This was part 5 and the last blog of the Siberia train trip we took from June 25-July 9, 2016. The original blog was published in TravelPod. This is an “Encore” of the blog. Hope you enjoy it.
A 4 hours train ride from Moscow brought us to the historical St. Petersburg – the former capital of the Russian Empire and the pride and glory of Russia. During World War II, St. Petersburg (known as Leningrad) was under the German army siege for 900 days. From September 1941 through January 1944, one third (nearly 800,000 people) of the city population died. Many of the palaces, churches and all the precious art works in those buildings were either destroyed or stolen. Seeing these devastation images, one could hardly believe how much effort and funding the Russians spent restoring all these historical buildings and arts back to their original majestic glories. We saw many before and after pictures detailing how each piece of architecture, paintings, walls and furniture was meticulously restored back to the original. When we saw all the the fantastic treasurers of St. Petersburg, we could not help but admire the courage and pride of the St Petersburg residents in bringing their beloved city back from the ashes of WWII.
We stayed at Hotel Rossi, a 18 century building right by the Fontanka River. The remodeled room was modern, comfortable, yet still retains its old time charm. I especially enjoyed swimming in the quaint and beautiful underground spa. The Hotel is a 10 minute walk to the Faberge museum that is devoted to the creative work of the great Russian jeweler Carl Fabergé. The Museum’s collection includes nine Imperial Easter eggs that were made to the order of the last two Romanov Tsars — the Emperors Alexander III and Nicolas II. In addition to these exquisite jewel eggs, there are other beautiful cloisonné art works done in the Faberge workshop. My favorite is a Orthodox icon of Madonna and Christ Child totally made with pearls, some of them smaller than a sesame seeds, just an incredible piece of art.
We met up with our Russian tour guide in the morning and started our Russian Cultural experience at Tsarskoye Selo (Catherine Palace) which was associated with two famous Empresses -Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine the Great. Elizabeth loved the gilded Baroque gold decoration while Catharine preferred more subdue Neo-classical style. From room to room, one can easily recognize the signature character of each empress. The most famous Amber Room was destroyed and stripped clean during WWII, but now it is restored backed to its previous glory with different hue of ambers completely covering the ceiling, walls and floor.
Next stop was the world famous Hermitage museum which, in addition to being a grand palace, it also has a great collection of 2500 paintings, 10,000 gems, silver and porcelain by Catherine the Great. In the evening, we returned to Catherine’s private theater to watch the classic Russian Swan Lake Ballet. Talk about living like a queen for a day!
Peterhof – the palace built by Peter the Great in 1717 was 30 km west of St, Petersburg. It’s magnificent landscape includes 150 water fountains, 4 cascades and many flower gardens. It has an amazing water system that requires no pumps . Water for the fountains is supplier by a gravity-fed water system, twenty-two kilometres long, naturally fitted in the natural slope of the terrain.
In the evening, we walked the central street enjoying the ambiance of the city. We had a dinner at a Russian Cafe, a sweet from a 100 year old bakery, watched a soap bubble man played and even spent some time petting cats in a cat cafe. No wonder St Petersburg is the most visited city in Russia.
We spent our last day visiting the Church on Spilled Blood – a church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Over 16 tons of marbles, rhodonite, jasper and many different stones were used to produce the vivid colors of orthodox icons in mosaics that covered every square inch of the church from floor to ceiling. We have seen our shared of majestic churches and religious art works during our travels, but I would say that we have never seen anything quite like this one.
After our journey through Dr. Zhivago’s country, we admire the Russian people and their spectacular art works even though their government’s political view are often at odds with ours. We hope that more Americans will visit Russia and enjoy their history and culture like we did.