September 03, 2007

St Petersburg - City Drive & Catherine Palace

We were greeted by a band as we walked off the ship. Julia from Denrus met us and began an intense two day tour of St Petersburg for our group of 6. On our way to Catherine Palace at Pushkin, Julia pointed out many sights. We made a quick stop to St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (no pictures) where I bought an icon of Saint Panteleimon, Patron of physicians and medicine.

We finally reached the opulant Catherine Palace and were in awe. The palace was designed by Rastrelli in the baroque style. It is over 1000 feet long, features an ornate blue facade, and is set in over 1400 acres of manicured lawn. I had to take 6 shots of the front to get a full panorama.

Julia loved to tell us that Catherine the Great died at age 67 after a "night of love". It was her husband Peter III who inherited the throne but he was weak and Catherine's supporters thought it best if she took over. The fact that she ruled until she died of natural causes (stroke) was testimony to her cunning as many of the royal family members were assassinated over the centuries.

We were brought through a serious of fabulous rooms including the Grand Hall with Delft China fireplaces, the Green Room, the Amber Room, the Portrait Hall, the Crimson Pilaster Room and more. 3 of 10 remaining Meisen snowball china vases are in Catherine palace. The Amber Room (no pictures) we saw was reconstructed in 2003. The original panels were "hidden" and then "lost" during the invasion of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) during WW II. I enjoyed the table of gold wall decoration being restored.

We were too overwhelmed by Catherine Palace to remember many of the sights Julia pointed out on the drive back to St Petersburg. My notes say we saw:
- Former mansions of the Russian nobility
- Bronze Horseman in Decembrists' Square
- War Memorial
- Mariinsky Palace
- Former Stock Exchange Building and Rostral Column

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