The city is astonishing - this is my third visit and every time I have thought it to be the most beautiful city in the world. Sorry Vienna, Paris, London and New York! It's wide white boulevards are breathtaking in so many ways - the pastel and white painted palaces knock one into the other along wide and often tree lined avenues. It must have been, in the time before the revolution, a city of aristocrats all residing in the central fairytale part of the city.
We saw too much to be very detailed about anywhere, it would need a small Chekhov novel to fully do our days justice, those things which stood out need some retelling if only to be personally cathartic !
The Winter Palace, or Hermitage, just takes the breath away. Even the first glimpse of the staircase in white, gold and marble sweeping up to the great rooms seems ( as K pointed out) full of ghosts of a time gone for ever. This is how I have felt every time I visit the major palaces. Whether this is because we know the tragedy of the last Romanovs so well I cannot say, but there is a hazy feel of small girls in white playing up and down the stairs, totally unaware of what their future held.
The newly restored chapel where their private daily services were held is so gilded it feels as if one is bathing in a golden bath, but there is also a definite feel of solemnity in the air.
Obviously the art collections are truly amazing, 56 Rembrandt paintings, 25 Van Dyk works, a Michaelangelo statue, 2 Leonardo paintings etc etc etc..........quite stupendous. Our tour guide Elenna was so utterly knowledgable and never stopped pouring information into our ears, and was clearly very proud of the work done at restoration during the last 20 years since Peristroyka.
She lead us by the proverbial hand around the Church on the Spilled Blood, the very spot where Tsar Alexander 11 was murdered, showing us his shredded uniform, now in a glass box in the church. This is both macabre and a strong point to all those savage acts which took place during the 19th and early 20th century. It is both interesting and perplexing that after the tragedies of the aristocrats, the communists went on to commit so many more acts of brutality......asking those sorts of questions to a young woman who barely knew either life seemed inappropriate !
We were taken to a fabulous hotel restaurant for lunch, The Golden Hotel where the restaurant was called the Feodor Dostoevsky restaurant. It was lavish , old and historical and very comfortable. Wine and beer came with lunch, which was Borscht followed by Chicken Kiev, and ending with sweet pastry desserts and coffee or tea. I ate everything of course and the numbers soared - but ...........
The highlight of my afternoon was the Yusapov Palace, where Prince Felix Yusapov became the head of the conspiracy to murder Rasputin. We visited the rooms where this mysterious and inexplicable thing took place as well as the large palace rooms which were so very like a British Victorian house, dark and red velvet with grand pianos liberally sprinkled throughout and the most exquisite private theatre, still in use today for concerts and recitals. It was quite different from the Imperial Palaces and the downstairs rooms where the young Felix and his wife Irena, niece to Tsar Nicholas, lived, it was claustrophobic and redolent with atmosphere. I felt that the young Irena may have felt that her first married home was gloomy and somewhat sinister.
The mock up in the actual room where Rasputin was poisoned, shot and stabbed was simply done - and the shot in the wall was clear to see. I shivered a little I must admit, and would not have cared to be in those apartments overnight ! It was terrific!
We had walked over 5 miles that day and literally fell into our cabins, stumbled up to the buffet and ate I know not what, after which we both retired to bed to soak in the day's adventures, elevate our aching legs and remember the riches of the day.