Welcome to my blog

This is it! I've given up work -retired from the rat race and am about to start on a 10 year adventure, doing all those things I've been meaning to do but never had the time to do them. I've offloaded my responsibilities and it is now my time. So follow my adventures and see whether I actually manage anything!

Monday, 15 July 2019

Day 3: St Petersburg buildings and Peterhof Palace

This morning was really the beginning of the Gadventures trip. After breakfast we were introduced to our guide for the morning. Her English was excellent and she would be with us for a 3 hour tour of St Petersburg. She gave us a brief history of the city. It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as a gateway to Europe and became the capital of Russia from 1712  until 1918. The city's name began as  St Petersburg then changed to Petrograd in 1914 then to Leningrad in 1924, after the death of Lenin. It returned to its original name  in 1991 following the break up of the USSR . I am hopeless at remembering anything a guide tells me. I find it very interesting at the time but my recall of any facts is appalling. My photos act as my memory and then I do some research when I get home. So I took a lot of  photos of buildings etc as we walked along but of course can't always remember their purpose.
This impressive building was once a palace (Beloselskiy Palace). It was once home to one of Rasputin's murderers, then later became the headquarters of the Soviet Communist Party. Nowadays it is offices and a concert hall.

On the other side of the road is this 1920s  Art Nouveau building. Highly decorative to attract customers to the shop which originally sold exotic fruits amongst other things. It is now a souvenir shop.

Close by is this statue of Catherine the Great, the only statue of her in St Petersburg. As a teenage German princess she was married off to a Russian Prince who became Peter III. She was not happy and when she came to power in 1762, she organised an imperial coup in which her husband was murdered. She remained as Empress of Russia until her death in 1796. It was Catherine who was a lover of the arts and collected paintings from around the world.

Also on Nevskiy Prospekt, the main road running through St Petersburg is Gostinyy Dvor, one of the world's oldest shopping arcades with over 300 shops. Built in the mid 18th century it is the main shopping area of the city.

This is St Petersburg's largest bookshop. It occupies the Singer Company building, built in the Art Nouveau  style. It was the first building in the city to use a metal frame which made it possible to have the large windows on the ground floor. It was also fitted with lifts, heating, air conditioning and an automatic system for clearing snow from the roof. During the first World War it was home to the US Embassy.

Buildings in St Petersburg have a height restriction and to give this one the  illusion of height, the architect added  a metal and glass tower topped with a glass globe that lit up with an advert for the company.

St Michael's Castle was finally completed in 1801. According to  legend, Emperor Paul I (Catherine the Great's son) was told he would live as many years as there were letters above the gate of the castle. The inscription had forty seven characters. The Emperor was killed at the age of forty seven. He was only resident in the castle for forty days when he was assassinated in his bedroom falling victim to a palace coup. All valuables were transferred from the castle. In 1820 the building was handed over to the Central College of Engineering. Many prominent Russians were graduates of the college including Dostoevsky. The building is now part of the Russian Museum and hosts exhibitions here.
The his

This is the main Russian Museum building next to the Church of Spilled Blood.

One of many souvenir markets

The guide took us to a number of other places including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan which was said to have been inspired by St Peter's Basilica in Rome.She finished the tour in Palace Square where we then went our own ways. A number of the group went to queue for tickets for the Hermitage but myself and L from New Zealand went to get a hydrofoil over to see the Palace at Peterhof. It lies on the shore of the Gulf of Finland and was commissioned by Peter the Great who wanted it to rival the Palace of Versailles.

This is the Grand Cascade with 37 gilded bronze sculptures, 64 fountains and 142 water jets.

With its beautiful gardens and numerous fountains, it was a pleasant place to be on a hot and humid afternoon

After a few hours of wandering around and sampling the pancakes that were on offer in the cafe, we got the boat back to the City. Using the hydrofoil meant the journey took less than an hour. So it was a case of just sitting back and enjoying the views.

One of the many large cruise ships that visit he city.

Tomorrow we will be leaving St Petersburg and I decided that I wanted one last look inside the Hermitage. L was very tired and decided to go back to the hotel but as it was a Friday evening I knew  the Hermitage would be open late and if I could get in without queuing then I just couldn't resist a final look at those paintings. I got a ticket from one of the machines and walked straight in ignoring the queues at the ticket office. I'm not sure that many of the visitors realised that it was possible to get tickets from the machines. If you do intend to visit the Hermitage I would suggest going to the late night opening and buy your ticket from a machine.

 I wandered around and found paintings by Frans Hals (1582 -1666)  Portrait of a man

 Rembrandt (1606-1669) Portrait of a man with lace collar

Rembrandt: Young Woman with Earrings.

Rembrandt: Portrait of an Old Man in Red

I also went across to the General Staff building  for a final look as some of my favourite impressionist paintings. By now my feet were screaming for a rest so I decided to return to the hotel. The streets were crowded. A lot of young military men in ceremonial dress. Tomorrow is the evening of the Red Sail, a time of celebration and festivities. We will have left the city by then and judging by the increase of numbers on the streets maybe it is just as well. I popped into a Greek restaurant on the way back and had a lovely light meal. As I left the heavens opened, fortunately the hotel was a short distance away and I didn't get too wet but the storm continued and the rain was torrential. I decided not to go out again that evening. I needed to pack and sort myself out  as I wanted to visit one more place before leaving St Petersburg - the Faberge Museum. We would not be leaving until early afternoon so that gave me enough time in the morning to see the Faberge eggs.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Day 2: St Petersburg - canals and churches

After lunch I walked to the other side of the Hermitage which faces the river Neva. Across the river I could see the St Peter and Paul fortress which dates from the founding of St Petersburg in 1703.
I decided to walk across the bridge  to have a look at the Rostral Columns. They were designed as lighthouses with gas lit torches at the top.  

Ship's prows jut out from each side.

I crossed back over the river to have a look at this building which is The Admiralty The admiralty was built between 1704 and 1711 just after the city was founded by Peter the Great. It was originally the shipyard where Russia's first battleships were produced.
It was rebuilt 100 years later with a more decorative facade to emphasise the power of the Russian fleet.

I then walked through the Admiralty gardens to get my first glimpse of St Isaac's Cathedral. The original church commissioned by Peter the Great was destroyed in floods soon after its construction in 1710. The present one, designed by the French architect Auguste de Montferrand opened in 1858.

Statues of the apostles can clearly be seen against the skyline.

The gilded dome caused much suffering during its construction as  a large number of workers died from inhaling mercury fumes used in the gilding process. The Cathedral is the largest in Russia. During the Soviet period it was used as a museum of atheism.

You can walk up to the dome to view the city.

The walkway leading down from the dome.

On each of the four corners are sculpted angels holding up gas torches. I assume someone would have to have gone out onto the roof to light them.

In the distance you can see the shipbuilding yards.

Looking down on St Isaac's Square.

There are three huge doors made from bronze over oak which are decorated with biblical scenes.

The 48 red granite columns in the cathedral  were imported at great expense from Finland.

I walked back alongside the canal towards Nevskiy Prospekt. This bridge was one of the earliest pedestrian suspension bridges in the city. The cast iron lions hold up the bridge's supports.

The chains emerge from the mouths of the lions.

The canal led me to the spectacular Church on Spilled Blood. The unusual name comes from the position of the church sited where the assassination of Alexander II took place.

The church is a museum rather than a church as a memorial to Alexander II and no weddings, funerals or church services have taken place here.

Although I had to queue for tickets and try and cope with people pushing in, it was well worth the effort.

The floor to ceiling mosaics were very impressive.

I left the church and went into the gardens next door for a sit down in the shade.

From the gardens I returned to the hotel for a short rest before meeting the tour group that evening. There were 16 of us altogether including our tour leader, Svetlana, from Siberia. As usual there was a mixture of ages and nationalities. Most of us were travelling on our own with just one Canadian couple and an Australian brother and sister. Other nationalities included American, Austrian, Irish and just myself from the UK and a lady from New Zealand who lived in Dubai. We all went out for a meal together which always helps with introductions and getting to know one's fellow travel companions for the next couple of weeks. During the meal a few of us decided we would like to go on the midnight canal cruise to see the opening of the bridges. From the end of May to Mid July the sun doesn't fully set and the phenomenon is known in St Petersburg as the White Nights. There are many festivals and events during this time so there were many cruises on the canals at nighttime.

Between May and November the city's many drawbridges are raised for a few hours from Midnight to allow the large tonnage vessel coming from the Volga and heading for the Baltic to pass through. The bridges are raised at night so as not to disrupt daytime traffic. During the winter the Neva River is frozen and there is no river traffic. We tried to get on an English speaking cruise but that one was full so we got onto a Russian one. One advantage being it was half the price of the English speaking one, however, the disadvantage, of course, was that we had no idea where we were going or which bridges and buildings we were supposed to be looking at.


                            The Hermitage

St Isaac's Cathedral
With crowds of people on both sides of the river, at 1.30am the Palace Bridge opened to a musical fanfare.

Once open, a huge number of boats, yachts, ski jets etc passed through the bridge creating lots of waves
It was after 2am by the time we got back to the hotel. It had been a very long day but filled with amazing sights.