Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Inspiring and Conspiring. . .

We are running out of steam, and I can tell. At the beginning of our tour, everything was new. We listened with attention to our guides via our audio device. We were bright-eyed.

Now, we are walking around as if in a daze, totally saturated with information. Along with our brains, our feet are tired! It's time to go home. I'm always amazed at how our tours in the past have ended just as we are beginning to feel the strain. How do they know??

I still think we had a little steam left as we took the hydrofoil to the Hermitage Museum, the former residence of Elizabeth the first, daughter of Peter the Great. This winter palace was actually built for her mother, Catherine I, but unfortunately she died before she could enjoy it's beauty. It was meant to entertain dignitaries, and, as usually happens with royal families, also housed numerous masterpieces from around the world.

Elizabeth I (remember her 15,000 dresses?) is pictured below. Judging by the few dresses we viewed that remained of her collection, she had a extremely small waist as a young woman. She is older here, but I think you can tell she was slender at the waist even then.

As the others, it was built in baroque style, but when Elizabeth moved in, she had her private quarters redone to reflect the renaissance style.

The first exhibit was an incredibly intricate peacock clock, which was found in pieces. In 1970, a self-made man was able to assemble this creation. It's wound only once a week, and keeps good time. At the chime, her eyes open, she nods, calls and then her feathers spread open. A squirrel and dragonfly nearby move in unison.

Elizabeth had her own private collection, which included medieval and renaissance art.

Here is a beautifully painted ceramic dish:

And a sculpture of a faun by the artist Baccio (must have been one of Dan's relatives):

Just look at the rooms in this part of the Hermitage. I enjoyed them even more than the art itself!

Catherine had sent an artist to the Vatican to copy the great artist Rafael's "Loggia" or hallway of art (I guess they had no copyright laws in those days):

And here is a close up of Noah from one of the ceiling paintings:

Then we moved to the masters gallery with works from DaVinci and Fra Angelica and others. . .

Isn't this a fine interpretation of Mary, the mother of a Jesus, when she was a young girl?

This one is called "The Lute Player" by Caravaggio, which depicts the swiftness and brevity of love. At one point, years ago, the museum staff place vases of oils which held scents of the flowers nearby, and played a recording of the music written on the score sheet.

Russians love malachite, so it's no surprise to see this enormous vase in the collection. Since the mineral is so fragile, the artist had to piece it together by hand. They had done the impossible because, of course "This is Russia!"

Look at this painting of Valazquez called "The Luncheon". How many men do you see here?

There are only three . . . one youth, one in the prime of life, and one elderly. The figure in the background is more or less a specter. The three, of course, stand for the Trinity: spirit, Son and Father. The bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, the fish stand for Christ and Christianity, and the knife, for suffering . . . notice it is pointing towards Christ.

The Hermitage has the largest collection of Dutch paintings next to Amsterdam itself, which is no surprise, since Peter the Great was enamered with all things Dutch!

Here is one by Rembrandt, which is a portrait of his first wife, who died in childbirth:

The painting of his second wife was damaged by acid which a man threw on it. You could barely tell, but it took 30 years to restore!

Here is one of Rembrandt's true masterpieces called (I believe), the Prodigal. I took a close up of the father who is depicted as blind, embracing his long-lost son. Just like God our Father, he is blind to our faults when our hearts are in the right place. 

At the end we had some free time, so we sought out the Royal costume collection which was fabulous! Unfortunately, I couldn't take photos, but Olivia especially, enjoy it immensely.

Here is a parting shot . . . look closely at this photo. I giggled when I saw this. It's the Asian version of a "selfie"!

Then we broke off from the large group, and walked with another three couples to the Astoria, and had an excellent meal of traditional Russian favorites. 

Here I was able to enjoy the last dish on my list mentioned in the book, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" . . . Olivier Salad!  

After lunch, we hurried to meet the rest of the group at the Yusopov Museum, famous for the location of Rasputin's demise. More on that later. . . 

The Yusopov Family was not royal, but extremely wealthy. They were formerly Muslim, but converted to Russian Orthodoxy. Elizabeth the first loved to visit this palace, and was friends of the family. The Romanovs were as well, many years down the road, two generations later. This building now a teacher's club. It was bought in 1830, and restored in 1860.

Here are a few shots of the interior. I had to pay a photography fee of 150руъ or around $4, so I better put them to good use!

Below is what looks like a tapestry, but they are actually hand painted on the walls!

Here is a gorgeous blue bedroom:

With a secret door to the prince's room:

This ceiling was designed to remind them of their Muslim roots:

A red room,

A blue room,

And a theatre build especially for the original lady of the house who was an actress:

Now I understand why it was called an orchestra "pit"!

In one room, we saw leather wall paper:

And now, the intrigue. Rasputin was a peasant priest who had the powers of healing. Since the last Tzar's son Alexi had hemophilia, the Tzarina dearly wanted her son to be healthy. The doctors didn't know much about the disease, so there was no cure.

Tzarina Alexandra discovered Rasputin through a friend, and employed him to help her son. He became a favorite of the children, and supposedly, many fond letters where written between them. The doctor claimed that he did indeed help Alexi. But, there came a time when the Tzarina's close affiliation with Rasputin was under suspicion, and Felix Yusopov, who was friends with the Romanovs decided enough was enough, and planned to stop the rumors forever.

He got a group of his friends together and brought Rasputin to the palace under some false pretense, and, in the basement of the building, provided a feast for him laced with cyanide. He at it all, but with no result (some think the pharmacist replace it with a harmless substance because he suspected it would be used for harm, but there is no proof). 

Frustrated, they returned and shot him twice, but he didn't die. So, they wrapped him in a curtian, and threw him in the river nearby, and he finally drowned. Many thought he had mystical powers which made it difficult for him to be harmed.

Strange story for a strange man . . .

And now, we head for home very early tomorrow morning. We are so thankful for this tremendous opportunity to visit Mario and Olivia's birthplace. Finding Olivia's half-sister was icing on the cake! The cruise was a delight, the staff was attentive and friendly, and our tours and tour guides, enlightening. To top it off, we have had three consecutive days of sunshine in a city that has a total of 65 a year. Nadia, our tour guide called us the "green angels" because of it!

We have a mighty God who has done great things, and for that, we are greatful!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


What a feast for the eyes! Catherine's Palace, made for her by her husband Peter the Great, was stunning. 

Elizabeth I, Peter's daughter, said there was gold everywhere you stepped. She disliked the baroque look, and when she moved in as Empress, had her own living space redecorated by an English designer to reflect the classical style.

We came early to the palace, so the sun cast a shadow over the front of the building. Even so, I was able go snap a few good photos. 

As soon as I saw these gates, they reminded me of Versailles.

The hall entrance to the interior rooms has some lovely designs. . . 

But look what met our eyes as we turned the corner:


This was the answer to the room of mirrors at Versailles. As I remember, this room is much more ornate. 

I love the doorways that go on and on!

Here was Catherine's dining room for her girlfriends. Party anyone?

These decorations held real fruit covered in gold leaf, and others were made of marzipan.

Today, you can rent these facilities for weddings. We thought when the time came, we could hold Olivia's wedding here. . . and offer round trip tickets to St. Petersburg to our guests. What do you think??!

This room was kept to entertain and honor war heroes.They included Russian stoves which stayed warm for hours even after the fire went out. Notice the Dutch pattern on the tile. The ribbons were used as decorations on the sides on the front of the tablecloths. The black and orange striped ribbon is for the order of St. George, and the other two, orders of Vladimir and Alexander.

Here was the room where she received guests:

The white peacock in the above painting signifies the royal power of the Empress.

Here in the green room, you see a statue of a black man who served Peter the Great. He loved this servant so much, that he treated him like a son, and gave him an inheritance. Interestingly, the darker the skin, the more you were paid as a servant. They valued these people highly and treated them well.

Take close look at the dress above. It is a reproduction of the dress in the painting behind the model.

You'll never guess what it is made of . . . paper of all things!

I smiled when I saw the wall in the room above. I thought of my new app "picstitch" which pieces photos together and presents them in a collage. Nothing new under the sun! We discovered the one responsible for attaching these masters to the wall felt free to cut them to make them fit. As our guide finished telling us this, she repeated her favorite phrase: "This my dear guests, is Russia." Which interpreted means: they do the unthinkable!

Here is an example of the redecorating project Elizabeth the first undertook in her own private quarters when she inhabited the palace. It's more of a classic style, rather than Baroque.

When the Nazis moved into the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, they damaged and sometimes destroyed the palaces and historic places. Catherine's palace was no exception. Above is a painting depicting the damage, and the one below, it's restoration:

Behind the palace their were lovely gardens:

And a spa and gallery with a balcony for the ladies to walk on a hot or rainy day:

We met up with this adorable squirrel with long hairs on its ears. It took some time, but here's a photo of Olivia trying to tempt it with gogi berries . . . it didn't work.

And here is a parting shot of our family . . . can you tell it was an extremely hot day???

Tomorrow, the Hermitage . . . a palace with holds an enormous collection of art that almost rivals the Vatican!

Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel