From the sublime to the chaotic

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Europe » Russia
August 26th 2008
Published: June 26th 2017
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Geo: 55.75, 37.62

I am in Moscow having spent 6 days now in Russia.
The highlight of our second day in St Petersburg was a trip to the town of Pushkin where one of the summer palaces, Catherine's palace is located. This was originally built for Catherine 1, second wife of Peter the Great. He tried to emulate Versailles so there are many elegant and golden rooms. It took about an hour to drive there but we arrived just before 10am which is opening time. Even so there were many other groups waiting. As we entered we had to don overshoes, (much like operating theatre slippers) and then we mounted the grand staircase. Everything in the first few rooms was white and gold. The main Reception room was stunning. Intricate, wooden carved, gold leaf covered ornamentation framed huge mirrors against a marvellous moulded ceiling. In the corners of the room stood towering blue delft ware furnaces used for heating. We wandered through dining rooms with porcelain services, elegant drawing rooms and wonderful picture galleries. The last of these had paintings used as wallpaper completely covering the walls. However, the highlight was The Amber Room. The walls are completely covered in Amber, including intricate decoration in various shades. This has only recently been restored as the whole palace was destroyed by the Germans who used it as a headquarters during the seige of Leningrad during WW2. The Russians have recreated the lost splendour and are still renovating and recreating to this day.
Other rooms were done in more classical style with a wedgewood appearance in one with pastel shades of pink and green and cameos on the walls.
After our drive back to the hotel we spent a leisurely afternoon and evening mainly in the hotel watching the last day of athletics and having a good dinner. We needed a day of relative ease!!
The next day we first went to a town 45 kms from St Petersburg, called Peterhof. Here was another of Peter the Great's summer palaces but at this one we had come not to see inside but to marvel at the magnificent gardens. Here Peter wanted again to imitate Versailles and it certainly is its equal. There is a magnificent terrace covered with classical statues of the Greek gods all covered in gold leaf. This leads down to the central fountain of Heracles strangling the Nemean lion, an allegory for Peter's victory over the Swedes. There are 150 fountains in the gardens!!. We were shown around the eastern side. The gardens back onto the Gulf of Finland and there is a canal running from the fountain to the sea as people arrived here by ship.
In the grounds are many smaller pavilions some of which were used by Peter to reside in. One of these has a kitchen because his second wife, Catherine, was a servant when he married her and she liked to cook for her family herself. There are fountains in many different styles, Roman, Baroque and one shaped like an oak tree. There are also many statues scattered around the formal French gardens which are beautifully laid out. We could have stayed wandering here for many hours but our stay was too short.
From here we returned to the city for lunch and then were taken to the Railway station where we boarded the train for the 5 and a half hour trip to Moscow. We left promptly at 4pm. It was a comfortable journey in modern carriages. We were lucky having the front seat in our carriage with lots of leg room. We tried the dining room for dinner but the menu was unappealing and the prices very high, so we settled for a open smoked salmon sandwich in the carriage and drank the bottle of red we had bought before at the local supermarket.
We pulled into Moscow staion at 9-30pm. It was very exciting to spot the Lenigradskaya Hotel next to the station. This is the hotel we had stayed in 28 years ago when we were here for the Olympics. It has obviously been renovated and is now a Hilton!!. Our drive to our hotel through the streets was swift but chaotic as Moscow drivers are mad and the traffic is horrendous. We are staying at the Sovietsky Hotel, an "Historical Hotel" still in the old Stalinist style. The rooms are large and comfortable but with no airconditioning, only a fan.
I will have to finish this now but will update our stay in Moscow when I am able. We go back to Warsaw tomorrow and while in Belarus I doubt we will have internet access. I will also add photos later.
Hope you are enjoying this !! We are!!

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