We opted for a tour to the palace at Pushkin and the gardens at Peterhof on the last day in Peter. Everyone who has been here told us not to miss it.
The day started out wet but not quite as cold. We got on the buses very early for the half hour drive. Yesterday was officially Russia Day, a national holiday, so Monday was a holiday too. There weren't many cars on the road.
The drive took us out into the country through some nice towns. Pushkin itself is a pretty place, built by the royal family as summer residences over a couple of generations. We were first in line to enter the palace. Before the gates opened there was a brass band playing traditional Russian songs and pieces of ballet. The mood was festive.
In the palace we were able to take up entire rooms while Olga described the objects and history, since no one was ahead of us. It is the same as the other palaces we have been fortunate to visit -- Windsor, Versailles, the Palacio. All of them were built (or remodeled) starting around the end of the 17th century and all the monarchs were imitating Louis XIV. The Russian palaces have been remarkable for the abundance of gilt. Domes, ceilings, facades, vases, dishes, you name it, they put gold leaf on it.
Pushkin the town is named for the famous writer of Russian fairy tales. Much of the decoration represented characters in his stories. The illustrations in the storybooks are rich with color. The highlight of the palace is the Amber Room. The entire room has amber incorporated into the decor. It started with huge amber panels that were a gift from the king of Prussia. All colors of the resin are used. It takes your breath away when you turn around and look at your surroundings.
We walked through some of the gardens in a light rain. The buildings and grounds are meticulously maintained. All visitors in the palace were required to wear surgical-type booties to protect the wood parquet floors.
The gardens were different than other gardens we usually see in big estates. There were flowers but not so much laid out in trimmed symmetrical beds. There are flowerbeds but the grounds are more park like with huge groves of trees, gravel pathways and statues.
Next stop was Peterhof where Peter the Great built a palace and his daughter continued the tradition. The palace is closed but the grounds are the draw here. The whole thing sits on the Baltic Sea, on the Gulf of Finland. The park has hundreds of fountains, many designed by Peter himself. They run during the day from late May to October.
The interesting fact about the fountains is they are operated entirely by gravity. Peter's engineers found freshwater springs up in the hills above the grounds. They dug canals and devised a system of pipes, and when they open the gates, the water flows naturally causing the fountains to jet. Big gilded fountains.
I said yesterday I'd tell you about the Nazis. Almost everything we've seen here this weekend has been replaced, rebuilt or restored. In 1941, Hitler attacked St. Petersburg resulting in a siege of over 900 days. The people had no food stores past the first month. By the time it fell to the Nazi army, a million civilians had perished.
Although many of the art and architectural treasures were removed and hidden, there was no time to get to most of it in these outlying areas which fell early in the siege. The art was plundered and sent back to Germany or to grace the occupied homes of German commanders. Much of it was never recovered.
Worse, liberation from the occupation was achieved due to Allied bombing of the entire area, mostly U.S. The buildings were almost all reduced to rubble. After the war, when Soviet Russia started to build again, the ruins were combed for any of the original art and building features. Anything recovered has been incorporated into the restoration.
We returned to the ship and tonight we finally sail. More about the cruise itself in my next entry.