Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘St Petersburg 2012’ Category

A Foodie’s Paradise, the St Petersburg Market

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 2, 2012

The Saturday traffic isn’t nearly so bad as the weekday chaos in St Petersburg, so we arrived a little early for our tour of the Dostoyevsky Museum.  That conveniently allowed time for a tour of the St Petersburg Market!

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Dostoyevsky Museum, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 2, 2012

We spent our last day in St Petersburg at the Dostoyevsky Museum.

Like some of the other tours we’ve attended, the tour consists of transport provided by the tour company and the services of an interpreter who translates for the local guide.  It was like this at the Tolstoy and Chekhov estates and although I suppose it’s possible to go independently, (which may be cheaper) it has been a real pleasure to hear from local guides who are experts on their topics and have a passion for their work.

So it was today where the local guide enthused about Dostoyevsky, so much so that the interpreter apologised afterwards for not quite keeping up with her, but we didn’t mind at all.  It was a great experience to go through his house – one of many that he lived in, but this is the one that he wrote The Brothers Karamazov in, and the one that he died in, aged only 59.

The house had been subdivided during ‘Soviet Times’ (as locals call the era) but it has now been restored to the way that it would have been during Dostoyevsky’s lifetime.  They peeled off 20 layers of wallpaper and then made reproductions of the original, and they have decorated it with authentic furniture, including the author’s own desk, the one where he was working when he died.

In the children’s bedroom you can see a poignant little note from his son, and also a rocking horse – Dostoyevsky was devastated by the deaths of two of his children: his daughter Sofia died when an infant, and his son Aleksei died of epilepsy when only three.

In the study of his second wife Anna you can see her account books and her abacus where she kept meticulous records of their money.  Despite his fame, the family was often in debt, partly because he was a gambler but also because he had spent time in prison due to the political nature of his works. (Apparently Anna’s family was none too keen on the marriage because he was disreputable, but she was crazy about him so they married anyway).

There are family photographs on the walls, and in the reception room there are photos of the notables who came to visit Dostoyevsky once he became famous.  I thought it was rather sad that in the last home of an author who died of lung disease, they have kept his last packet of tobacco on display under a glass case.

There is also an exhibition of photos and facsimiles of his manuscripts, and of course, a monument outside!

Update: November 2013

I’m still scrapbooking this trip, and I’ve realised that I skipped a whole day of the tour.

It was the day we went to the Yuspov Palace, and had lunch at the Renaissance Hotel afterwards.

The Yusopov Palace is, apparently, one of 57 palaces owned by the Yusopovs but it was Felix Yusopov’s favourite.  It features a theatre, because it wasn’t respectable for princesses to attend the theatre, so they built one in-house.   The palace is famous for being the site of Rasputin’s murder, a bizarre tale, which you can read about at Wikipedia.

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Russian Museum, The Benois WingAfter that we took a walk and ended up at the Benois Wing of the ‘Russian Museum’, which is mostly 20th century Russian Art.  Here’s a link to a virtual tour of it.  

And we had dinner at the Vodka Museum, which has over 200 different kinds of vodka to try, which may be why I didn’t get round to writing about the day …

Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

Summer Palace at Peterhof

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 31, 2012

After visiting Catherine’s palace at Pushkin, we then went to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.  Built to rival Versailles on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, the Palace Park is the most spectacular I’ve seen. It has the world’s largest system of fountains adorned with stunning gold statuary.

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Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 31, 2012

Another day in St Petersburg, another palace!

Well, actually, this one was outside St Petersburg at Pushkin, a satellite town beyond the St Petersburg periphery.  En route, we stopped at the Victory Monument, a most moving memorial to those who died in the defence of the city, then called Leningrad.  It was besieged by the Nazis for 900 days, and the number of people who died each day of starvation was so great that they had to be buried in mass graves.  According to our tour guide, almost everyone in St Petersburg has lost someone in the war so this memorial is of great emotional significance to the people here.  View pictures here, they are much better than mine.

While Leningrad/St Petersburg fought off the Nazi advance, Pushkin was occupied by the Nazis.  En route to the Palace we passed a memorial to the Jews who were sent to their deaths from here.  They also ransacked the Palace, which was built by Elizabeth (of the Many Dresses) in memory of her mother.  It’s home to the famous Amber Room which was destroyed by the Nazis and like most of the rest of the Palace has been entirely rebuilt.

To see more of this exquisite palace, visit the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum website.


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Lavish interiors, in the Winter Palace at the Hermitage

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

One last post from me tonight, to share some of my photos from the Winter Palace at the Hermitage.  As we all know, all the Royals of Europe competed with each other to have the most lavish palaces and the most splendid art collections, and one thing we can certainly thank the Bolsheviks for is that they nationalised Catherine the Great’s extravaganza and added to it by nationalising all the other private collections in Russia as well.  (Mind you, they flogged off a fair bit of it when they were short of money most notably to American galleries and museums).

There are heaps of lovely books about the art works in the Hermitage and you can also see them online so I’ve confined myself to the interiors: massive chandeliers, some so big and heavy that none of us wanted to stand underneath them); tables inlaid with precious stones including one with grapes depicted in rubies; a gold clock in the shape of a huge bird which represents the ‘flight of time’; and massive urns made in precious stones such as jasper and lapis lazuli (which used to be placed lower on the ground so that they could be filled with chocolates for guests to help themselves).   There are rooms decorated with gold columns, frescoes, and tapestries, and also a ‘hall of heroes’ commemorating the great victory over Napoleon – where you will notice some green baize empty spaces amongst the portraits.  These empty spaces are those of heroes who died of wounds, and in the days before photography, not every man had a portrait suitable for hanging in a gallery such as this, but they commemorated their names anyway so that they wouldn’t be forgotten.  (The Duke of Wellington has his portrait in this gallery too, which pleased the British tourists among our group).

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Posted in Art Galleries, Museums, Palaces, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Historic moments – in the Hermitage

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

I’ll bet many tourists walk through a small and (by the standards of the rest of this lavish Palace) somewhat nondescript room in the Hermitage without having any idea that they are on the site of one of the most momentous events in the 20th century…

Small dining room where Lenin’s Bolsheviks stormed the Provisional government

Source: Virtual Excursions, Hermitage Museum

This is the ‘small dining room’ in the Winter Palace where in 1917 the Provisional Government of Nicholas II met.  (See the photo at left). This Provisional Government was a token effort by Nicholas to meet the demands for political reform, but it had no real power because he simply revoked any reforms that they made if he didn’t like what they had decided.   It certainly didn’t meet the demands of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and so on the 7th of October, they entered the palace from the main entrance (at right) and the west side and captured the Provisional Government as they met in this dining room.

Over on the mantelpiece there is a clock, stopped at ten past two, because that was the actual moment when the October Revolution began.  There is a plaque next to it which explains the significance of the room, but because it’s in Russian, most tourists won’t realise where they are unless they have a tour guide or (presumably) a guide book.  (Actually, the Hermitage is pretty good with signage – a lot of paintings and artefacts are captioned in both Russian and English but not this room).

It was an amazing experience to be standing right where one of the most significant events in the history of the 20th century took place!

Posted in Art Galleries, Historic buildings, Museums, Palaces, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | 2 Comments »

Gogol’s Restaurant, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

Last night we took the advice of our genial tour guide, Igor, and went to dinner at Gogol’s Restaurant.  We were told that Gogol himself lived here, (and perhaps it is true) and there are Bookish touches throughout the restaurant, most notably the menu which has been crafted like a novel.  The restaurant is composed of several small rooms, so it is like eating in a 19th century home, and the waitresses are dressed in simple 19th century costumes.

There is always a risk with places like this that are designed to reel in the tourists, that the food will be a disappointment, but no.  We dined with five of our new friends from the tour group – two fellow-Aussies from Heathmont in Melbourne, an American couple from New York, and a Professor of Fine Arts from the UK, and all of us enjoyed our choices.

I forgot to photograph our second courses (possibly because our Languedoc wine was so nice), but you can see our entrees in the slideshow below.  Ron’s little pastries that look like ravioli are white fish pelmeni; that little glass on the plate of fish is vodka with horseradish (which Tim said was delicious); the Prof had an excellent borscht, and Betsy had black ‘milk’ Siberian mushrooms.  Mine was a prawn salad with a delicious cherry sauce, and Tony’s was an excellent eggplant salad.   You can also see the scrumptious homemade breads as well.  The service was excellent, and the ambience a delight.  Good company, good Russian cuisine – what more could we want, eh?

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Posted in Dining out, Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

St Petersburg – Antiquities in the Hermitage

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

Our friends and relations all know that this year Tim is studying classics at Monash, and that he very nobly briefly abandoned his studies to travel with me to Russia….

Well, this post is for him to show his tutor that he has not been slacking off while we’re away.  Today we spent most of the afternoon exploring the antiquities in the Hermitage, and since not many people travel to Russia, it’s quite possible that she has never seen some of the treasures that I have photographed here.  You’ll notice that I’ve also photographed some of the captions, but most of them were in Russian which made it a bit tricky to identify some of the pharaohs!

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St Petersburg: St Isaac’s Cathedral

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 29, 2012

St Isaac’s Cathedral is just around the corner from our hotel, the Renaissance Baltic, and like all the other churches we’ve seen today it’s splendid.  Unlike the others, however, it’s a museum, not a religious building, though apparently church leaders are campaigning to have it returned to them.

Among the many impressive aspects are the massive doors.  There are three of them, carved  by Ivan Vitali, with reliefs of Christ and the saints, and the main ones weigh 20 tons.  Understandably they’re not opened very often, most recently on the 300th anniversary of the city, and before that in 1917 during the Revolution.   Unusual in a Russian church, there is also a stained glass window which is the centrepiece of the iconostasis (the royal doors, which correspond to where an altar would be in a Christian church).  Again there are all kinds of precious stones but the most amazing of all are two priceless columns of lapiz lazuli, some of which had to be imported from Afghanistan.  When you think how expensive a small piece of lapis lazuli jewellery is, these columns must be worth a king’s ransom.

All these splendours, however, were created at enormous human cost.  The gold leaf on the turrets was applied by to a mercury base which was heated to secure the gold leaf – and the serfs who worked on it all died from mercury poisoning.  Building went on all year round, right throughout Russia’s frigid winter, and hundreds of serfs perished in the cold and damp.  And, while not the same kind of tragedy, the architect who came from Italy as a young man and spent his entire life building it, was denied his last request to be buried there because it was against Russian church tradition.  His widow took his body back to Italy where he lies in an unknown grave.   You can see a bust of this remarkable man, Auguste de Montferrard, in the slideshow.

St Isaac’s was our last stop for the day.  After a short rest we went out for dinner to Gogol’s – a gorgeous restaurant where Gogol the author wrote Dead Souls. My other bookish moment for the day was a glimpse of the monument to Peter the Great, which I read about it Andrei Bely’s Petersburg.  Hopefully I’ll get back there to take a proper picture in due course.

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St Petersburg: Saints Peter and Paul Fortress

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 29, 2012

The fortress of Saints Peter and Paul is the original citadel of the city which was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.  At the time, Russia was fighting off Sweden, which was then a great power, and this spot was chosen as a strategic defence post, though it was never actually used for that purpose.  The still-operational Russian Mint is within its walls, but (as you’d expect)  it’s not open to tourists, and there were no free samples.  (Actually, it’s quite interesting to compare Russian banknotes with Australian ones: ours are full of all kinds of encrypted whatnots to prevent forgery, but Russian ones don’t seem to have the same inbuilt protections).

Many famous people have been imprisoned here, including assorted revolutionaries such as Trotsky and Tito, but also Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was released after a very short time because of the international uproar.  Apparently he suffered from lung disease and it was feared that the appalling conditions would be fatal to one of Russia’s great writers.  The fate of other prisoners was very different though the situation was reversed in 1917 when the revolutionaries were freed and the tsar’s supporters were imprisoned there instead.

The Cathedral is different because Peter the Great hired an Italian architect called Domenico Trezzini to design it: it’s not a traditional Russian church architecture with icons all over the place, it’s got frescos all over the ceiling and a golden spire instead of the typical onion shaped turrets.  It was converted to a museum under the Soviets, and suffered considerable damage from bombardment during WW2, but has been beautifully restored.

It’s also the last resting place of the Tsars.  All the sarcophagi are white marble except for two, Alexander II and his wife Maria’s which are carved from jasper and rhodonite.   Most poignant is the burial chapel of the last of the Romanovs, who were executed during the revolution.  Nicholas, his wife and children, and their loyal servants were all finally laid to rest here in 1998.

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