I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baltic Cruise - May 2017 Day 8 - St. Petersburg (2)

We had an 7am start today – yes 7AM!  Richard and Jim were all palaced out so decided to give the tour a miss today – great shame as it was much better than yesterday    Personally I think they didn’t fancy the 7am start!  Penny and I took advantage of the express breakfast in the main dining room at 6.15am.  We sat down and express certainly was the word.  We were swooped upon by waiters with everything on offer!  Cooked breakfast, pastries, toast, coffee/tea, orange juice and one more who just wanted to make sure we had everything we wanted!  Brilliant idea and great service.

Immigration was easy today thank goodness and we were out and waiting for Kate by 6.45am.  None of us were happy with the start time but as we drove out of the cruise terminal we saw a long queue of coaches trying to get in and realised we were much better off!  By this time there were five cruise ships in so you can imagine the number of visitors there were.

We were going out of the city to see The Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace.  There is quite a lot of road building going on around the cruise terminal where they are also building a new sports arena.

The road to Petergof (the town where The Peterhof is) was empty but then again it was 7am on a Sunday morning.  I think the six of us (keep up readers – we were eight yesterday so two less = six!!) slept most of the way.

The Peterhof is amazing.  Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great's desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and Peterhof - which means "Peter's Court" in German - became the site for the Tsar's Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.  Improvements to the park continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Catherine the Great, after leaving her own mark on the park, moved the court to Pushkin, but Peterhof once again became the official Imperial Residence in the reign of Nicholas I. 

Sadly there is no photography allowed inside The Peterhof but I took these two as we arrived.

These photos I have borrowed from Saint-Petersburg.com as I really wanted to have some sort of record of what it was like inside.

Peterhof was captured by German troops in 1941 and held until 1944. In the few months that elapsed between the outbreak of war in the west and the appearance of the German Army, employees were only able to save a portion of the treasures of the palaces and fountains. An attempt was made to dismantle and bury the fountain sculptures, but three quarters, including all of the largest ones, remained in place. The occupying forces of the German Army largely destroyed Peterhof. Many of the fountains were destroyed, and the palace was partially exploded and left to burn. Restoration work began almost immediately after the end of the war and continues to this day. The Lower Park was reopened to the public in 1945.

The gardens are beautiful and the fountains are amazing. Fountains were intrinsic to Peter the Great's original plans for Peterhof and subsequent generations competed with their predecessors to add grander and ever more ingenious water features to the parkland surrounding the Grand Palace.  The fountains are all gravity driven from lakes above the palace.  They are switched off at night to allow for the lakes to fill up again.  Sadly our early start meant that not all the fountains were switched on and that included the Grand Cascade.  There are also some joke fountains which come on from time to time to soak passers-by!  Here are a few photos I took in the gardens.

This fountain is called the Dog and Duck Fountain.  Four ducks go round in a circle chased by a little dog called Favoritka (Favorite). The whole scene is accompanied by barking and quacking. This fable is explained with the following notice: “The little dog Favorite is chasing the ducks on the water; the ducks are saying to it: ‘It’s no good. You have the strength to chase us, but not the strength to catch us!’”  During the war the fountain was destroyed by the German troops. All that remained of the sculptures were the figures of the ducks found at the bottom of the Marine Canal. It was restored in 1957 with exactly the same mechanism as before.

This is my photo of the Grand Cascade with one borrowed from Saint-Petersburg.com  again.

We rather reluctantly left the Peterhof and went for lunch – it was just 11am!  I didn’t enjoy the lunch at all.  We had Borscht, followed by meat and veg and then ice cream.  I thought the meat was a bit suspect and didn’t eat much of it!  However we were given a tot of vodka – I’ve never drunk neat vodka before but it was very nice.

Next we drove to Pushkin to see Catherine’s Palace which is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband's death. Originally a modest two-storey building commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717, the Catherine Palace owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth.  The resultant palace, completed in 1756, is nearly 1km in circumference, with elaborately decorated blue-and-white facades featuring gilded atlantes (support sculpted in the form of a man), caryatids (architectural column which takes the form of a standing female figure) and pilasters (a rectangular column, especially one projecting from a wall). In Elizabeth's reign, it took over 100kg of gold to decorate the palace exteriors, an excess that was deplored by Catherine the Great when she discovered the state and private funds that had been lavished on the building. Most of the architecture mentioned above is no longer gold.

The interiors of the Catherine Palace are no less spectacular. The so-called Golden Enfilade of state rooms.  The Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light, measures nearly 1,000 square meters, and occupies the full width of the palace so that there are superb views on either side. The large arched windows provide enough light to relieve the vast quantity of gilded stucco decorating the walls, and the entire ceiling is covered by a monumental fresco entitled The Triumph of Russia.

The rest of the Palace is equally ornate.

The most amazing room of all is the Amber Room.  This is the story. 

Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701. It was originally installed at Charlottenburg Palace, home of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia. Peter the Great admired the room on a visit, and in 1716 the King of Prussia—then Frederick William I—presented it to the Peter as a gift, cementing a Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden.

The Amber Room was shipped to Russia in 18 large boxes and installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as a part of a European art collection. In 1755, Czarina Elizabeth ordered the room to be moved to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin and  redesigned the room to fit into its new, larger space using additional amber shipped from Berlin.

After other 18th-century renovations, the room covered about 180 square feet and glowed with six tons of amber and other semi-precious stones. The amber panels were backed with gold leaf, and historians estimate that, at the time, the room was worth £125 million in today's money.

On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa, which launched three million German soldiers into the Soviet Union. The invasion led to the looting of tens of thousands of art treasures, including the illustrious Amber Room, which the Nazis believed was made by Germans and, most certainly, made for Germans.
As the forces moved into Pushkin, officials and curators of the Catherine Palace attempted to disassemble and hide the Amber Room. When the dry amber began to crumble, the officials instead tried hiding the room behind thin wallpaper. But the ruse didn't fool the German soldiers, who tore down the Amber Room within 36 hours, packed it up in 27 crates and shipped it to Königsberg, Germany (present-day Kaliningrad). The room was reinstalled in Königsberg's castle museum on the Baltic Coast.

The museum's director studied the room's panel history while it was on display for the next two years. In late 1943, with the end of the war in sight, Rohde was advised to dismantle the Amber Room and crate it away. In August of the following year, allied bombing raids destroyed the city and turned the castle museum into ruins. And with that, the trail of the Amber Room was lost forever.

The reconstruction of the new Amber Room began in 1979 and was completed 25 years—and £10 million—later. Dedicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the new room marked the 300-year anniversary of St. Petersburg in a unifying ceremony that echoed the peaceful sentiment behind the original.

I found the story of the Amber Room to be fascinating and wonder what really happened to it. 

There was no photography in the Amber Room but I found these photos on the Internet.

Outside we could see the Palace Church.

Kate had been warning us of keeping our valuables safe as there are lots of pick pockets in St. Petersburg and we saw the very thing.  One group of visitors were queueing up when there was a huge shout and a very long legged man ran with a tour guide in hot pursuit but he wasn’t fast enough and had to give up.  The pick pocket turned round and gave his pursuer a victory salute!

It was back to the ship via a gift emporium!  The place looked like a supermarket and was filled with all things Russian!  I’ve never seen so many gifts in one place.  Penny and I bought a few things but we found everything very expensive.

Back on Eclipse we had a speciality dinner waiting for us.  The ship has four speciality restaurants which you have to pay a supplement of – I believe it is about $35 per person.  However on Friday night our Maitre D had offered us a deal for the nights that we were in St. Petersburg which was 2 dinners for $50 each.  We took them up and tonight it was Murano.  Celebrity say “Murano is not only home to the finest, French-inspired cuisine, but to unparallelled service and a sophisticated, warm setting. The menu at Murano takes its inspiration from the timeless allure of continental French cuisine.”  The food was fantastic and the service impeccable.  All in all a wonderful experience.

With a long leisurely dinner we managed to miss the show which was a great shame as it was “The Stars of St. Petersburg” – a troupe of genuine Russian dancers, singers and musicians.

“Trust anyone whose boat shoes are more worn than yours” Nautical saying

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