in future years it will probably take a lot longer because the restoration is only about half-way complete.  At the end we emerged into the inevitable souvenir shop and then down the back stairs and out through a door into the magnificent gardens beyond.

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More posts about Royal Palaces:

Palacio Real Madrid

Spain 2009 – Arunjuez

Palace Real Alcázar, Seville

San Ildefonso o La Granja

Palace of Versailles

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Russia, Saint-Petersburg to Peterhof

Kirov Statue

The driver was in a particularly impatient mood this morning and he constantly switched lanes in a rather pointless objective of finding the quickest running line and although he sometimes temporarily gained a few metres this was always ultimately unsuccessful.

It was clear however that he wasn’t prepared to sit around in the traffic jams and he began a quest to find a short-cut through the side streets which fifteen minutes later our guide, Anna, declared to be a stunning success as we crossed the bottle-neck bridge across the River Neva and gradually began to make improved progress as we headed south and west out of the city.

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Russia, Saint-Petersburg and the Venice of the North

Palace Courtyard Saint-Petersburg

After dinner we left the hotel again and used the mini-bus service to get to the Metro station and then we took the short trip to Nevsky Prospekt for the second time.  It was still warm and the sky remained cloudless and blue as we walked west to the Kazan Cathedral and at a statue of the Russian Field Marshal Kutusov who helped defeat Napoleon in 1812 we turned to walk along the Griboedov Canal this time in the opposite direction and we followed the granite walls of the waterway away from the busy Prospekt.

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Russia, Peter and Paul Fortress and The Romanovs

Peter and Paul Fortress Saint-Petersburg

After negotiating the souvenir shop stop and skilfully avoiding any wallet damage it was back to the bus time to be driven to Nevsky Prospekt where there was free time for lunch.

On the way we passed the Palace where the monk and favourite of Tsarina Alexandria, Rasputin was murdered and the guide told us the story of his grisly death. It was hot and there was a blue sky so we decided that we didn’t want to waste time queuing up for food and sitting at a table eating lunch that we didn’t really need so as most of the coach party made for the shops we returned to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and behind it we came across a tourist market selling Matryoshka dolls and other souvenirs and we compared the merchandise on all of the stalls.

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Russia, Sightseeing Tour of Saint-Petersburg

Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg

The next morning we slept in but luckily there was a late start so after a rushed buffet breakfast we were back in hotel reception and gathering with the group ready for the introductory guided tour of Saint-Petersburg.

The coach arrived and after we had all selected our preferred seats the driver edged the bus into the long queue of late rush hour traffic. Actually, as it turned out it was always rush hour in Saint-Petersburg and despite the generously wide streets the roads were continuously congested.

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Russia, Saint-Petersburg and Nevsky Prospekt

St Savior Church on Spilled Blood Saint-Petersburg

After an acceptable but not exceptional buffet dinner it was time to go exploring and we planned to make our way into the city.  The hotel was some way from the centre on the very western shore of Vasilievsky Island so this adventure required transport and we started with a mini-bus ride to the Metro station Primorskaya where we purchased tokens for the ride and began a steep descent from street level to the trains.

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Russia, British Airways and Immigration Control

The St Petersburg Times

This was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our recent travels with the budget airlines and it was nice to be travelling in a civilized way rather than on the Ryanair cattle truck.

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