Saturday, July 9, 2011

St. Petersburg: Day 2

Outside the Hermitage on our first day in the city
[These last few posts of the cruise were written as we sailed back to Amsterdam. We now continue from our first day in Russia's second-largest city...]

The second day started with a ride on the metro. St. Petersburg's Metro stations fall under three distinct categories: Stalin's "Palaces for the people" of the 50s; the utilitarian ones built after his death, in the 60s; and, finally, a return to finery -- if with less controversial murals (e.g., of Peter the Great's favourite regiment).

The statue of Pushkin in the Pushkinskaya metro station

From there, we made our way out of the city proper, to Catherine's Palace. As we passed more communal housing, Alla explained its origins: before the Bolsheviks, whole floors of these beautiful buildings were rented or owned by nobility and those of means. After the revolution, accommodations were allocated based on family size: these apartments of old could now house dozens of families, all sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities, utility bills, etc.

Alla grew up like that, and attributes her parents' divorce in later years to those difficult conditions; and they only shared with one other family, who weren't alcoholics or loud students -- a rarity, according to her. Fourteen percent of the population still lives this way; ownership was transferred to the residents as part of Perestroika. Alla said that you can always pick out the communal spaces by the old windows in the once-beautiful façades.

Catherine's Palace
The Great Hall

Catherine's Palace -- Catherine I, not Catherine the Great -- was very busy. Still, seeing the Amber Room, fully restored -- at great expense -- was well worth it. Peterhof (Peter's Court) Palace was also busy, but as the tour covered the grounds as well, it was relaxing and enjoyable overall. As many of you will know, the highlight was the astounding fountains:
Fountains were intrinsic to Peter the Great's original plans for Peterhof -- it was the impossibility of engineering sufficiently powerful jets of water that prompted him to move his attentions from the Strelna site to Peterhof -- and subsequent generations competed with their predecessors to add grander, and ever more ingenious, water features [all without pumps!] to the parkland surrounding the Grand Palace.
Peterhof Palace
Us in front of the famous "Samson and the Lion" fountain
Part of the Grand Cascade

Absolutely stunning; and they must've been nothing short of miraculous in the 1700s!

Up next: Tallinn, Estonia

There are more pictures of our time in Russia in our Picasa album.

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