Monday, 25 September 2017

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Winter, Summer....a Palace for every occasion

We arrived St Petersburg and found it a little disappointing after Moscow which was surprising as we had expected just the opposite. Dinner was supplied at our hotel that evening and as most were a little tired I think it suited to have an early night.
Next morning we had a bus tour of the city and included in this was a walk around Hare Island, so called because of the translation from Swedish or some such language of the original name of the said island. Anyway true to form, or should I say name, there were more Rabbits or Hares on this island than you could shake a stick at.

 There were rabbits for every occasion, large ones small ones and in between ones. However this is not the main reason for a visit to Hare Island. This was the beginnings of St Petersburg and was where Peter the Great built a fortress to protect the new capital from a feared 
 Swedish counter attack, it was named Peter and Paul Fortress, fortunately this was never put to the test. The Island has been used as a base for the city garrison and as a prison for political prisoners including Maxim Gorgy and Leo Trotsky among many others. In 1917 
the Bolsheviks stormed it and freed the prisoners. When the Winter Palace was captured many of the nobility were incarcerated here and at least 112 were executed. The Tsar was to be imprisoned here but placed under house arrest in he palace instead......for the time being.
The fortress was turned into a museum in 1924 and has remained as such ever since.

Life must have been very grand for the Garrison in the 1700s

As the next couple of days became a bit of a blur there may be some issues with the chronology but who cares. The Winter Palace or Hermitage as it is some times known cannot be properly completed in the half day that we had available to us but we gave it a good shot and I for one enjoyed the many art works on display here...they don't come much better than this with da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Angelo, and Goya with the usual smatterings of the likes of  Rembrandt and van Dyke etc.

Madonna Litta, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci

Michael Angelo's "Crouching Boy"

All to soon our tour of the Hermitage was over, but grand as this was it was to be surpassed next afternoon when we visited the Summer Palace, an immense edifice built by the Empress Elizabeth and if there is one building one must visit in St Petersburg then surely this is it. Around 100 kg of gold were used to guild the statues etc.

The Catherine ( or Summer Palace) or at least some of it.

Impressive as this building looks from the outside it is even more opulent inside, Empress Elizabeth, wife of Peter the Great  certainly enjoyed the finer things in life. It is a pity that so many other Russians were not enjoying life very much at all. It took a while but eventually something had to break and when it did it was, as we all know, quite spectacular. Anyway back to the past and Elizabeth and her excesses.

The Palace was largely destroyed during the siege of Leningrad.

The extravagance was almost obscene, or was it more than almost.      Restoration continues.

The Summer Palace's Summer House.

Needless to say the gardens were of equal grandeur and must have kept an army of gardeners very busy.

It seems that Elizabeth became bored in the Palace and so had the pavilion built so that she had somewhere to go and admire the garden

Looking across the lake.

And so that was our visit to The Catherine Palace and the end of our tour to St Petersburg, or at least a contracted version of it.
Oh....there is one other thing that I almost forgot, the Faberge Museum and the treasures contained within.

All by Faberge....many millions of dollars and many rooms full.

On our way back from the Catherine Palace we stopped by a memorial to the siege of Leningrad regarded as the most destructive siege of a city in history. 1.5 million people died in the 2.5 year siege in which German and Finnish troops encircled the city allowing no supplies in forcing the population to survive by eating grass and even resorting to cannibalism. A further 1.4 million, mainly women and children, managed to be evacuated before the siege was complete.

The memorial to the siege of Leningrad

We flew back to London the following day and as we had a fairly tight schedule to catch our train to Fort William that evening we hoped for minimal delays. Arriving in Heathrow we were separated from   EU citizens and forced into the queue for the great unwashed which make up the rest of the world . It took over an hour to reach the front and be allowed entry into the UK and this caused Mrs Currin's anxiety to increase with each passing minute. We still had bags to collect, customs to clear and Heathrow express to catch before a black cab ride to Euston and the sanctuary over the Caledonian Sleeper. On arrival at baggage claim there were no bags left on our belt, it was chugging around completely empty. Was this to be our worst nightmare, but wait, there sitting on a bench with our bags in front of them was my old navy colleague  and his wife. They had been waiting there for the best part of an hour as they didn't want to leave without saying goodbye and again offering any help they may be able to give us. Give that man a medal!
As it happens we made the train with plenty of time to spare and arrive in Fort William next morning after a good nights sleep and refreshed  with a Highland Breakfast. Not a bad way to travel. Now the treats of the highlands awaited to be discovered, but thats anther story.
I see the Makos are continuing on their winning ways........YIPEE

All the best and take care


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My pohutukawa has just started flowering - maybe I will have a late finishing summer

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