I know, I know ~ it’s just been a week since our last imaginary escape, but really, what’s the harm? Real travel, imaginary travel; both expand our worlds. Tell you what, I won’t tell your psychiatrist if you won’t tell mine. How about a little trip to St. Petersburg? To winter palaces, gilded domes, opera length fur coats and tree lined, snow dusted boulevards? This isn’t twenty first century Russia, this is the Imperial Russia of Tsar Peter the Great, in all it’s golden and winter white baroque splendor.
I’ve found us a lovely, private apartment near the centre of town with early morning check in. Its clean sophisticated lines contrast the city’s historically diverse architectural styles. It’s not quite the 18th century pied a terre I was imagining, but it’s gasp worthy in its own way, don’t you think?
Beautiful accommodation is a big part of the travel experience. I once stayed in a Viennese apartment so exquisite that it rivaled visiting St.Stephens Cathedral and Hofburg Imperial Palace. I’d have been happy to just lay on the floor admiring the twenty foot high ceilings, double doors and architectural moldings. But that’s another day’s story. Shall we settle into today’s exquisite apartment first? Perhaps a leisurely soak to start things off?
And who can resist a running swan dive into the swirl of pale grey silk and feather pillows?
Outside our balcony window, St. Petersburg is slowly coming to life. The golden domes of the Nikolskiy Naval Cathedral and Bell Tower spike the skyline. In a city filled with architectural and cultural jewels, where do we even begin? This Venice of the North, immortalized by poets and artists alike, is best experienced via slow travel. No harried itinerary for us. We’ll stroll, breathe, revel, feast and observe.
So what shall we take in today? Old St. Petersburg with its winding canals and streets; once home to Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin and Dostoevsky? Or Peterhof Palace , also known as the Russian Versailles? How exactly does a girl dress while visiting this Russian Versailles? As a contemporary Russian princess, of course!
Or perhaps we indulge our gold and white Russian winter fantasy and visit the Hermitage museum this morning? The Hermitage, (also known as the Winter Palace) was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and is one of the oldest, largest and most respected museums in the world. It wasn’t always a museum, up until 1852 it was the state residence of Russian emperors. Today it’s home to over three million works of art and artifacts.
I can barely focus on the art for the architecture though. The architecture is art, in my opinion. I’m afraid I’m going to have to just stand here gaping at the exquisite detailing for awhile… Then on to view works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and several sculptures by Rodin.
Isn’t it curious how all these French and Italian masterpieces are housed in a Russian museum? The museum world is a bit sketchy in this, I think. Return them! The Hermitage is by no means the only museum with masterpieces rightfully belonging to other countries. Berlin’s Neues Museum is home to Egypt’s famous thirty-three hundred year old Nefertiti bust. A German archaeological team discovered the bust in 1912, took it home to Germany, where it’s remained since. Kind of a case of “finders, keepers, losers, weepers.” But perhaps we won’t stir that pot too much today. Museum acquisition politics are complex. Besides, I think it’s time for an afternoon refreshment, maybe at the Catherine the Great Restaurant? Or Restaurant Michelangelo?
Much better! Are you still game for a visit to Peterhof Palace, the Russian Versailles? Versailles was Peter the Great’s inspiration for his imperial palace, though some think the comparison does a disservice to the grandeur and scope of Peterhof. (I can’t help but smile at the idea of Louis XIV and Peter the Great vying for the most majestic estate.) After three centuries of imperial expansion, Peterhof Palace was ravaged by German troops during the second world war. It’s famous fountains were destroyed, and the palace was partially exploded, hollowed and left to burn. Tragedy when you consider all the craftsmanship and artistry that went into its creation.
Restoration started almost immediately after the war and is continuing still. Lucky for us, since here we are in the Grand Ballroom and I hear strains of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Waltz! Shall we dance? (Oh, what grand affairs must have taken place here!)
Well, that was an exuberant, stolen spin about the ballroom! But we’d best be out of here before they’re on to us! And so we close we our little gold and white Russian fairy tale lingering outside the Palace Church of Peterhoft, its magnificent gilded cupolas set against the darkening sky.
Tomorrow we must visit the Imperial Russian Ballet or I’ll never forgive myself. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing The Vienna State Ballet perform Don Quixote at the Vienna Opera House in 2014. There’s such beauty in ballet’s seemingly effortless fusion of athleticism and grace. Dostoevsky famously wrote, “Beauty will save the world”. I’m not sure it will, but it’s a lovely notion, and we’ve certainly seen some today.
Perhaps a toast to beauty and St. Petersburg is in order. We’ll have two rounds of iced Russian vodka, please!
(Photo Credits: Peterhof Church: ytravelblog.com, Apartment: Natalia Ozerova on Behance, St Petersburg view: n/c, Hermitage: tammys_travels, Russian Princess: atler-rus-dec2011-1, Drinks: Once Wed, Fountain: Ekaterina Kharitonova, Ballroom: , Church:, Ballerina: http://queenbee1924.tumblr.com/, Snowy night: n/c)