Today we spent the morning at a pre-opening visit to the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum. Then lunch at the Gogol Restaurant and a 35 min hydrofoil ride across the Gulf of Finland to Peterhof, to visit the gardens and bath house of Peter's Summer Palace.
St Petersburg with its 42 islands and 500 bridges is known as the Venice of the North. It's a great city but is pipped by Moscow, in my opinion. I wouldn't let Natalaya hear me, but I think the exhibits in Moscow's Armoury Chamber surpassed those in the Hermitage.
Grand EntranceThis, the Winter Palace, was extended several times. Much of it in Catherine The Great's time where she needed room to house all the art works that her emissaries were sent out to purchase. The Hermitage Museum is the institution that is accommodated in the extended Winter Palace. The Palace itself of course is also a museum. It was wonderful.
HermitageOne of the amazing galleries. Our guide Natalaya commented on the light crowds. We had plenty of opportunity to browse and examine. True to form though, after a couple of hours I'd had enough of looking at masterpiece paintings.
Da Vinci's Smiling MadonnaThey had two Da Vinci's, a famous Raphael, Michelangelo's Crouching Boy sculpture and many Rembrandt's (Peter the Great was fascinated by and greatly admired Holland).
Regina VasorumThe "Queen of Vases". This urn is from the 4th century BC and it appears undamaged. Its design is of Ancient Greece and it was found in Italy. I was amazed at the quality of the work so long ago!
Hydrofoil jetty The boats were mostly enclosed and moved along at 100kph. The dock at Peterhof was used for sea traffic on the Gulf of Finland, especially to access the Russian fortress on nearby Kotlin Island. Until I nodded off we were subjected to a continual amplified sales pitch from a woman selling all sorts of gear. Boy, she became annoying!
Summer PalaceThe grounds consisted of formal gardens (like Versailles, which was an inspiration for this palace) and informal woods and dells with small streams. It is very beautiful. We visited the bathhouse where the royals would bathe several times a week. First a cold bath, then hot, then a sauna and then a cold rinse. A very elaborate process, especially with the formal dress of the times.
100 fountainsUnlike Versailles, the fountains of Peterhof are gravity-fed by water from 20km away and 70m height. So much easier to maintain (no pumps) but requiring precise engineering. See these all reach the same height? They are all winterised every year (for the last few centuries) so that they are not damaged by the freeze. Peter was a joker who had fountains spring up in unexpected places to soak his visitors. In the siege of Leningrad the Nazis occupied this Summer Palace.