Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Have You Heard? (There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg!)

A couple weeks ago, I got to to visit the land of Anastasia! It was incredible – everything from the actual sights to the Russian letters on their signs was uniquely foreign and beautiful! While there, I saw everything from the Peter and Paul Fortress to the Cathedral on Spilled Blood. I’ll take you through a short digital tour now – so you can get a glimpse of the things I was blessed enough to experience!

Russian Dinner Party Anyone?
The first night we got there, we got to experience a traditional Russian dinner party. It was so interesting – the appetizer was a meal consisting of salmon, potatoes, and beets. They were layered in the dish, and tasted amazing. There was also meat rolled into a tube with some kind of cheese sauce in them. For a soup they had “Borscht”, which is a type of tomato soup. It was fairly sweet and had another flavor mixed in that I couldn’t place. That might have been my favourite part of the meal. They had meat and potatoes for the main course, but I don’t remember very much about them, so I think they were average. For dessert they had a Crepe with ice cream and strawberry sauce. They say that Crepes (they call them pancakes, but people in the US call them crepes…) are very popular in Russia. They recently opened a restaurant chain there, “Chainaya Lozhka”, that is a pancake restaurant – it’s more popular than McDonalds there. They put meat and other things on the crepes though. I didn’t try it while I was there, but our guide mentioned it. But getting back to the Russian dinner party…between each course, our trip guides would get up and make a toast, after which we would all shoot some vodka in the traditional Russian style -На здоровье!  (To our health!) According to the guides, you have to have a reason to drink, so we toasted things such as health, in celebration of our presence in Russia, and at one point the men were kind enough to take a toast in honour of the women. They did this in the special way as well, where you put your hand out, palm down, and set the shot glass on top, then take the shot off the top of your hand. Also between courses two women and a man came out in traditional Russian attire and sang Russian songs. They also played instruments and played games involving the audience. One game, for example, involved two people wearing rooster hats, with both of the people trying to remove the other person’s hat without losing their own. It’s like capture-the-flag, but much more intense.

Dancing Bears…Painted Wings…Things I Almost Remember

The next day we went to visit Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin, in the Village of the Tsars. Is it the palace featured in the Disney movie Anastasia. Although it was used by many royal families as their summer palace, Anastasia’s family didn’t actually use it. I think it’s because of its grandeur that the movie used it. However…it was so amazing to see it! In the movie when Anastasia is singing the song in the ballroom – I got to see that ballroom in person! You can tell from how it looks in the movie even!
Other than that, the overall grandeur of the palace was amazing. From a porcelain fireplace, to the highly renowned Amber Room, which was replicated to look like the original. The original Amber Room was precious enough that the sheets of amber were hand-carried by soldiers from central St. Petersburg to the Palace at Pushkin (an hour driving) due to their fragility. During World War II, the original amber sheets were taken by Hitler, and lost en route to Germany, so nobody knows where they are now. However, they replicated the room based on pictures; it is truly unique but beautiful.

The Cathedral on Spilled Blood
This is one of the main landmarks of St. Petersburg because of its height and unique colouring on the steeples. This is a Russian Orthodox church, and it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. He was the Tsar who was trying to free the people from being surfs and allowing them to own their own land. He was also attempting to give them their own government and parliament, but the radicals were against everything he was doing and they made multiple assassination attempts on his life, but they were unsuccessful. One day his carriage was going along the canal and a grenade was thrown at his carriage, it didn’t kill him but he got out of the carriage because there was a small boy dying on the ground. He stood out there with the boy even though his guards were urging him to get back in the carriage before somebody else tried to kill him. He refused, and somebody dropped a grenade from above him and it exploded, ruining the bottom half of his body. He died from blood loss a couple hours later. This is why it is called the Cathedral on ‘Spilled Blood’.

Tsar Alexander II’s nephew wanted to build the cathedral in memory of him, but he wanted the cathedral to have in it the spot where his uncle died, so they rerouted the canal and the church juts into it. Inside the church they have the railing of the canal and the original stones where the Tsar was assassinated. It looks like the most humble part of the church, but it is the real reason it exists.

Q: What is Stretched, White, and Incredibly Fun?
A: A Saint Petersburg Tour Limo!!!!!!
The second night there we got to take a limousine tour of the town with soviet champagne provided. We got to see several large landmarks (such as the pink, anchor-shaped lighthouses with Zeus sitting on the bottom of one and Hera on the other) in nighttime lighting before going to a club.  

Touring the Culture Capital of Russia
We also got to take a daytime bus tour of the town, where we got to see even more of the city's attractions.

This is the Smelny Convent, the oldest convent and cathedral in Saint Petersburg. It was built in 1762 because Elizabeth was considering joining the convent. She never used it, but Catherine the Great used it as the first school for women; it taught normal subjects but also things such as fencing and dancing. Now it's used for exhibitions and concerts.

The Battleship Aurora is a symbol of the Revolution because it fired the blank shot that started the October Revolution (Bolsheviks in 1917) and sent the troops to storming the Winter Palace (now known as The Hermitage).

This was a palace built by Paul the First, the son of Catherine the Great. He built it with a moat around it for added protection because he was paranoid that someone wanted to kill him. However, within a few months of moving in somebody (I think one of his guards) strangled him to death in his bedroom. I thought this story was ironic, so I took a picture of the castle. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture.

This is a water taxi. Saint Petersburg is looking into getting more of them to help alleviate the traffic dilemma of the town. The canals go to a lot of places in the town, so it could be beneficial if people accept it.

This is the Peter and Paul Cathedral. It is located on Peter Island inside the Peter and Paul Fortress. The fortress holds 32 emperors' graves. The Fortress is sometimes called the Russian Bastille. Here Peter's son died because he started an assassination plot to hill his father. However, people weren't executed here. They were only interrogated. In 1917 it was turned into a museum. The Cathedral was built in 1732, and it is an Orthodox Cathedral. It is 122 meters high, and it has real gold on top. It is gilded, so it never has to be replaced. This has the tombs of all the emperors from Peter the Great to Anastasia's family. This is where the tour guide killed my hopes that I was descended from Anastasia too - because she told me that Anastasia is buried here. DNA testing proved it. I choose to believe in her continuing existence though. No DNA testing is going to ruin my dreams!!!

We got to see a reenactment of the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution (when the Battleship Aurora fired the blank shot). It was really neat to see the Russian-style marching, and to see how they took over the Fortress.

This is Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. I didn’t go inside, but I do know that it is the largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and its largest room can hold 14,000 people.  

What we now call the Hermitage used to be the Winter Palace, where most royal families chose to live during the winter. Now it is one of the most prestigious art museums. If you spent one minute looking at each picture in the museum, it would take you nine years to see everything.

The Hermitage
There were many amazing paintings, from  Da Vinci to Rafael to El Greco, as well as incredible architecture in the actual palace. I’ll just give a few pictures and blurbs about them – it’s not possible to comment on everything.

This is one of several tables that is made using a unique mosaic technique. It’s hard to tell that that it is a mosaic style though, because the pieces used to make it are so small that you can only see it if you are closely examining it. Most people that walk through the room don’t even know that they are the most spectacular display in the room.

This is the peacock clock. It has multiple birds in it, and the time is told by a small firefly on a mushroom in the front. At six pm, the peacock used to raise its wings, and the other birds all did something as well. It was a spectacular display, and it still has the ability to work, but they no longer have it on because it was impossible to control the crowd and the mosaic tables were being damaged due to high population in the room.

These paintings were by Leonardo Da Vinci, and they are quite different. One portrays Mary as young, the other portrays Mary as being more mature. I think this was done to emphasize the her different characteristics, but the guide said that the young Mary was painted in his youth, while the mature Mary was painted when he was older and perhaps less innocent to biology.

The Crouching Boy by Michelangelo. Even though the statue is unfinished you can see the talent of the sculptor in the perfection and presence of the muscles of the person being duplicated.

These were both by Rafael. They discovered that in the first picture, he was originally going to paint Jesus holding a Pomegranite. They figured this out because the wood behind the picture developed a crack that threatened to ruin the picture, so they separated the paint from the wood, and saw the original layer of paint on the picture. They then glued the picture to a new piece of wood and put it back in it’s spot. The second picture was obviously comissioned because the man looks like a man from Italy from the time period the painting was created. Also, the man has no beard, and typical replications of Joseph during this time period show him as having one.

The first comic. It shows the animals catching the hunter and roasting him on a spit – quite humorously portrayed actually.

A painting by El Greco. I studied him a little bit in my Spanish class last year, and I saw a few of his paintings in this museum. This one is definitely my favourite.

The Yusupov Palace
The Yusupovs weren’t royalty, but they were a very rich, influential family and because of the beautiful and exquisite things they owned, their home is considered a palace. They constantly viewed themselves as on the same level as royalty, therefore the things in their home were purposely meant to compete with the grandeur of those in the Winter and Summer Palaces.  This is also the place where Rasputin (bad guy in Anastasia) was killed. The following pictures highlight the most interesting parts of the Palace.

This is what Rasputin saw when he got to the house. He was brought into the back of the house by the Yusupov son, because he was going to dine with them. Once inside, he was taken down to the basement to have dinner, and upstairs they were playing a loud record that made it sound as though there was a large party  happening up there, in order to avoid Rasputin’s suspecting foul play.

Once downstairs the Yusupov son gave him wine and rolls that had poison in them. However, Rasputin didn’t die, as he was expected to. There are two theories as to why it didn’t kill him: 1, because he took a small dose of poison every day in order to become immune to it. 2, because putting the poison in the wine and rolls caused a chemical reaction to happen, removing the potency of the chemical. However, Rasputin did feel some pain, and you can tell in the picture from how he has his hand on his stomach. Anyway, when he didn’t die, the Yusupov son didn’t know what to do, so he went back upstairs and conversed with the four men in the room. He decided to get a gun and shoot him, and so when he returned with the gun he shot Rasputin, panicked, then ran back upstairs. The bald man from the picture above this one came back down to decide what to do with the body, but when they got back the body was gone. Rasputin hadn’t been killed with the first shot, and instead had pulled himself up the stairs and out the back door. They found him and shot him again, killing him this time. Now they had to hide the body, so two of the men put their arms around him, and walked outside to a car, pretending they were all drunk so that if any neighbors saw they would hear the loud music and think the men were drunk and heading home. They took his body to the Neva River, cut a hole in the ice, and put his body in the river. After they were done, they quickly hurried away, however one person forgot his shoe cover on top of the ice. That is how Rasputin was found, because someone saw the boot cover and then saw what had happened. Anastasia’s family was angry, because they liked him a lot. Rasputin wasn’t the man he is portrayed to be in the Disney film. He was a religious man from Siberia who came to Saint Petersburg trying to raise money to build a church in Siberia, and he had a fairly good reputation in town because he helped heal several people. When the Romanov family heard about his abilities, they asked him to help their son, who had hemophilia. He worked closely with their son and seemed to help, and it was through this that he gained influence over them. There are rumours that he had an affair with the Tsarina as well, but there is no proof.

This fireplace was made out of onyx, and all the stone around it turned bright red when heated. It would be amazing to see that.

This is the library. Behind the fireplace they discovered a hidden gun collection when restoring the place. They haven’t finished restoring the house, and they wonder what other surprises they are going to find before they’re done.

This is the Turkish Billiard room. It’s designed to where anything whispered in that room can easily be heard in the room behind it. Therefore, that is where the Yusupovs would leave people if they wanted to hear a secret.

This is an impressive chandelier because it has been made out of papier-mâché.

This is the theatre they had in their home. They would have performances there, and once they even had a Tsar sitting in one of the main seats. The main seats that are currently there are the same that would have been there when the Tsar was there, so there is a chance that one of us sat on a chair that he sat on. It sounds silly, but it really is neat.

So that is the summary of my Russian Escapade – I hope you enjoyed it! Till next time!

That’s All Folks!

for Bergen - from Kylie

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for the bad formatting - if I have time I'll fix it later, but for now I just wanted to post it so you could read it!