Russia Day 3 – Puskin, The Tsar’s Village

I’d finally had more sleep and got up again around 08:00, even though I’d been awake for a few hours. The breakfast was a filling one once again, but this time used this opportunity to also hydrate better for the day ahead. We weren’t too sure where we were going to visit in the morning, but had a few ideas of what would be possible.

To start with we headed north again, this time to the Bronze Horseman statue. After taking a few photos of the Menshikov Palace from across the south side of the Neva river we walked alongside the Admiralty to the front of the building. Although we’d passed the building before, this time we took the opportunity to photograph it. The Admiralty has an impressive golden spire which can be seen from quite a distance across Saint Petersburg. The building itself however is not one we could go inside due to in still being in use as the headquarters of the Russian Navy.

In front of the building there is also a waterfall, but with the steady stream of tourists passing between them it was near impossible to get a photo without people in the way. After a few photographs we walked along Nevsky Prospekt and then across to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. Before going up however we both nipped back into the hotel to get an extra camera lens for use on the colonnade. The admission to the cathedral and the colonnade was 400 roubles so again was quite cheap. The design of how they manage tourists around the cathedral is quite odd though. When you go into the cathedral itself you go in through the front, can wander around inside, and then you leave through the rear. To see the colonnade you then have to walk all the way around the outside to the front again so you can take the other front entrance in.

To get to the colonnade it is a winding staircase that seems to go on and on for a long time before it eventually reaches a narrow passage which leads back out into the open air and the roof of the cathedral. From there it’s a metal ramp you walk up to get onto the colonnade but from there you can get a 360° view of the city. It was however quite crowded as they don’t really try to control numbers – but for safety they do have a different staircase for descending down – again at the back of the cathedral.

Once we’d dropped off the extra lenses we headed back out to look for somewhere for lunch – we had a little over 2 hours for this. We decided the best option was to head over to Nevsky Prospekt and to see what was there. We walked along this until we got to the Kazan Cathedral.

We also spotted the Singer Company building (Dom Knigi). This building was designed by Pavel Syuzor and was the first metal framed building in Saint Petersburg. The initial idea was that it should resemble their building in New York City, though due to the height restrictions in this city they had to adjust it. Whilst the building was designed by Syuzor, the decorative part of it was designed by Amandus Heinrich Adamson. It was later used by the British embassy and today is a bookshop, with a cafe on the second floor. We did actually try that cafe, however my friend didn’t like the selection they had available.

Not far from here we also saw the spires of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood church so headed along the canal to this whilst still looking for somewhere to have lunch. We didn’t find anywhere along there that sold small meals such as a sandwich so backtracked to Nevsky Prospekt and headed back in the direction of the hotel. Moments later however I noticed that the Coffeeshop Company sold sandwiches and this is where we decided to eat.

For lunch I had a chicken and bacon bagel, though once again it was swimming in mayonnaise – one of the things I don’t particularly like. Even with drinks and a tip this only came to 400 roubles per person. The service was very slow though and it took asking for the cheque twice, with long waits, before they finally brought it to us so we could pay.

The delay didn’t leave us with a massive amount of time before our tour though. We got back to the hotel relatively quickly where we could sort out what camera equipment we’d need for the afternoon.

For the afternoon it was an hour’s drive to the Tsar’s village. When the Soviet Union came into power they wanted to remove all trace of the Tsar’s and so this was renamed to the Children’s village, but is also known as Pushkin. The name Pushkin is what you’ll see on most maps, and this name comes from the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin – of whom there is also a statue outside the Summer Palace there.

The summer palace too is also known by another name – the Catherine palace, named after the wife of Peter the Great. Around 20 years after Catherine I commissioned the palace, her daughter Elizabeth had it expanded upon. Even later though it was demolished and rebuilt in a design by Rastrelli and even bigger under her orders. This wasn’t the last time it was rebuilt however. During the second world war it was occupied by the Nazis and when they left it was burnt out and left as nothing but an empty shell. It has been under repair for quite some time, and even though it’s looking in pretty good condition now there are still a lot of rooms that require repair work.

When we arrived we started in the gardens – the first part of these are French gardens that are arranged in geometric shapes with some feature in each section such as a pavilion or a statue. On the far side of the man-made lake the gardens follow a traditionally British style where it looks more natural. Next to this lake though we went into a pavilion there for a while and listened to a choir sing to demonstrate the acoustics of the building.

Around this area we were also shown to another building that was used by Catherine to entertain her friends. They would never see servants here however as it was considered to be a hermitage – a place of privacy. So that she could entertain in privacy she would occupy the upper floor with her friends. This floor had a number of dumb waiters that would allow messages to be sent down to the kitchen, and for food to be sent up on. The food itself wasn’t prepared here however as they feared the risk of fire damaging the building. Instead it was prepared in a nearby building and then finished on the lower floor to be sent up.

The palace itself has a large courtyard in front of it which was at the time quite empty. Inside though we had to join a queue to enter the museum part of the palace. This takes some time as you have to swipe your ticket on the way in and then put covers over your shoes so that you don’t risk scuffing or damaging the floor. They also didn’t allow backpacks inside so these had to be left in the cloakroom.

In front of us, and behind us was a tour group of a particular nationality whose behaviour was obnoxious. As we went up the stairs into the museum they’d be constantly pushing passed, bumping into you, and whenever possible jumping the queue – they has a “me first” mentality. Whenever we went to take a photograph they walk straight in front to take their own. There was no consideration for others from them.

Our tour of this museum started with the grand hall which did not have any chandeliers – it’s light came from a large number of candelabras on the walls which had mirrors behind to help reflect the light and also give the impression of a bigger room. This and many other rooms were gilded with gold in a baroque style, whereas the main staircase was more traditional and consisted solely of red and white. To continue the tour we had to go back across the main staircase and through room after room that was used for dining or for living in.

There was however one room we couldn’t take photographs in – the amber room. This room consisted of panels made from amber of many different colours. Our guide considered this to be the “eighth wonder of the world”. Personally I wasn’t impressed enough by it to call it that, but it did look okay.

On the drive back to the hotel we stopped at what was referred to as the travelling palace. Halfway between the Catherine and Winter palaces it acted as a stopping point for the Tsars when travelling between them. We didn’t go in this palace however, but we did go inside the chapel that is opposite it which was constructed for a special event.

For the evening meal there was a restaurant that had been recommended to us, Teplo, which was only a 5 minute walk at most from the hotel. I went for the fillet mignon with vegetables and baked potatoes (which turned out to be roast potatoes), and for after had the hot chocolate dessert with ice cream.

Our time in Saint Petersburg was now coming to a close – we needed to think about packing what we didn’t need so that after the next day’s tour we could take the overnight train to Moscow.

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