DAY 2 – St Petersburg
Weather = Fine and Sunny
DAY 2 of our stay in St PETERSBURG started when we opened the blinds, (again) This time the sun was rising from behind the GALLERIA SHOPPING COMPLEX, BUT what we could immediately see was beautiful blue sky above, 🙂 indicating it was going to be a “FABULOUS” day. 🙂 (Incidentally, the hotel had blinds designed so that no light snuck through (on the edges) from the outside, until you let it.) 🙂 Needless to say, “it was so nice to be greeted by the sun this time”. 🙂 On this occasion at breakfast I made sure, that I stayed away from the snags lol. Myria was waiting in the reception and said that we had a lovely 5-6 hour country tour today, to two important palaces – THE PAVLOVSK & CATHERINE PALACES, which weren’t far from the city, around 30 kilometres and were about 5-10 minutes apart.
THE PAVLOVSK PALACE & PARKLANDS is the former summer residence of THE RUSSIAN EMPEROR PAUL I, and his family. (The son of CATHERINE THE GREAT.) Paul, worked (very hard) with his architects to create “a real home”, at this personal palace for his wife and children. He was adamant that he DID NOT want/like anything which resembled the style of his mother’s house, the CATHERINE PALACE at TSARSKOYE SELO.
When looking out through the huge windows (OF THE PAVLOVSK PALACE) each affords a different landscape and view of the park. Paul had the palace divided into two separate annex, the “MEN’S WING”, with hunting and war themes and the “WOMAN’S WING”, with a more genteel décor. The furnishings were simply STUNNING and obviously well preserved.
In general (by comparison) PAVLOVSK receives considerably less visitors so is a lot quieter which is more pleasant as your NOT rushed from one room to the next. I think the best way to sum this attraction would be by saying, “this palace is a less grandiose site but more of a “HUMAN PALACE”. As we moved from room to room, we tended to get more of a sense of the owners having actually lived there, as the complex still bears traces of their individual personalities, along with a warmer homelier feel, though there are still some extremely grand rooms and on a BIG scale.
THIS MANSION has a stunning collection of original furniture, clocks, porcelain and other pieces of art and applied art, which we understand to be one of the richest collections among the SUMMER PALACES. Some of the items belonged personally to PAUL and MARIA FIODOROVNA, (his wife) or were even made by her or some of their children. I think it would be fair to say that there is much more connection with daily life in this PALACE than the others, which we have seen.
VERY NOTICEABLY, there certainly is no-where near the amount/level of GOLD splashed around the place LIKE ALL OF THE OTHER PALACES! BOTH PAUL & MARIA were well educated and MARIA was a gardening expert, in her own right! With this museum it is said to be the only museum in St. PETERSBURG which boast having 99% of the original objects, de art, despite the fact that it was occupied for two and a half years (by the GERMANS) and badly damaged during WORLD WAR II. OFFICERS were quartered in the salons on the first floor, and the ballroom was made into a garage for cars and motorcycles. Barracks were located in the north wing and a hospital in the south wing. GERMAN, DUTCH AND SPANISH SOLIDERS in the special units of the GERMAN ARMY all occupied the buildings in the park. A large portion of the sculpture/s and furniture that remained in the house and all the books of the Rossi Library were appropriated to GERMANY, before the GERMANS left. An even bigger insult, the statue of EMPEROR PAUL in the courtyard was used as a telephone pole. Very fortunately, the GERMANS failed to discover the large collection of antiquites which were buried, or even the large number which were hidden behind the brick wall in the basement.
To get to PAVLOVSK PALACE under your own steam, u can either use a suburban train from the VITEBSK STATION/TERMINAL (BEWARE THAT THE STATION HAS NO ENGLISH SIGNS AT ALL) to the PAVLOVSK STATION (27 km from St. PETERSBURG; travel time – about 30 minutes) or BUS #479 from ZVEZDNAYA.
We spent a good three hours wandering through the complex before pressing onto THE CATHERINE PALACE & PARK. Between the two PALACES the whole area was well saturated with pine trees galore and beautiful green grass! (A total contrast to winter with the blankets of SNOW!)
It was obvious on our approach to this PALACE that it was an absolute HUGE TOURIST MAGNET, judging from the HUMUNGOUS number of people drawing in from everywhere, walking towards the entry gates. Must admit that the entrance to the palace grounds was well camaflourgued, to say the least – lol.
Thank goodness Myria already had our entry tickets, which allowed us to “FAST-TRACK” through the gates. This is where it pays handsomely to have your own tour/guide, otherwise u will spend hours on end in queues, (2-3 hours is not uncommon) both inside and out. As far as paying is concerned, they don’t miss u. On entering the entrance gate u pay, then u pay again upon entering the actual palace. Like all of the palaces after paying to get in, u are issued with the “FOOT MITTS”, (like slippers) so as not to damage the parquet floors. In essence we were told, like THE PAVLOVSK PALACE, THE GERMAN FORCES commandeered it during WORLD WAR II. When the GERMANS lived in it, they kept it in good shape. HOWEVER, when they knew they had lost the war, THEY LITERALLY DECIMATED THE PLACE, IN MOST CASES TO RUBBLE! At the time when THE GERMAN FORCES invaded, RUSSIA during WORLD WAR II, they had orders to destroy anything they could find which had anything to do with RUSSIAN CULTURE or HISTORY. Consequently, much of the damage to THE PALACES and other structures was INTENTIONAL. A great many valuables were evacuated before THE GERMANS arrived, but almost as much had to be left behind.
They have on display photos of how the palace looked after THE GERMAN FORCES DESTROYED IT! Most of the buildings were literally obliterated into piles of rubble. To think that this palace was bombed is so EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL and not to mention the sheer hatred which must have been undeniable and sooooo intense… There is a raft of information on how the whole complex was rebuilt after the war, which is tucked away along a dark corridor on your way out, after you’ve been through the main rooms. It is so remarkable and an absolute testament to the many people who have worked so hard to faithfully replicate, from the original, the palaces to their former glory. As of today in THE CATHERINE PALACE 29 OF THE 52 PALACE ROOMS have been restored. As in the picture above THE MAIN BALLROOM was completely destroyed. After walking through THE PALACE and seeing the photos you will have a much better understanding and appreciation of the amazing resuscitation which has taken place throughout the whole complex. From people standing on HUGE piles of rubble & debris to the majestical work of art which stands there now.
I’m sorry, BUT I have to also say this – “That the opulence at THE CATHERINE PALACE is just so over the top, BUT ABSOLUTELY STUNNING“! I suppose u could say – “THE SHEER EXTRAVAGANCE does not even come close to describing the level of THE GOLD, THE FURNISHINGS, THE ROOMS, THE TALL DELFT CORNER FIREPLACES, and all THE TREASURES from around the world”. This palace was absolutely incredible, every room is so overwhelming, it is sheer opulence. If u allow your mind to wander you can visualize how life was if you were part of the aristocratic society that lived in TSARIST RUSSIA. The palace is very tastefully adorned with gold and jewels everywhere. Incidentally, photography was permitted everywhere (Surprisingly there were no fees for photography, as in some other museums) BUT FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY WAS OUT! EXCEPT THE AMBER ROOM – NO PHOTOS OR VIDEO AT ALL!
Such glory, room after room was gold and marble. Then we reached THE AMBER ROOM – walls covered in amber. THE AMBER ROOM literally takes your breath away and can only be described as breathtaking, although a reconstruction after the original was looted by THE GERMAN FORCES – (THE AMBER ROOM IS KNOWN AS, “THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD”.) Unfortunately, the original amber walls, during WORLD WAR II were dismantled and shipped off in crates by THE GERMAN TROOPS, and sadly were never ever recovered. Even today, the room is still extremely impressive and a sight to behold. THIS ROOM ALONE COST US$11 MILLION TO RESTORE. Generally speaking, the rooms throughout the building were made to specific periods, which added to that feeling of you waiting for a CZAR to arrive, take for example – THE GREAT HALL and THE GREEN DINNING ROOM are simply exquisite!
On the outside THE CATHERINE PARK stretches over 100-hectares in size and includes many small pavilions, sculptures and picturesque ponds. It’s primarily made up of three main areas – THE REGULAR FRENCH BAROQUE GARDENS, just down from the palace steps, needless to say, “the gardens there are meticulously manicured and maintained”. A SHADY ENGLISH LANDSCAPE PARK incorporating a large meandering GREAT POND, the rolling park has an extremely varied range of beautiful buildings and monuments. AND the third area; to the west of the GREAT POND lies a stretch of the CATHERINE PARK known as the ITALIAN PARK. This section has a number of picturesque buildings, namely the CHINESE PAVILION, a colourful pagoda-like folly completed in 1786.
In 1941 THE CATHERINE PALACE was taken over by THE GERMAN FORCES, RANSACKED AND PRIMARILY USED AS THEIR ARMY BARRACKS. (Similar to THE PAVLOVSK PALACE) When THE GERMAN FORCES finally retreated in JANUARY 1944, THE CATHERINE & PAVLOVSK PALACES were blown up and burnt. THE AMBER ROOM IN THE CATHERINE PALACE was taken to GERMANY and all trace of it disappeared. After many years of futile seeking, THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT ordered its reconstruction. In 2003 it was publicly reopened by PRESIDENT PUTIN AND GERMAN CHANCELLOR GERHARD SCHROEDER.
Well time was getting on, (coming up to 4pm) so we headed back to town. Myria said make sure your early tomorrow because we have another BIGGGG DAY. 🙂 It was quite amazing as it was still light until about 9.30pm, so we headed across the road to check out THE GALLERIA and had dinner before retiring.