Monday, July 20, 2009

From Russia With Love

In the wildest dreams of my youth, I never thought I would touch foot in Russia. Growing up during the cold war, it seemed more terrifying than inviting. But happily times change, and the two days we spent in St. Petersburg were wonderful.

St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in the early 1700's and served as the capital of the Russian Empire for 200 years. It includes 42 islands, the expansive Neva River and nearly 300 bridges, with an additional 200 in the greater St. Petersburg area.
The city itself is a study in contrasts. They have beautiful Byzantine churches, lavish Baroque palaces and drearey soviet style apartments.
And it celebrates all aspects of its hertiage. Shortly after passing a statue to Alexander II, you pass a statue of Lenin. What also surprised us were all the bright, beautiful flowers lining the steets. St. Petersburg has its first female mayor (called a "governor" here) and one of the first things she did - like any good woman - was decorate the streets with fresh flowers.

We were told that during the Soviet period the people were forbidden to attend church and all the cathedrals were mostly used as warehouses, with the exception of one that became an ice rink. Since that time, our guid informed us, the people have experienced somewhat of a spiritual revival. We were disappointed, however, not to see any missionaries while we were in town.
We also learned that most people work in the city but have a home in the country where they escape on weekends. During the week, however, two to three families will live in the same city apartment and share a kitchen and one bathroom.
On our first day we saw both th Summer Palace int he country (built as a gift from Peter the Great to his wife Catherine I)...
and the Winter Palace in town on the banks of the Neva River - which today houses the Hermitage, an impressive museum of original art work which includes Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Matisse, Renoir, etc.

At night we were treated to a local folkloric dance program, and the following day we visited Peterhof (Peter the Great's original palace about 30 miles outside of St. Petersburg and our favorite of the palaces)...

returned by hydrofoil and concluded our day with a visit to the Church of Spilled Blood and shopping in the black market. The Church of Spilled Blood was built by Alexander III on the spot where his father, Alexander II, was assassinated and the interior is covered wall to wall with breathtaking religious mosaics.

Truthfully it was an exhausting two days and we were all looking forward to Sunday for a little rest - which did not happen but I will write about that another time. :)


GRAMEE said...

oh my goodness the pictures took my breath away!! beautiful. i can't imagine what it would even be like.
i am glad you are having a great time..

the wind storms at night have been bad..but remember this is my first summer here.. this is probably normal!

1 more entry!
Gramee...aka Lindajoy

Becky said...

Breathtaking is right. And way to go to the female governor and her flowers--what a great idea!

The Lindseys said...

I'm so happy you were able to go to Russia! I've always wanted to go to Saint Petersburg, I hear its beautiful. I loved viewing the pictures. Thanks for writing about it!

Lisa said...

Beautiful building. I'd love to get a summer house as a gift from my husband. Some place in CA with an ocean view would be perfect.

Momza said...

stunning pictures! thanks for the history lesson too!
Have a fabulous day!

Dave and Camille said...

How gorgeous! I'm glad you guys are having fun... wish we were there ;)

Christina said...

What beautiful artwork and interesting notes on your journey.

Marilyn said...

The buildings are breathtaking-to repeat an oft-said word! But what else can you say? Amazing