Thursday, 30 June 2016

2016 Trip To Europe - Days 13 & 14 - St. Petersburg

Day 13 - St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg
I’ve wanted to see St. Petersburg for as long as I can remember. And when a Russian graduate student of mine told me about the Hermitage, where both his mother and father were curators, and about the extraordinary Impressionist collection there, I was hooked.

Trouble was, even though I’ve lived in Hungary when it was occupied by Russians, or perhaps because I lived in Hungary when it was occupied by Russians, I have been hesitant to travel independently to Russia, especially since I know not ONE word in Russian, and know that even their alphabet is totally different from ours. I wouldn’t be able to read even the street signs.

When JP found a cruise that spent two days in St. Petersburg and included a shore excursion to see the Impressionist Collection, I said “go for it’. We booked the Impressionist tour at the same moment we booked the cruise.

So here we are, docked in St. Petersburg. And yesterday, we finally saw my beloved Impressionists. There were major problems with our “tour” though. First, I think our tour director got her training at the gulag.

The written description of the tour said we would see the Impressionist paintings, and if time allowed, see the Fabergé Jewel encrusted Easter-egg collection, created by that jewel smith for the Romanovs.

Faberge Eggs, St. Petersburg
Clearly this was not our guide’s agenda. She took us to the blasted eggs first (in a far distant building) and proceeded to spend an hour and twenty minutes describing the history of egg after egg.

When, with some asperity, I said “Where are the paintings?” she replied, “In another building. We will get to them.”

We eventually did, and we had a total of twenty minutes to see them. I could have cried.  There were
One of many Monets in Hermitage Museum
room after room of Impressionists. Fifteen Monets just in the first room. Two huge square canvases of his garden, the largest Monets I have seen except for his water lily panels in the Orangerie.  There were Reniors, Degas, Gauguins, Van Goghs, Pissarro’s. I wanted to sit and study them to absorb them. The frustration of being rushed through them was unspeakable. I unhooked the ear phones through which we were fastened to our “guide”. She knew nothing about art. I found interesting her excuse for Russia keeping all these paintings they “liberated” from the Germans. She said they were “reparations”. That Russia had the right to keep them as repayment for all the damage Germany did to Russia during the war.

A little difficult to grasp, since most of these paintings were confiscated from Jewish families sent to their deaths by the Nazis, and should by any standard of honesty have been returned to their heirs, as were all the ones found by the British and American officers specifically assigned to that task.

The whole experience yesterday left a very bad taste in my mouth. Much as I’d like to spend more time with that glorious collection of art, I will not return to Russia. I had hoped to make this a “first trip”, but I would never feel safe here.

Evening in St. Petersburg - Day 13

Mariinsky Theatre
The other thing I wanted most to see in St. Petersburg, after the Impressionist Collection, was the Mariinsky Theatre, the historic theatre that has seen generation after generation of great Russian dancers, from Nijinsky and Karsanova to Baryshnikov and Nureyev.

We were able to obtain tickets to a performance that was a part of a music festival, “Stars of the White Nights”, the artistic director of which was Valery Gergiev, well-known to Canadian audiences.  White Nights of course refers to this time of year (June) when there is no darkness this far north. There is a sort of twilight, and then it is light again. (JP took a fabulous picture of the new moon setting in our white-night sky at midnight.)

Don Quixote, Mariinsky Theatre
The ballet was Don Quixote, and it provided us with three breathtaking hours of virtuoso dancing. That the dancing was flawless goes without saying – after all this is the original home of classical ballet with its associated ballet school. Most amazing were the children. I’m aware that the school takes them very young as residents, and that once they have been granted a place in this most prestigious of ballet schools, they have no life beyond dance. However knowing that, and seeing the product of this training, are two different things. There were children in this ballet. Quite a lot of children. And they were, one and all, polished, fully professional dancers. I would not have believed it possible had I not seen it.

This was a very good evening. We arrived back at the ship at midnight, having had nothing to eat since breakfast. Thank God for room service!

St. Petersburg - Day 14

Today was an exercise in complete frustration. We had thought an overview bus tour might be the best way to see St. Petersburg in our one remaining day. The palaces, the fountains.....  It was not.
In Russia, we could be covered by a “group visa” if we took tours organized by the ship. Otherwise we would have needed to obtain individual visas, a proposition that takes six months and many dollars. In hindsight, that is what we should have done, regardless of time and cost. This way we spent quite a lot of money, saw nothing, and spent four hours incarcerated with a tour guide who was related to Attila the Hun, only nastier. Enough said.

Church of the Spilled Blood
The one thing we saw today – the ONLY thing we saw, was the “Church of the Spilled Blood.” (Doesn’t that ever sound Russian?!) We were allowed out of the bus for seven minutes – I kid you not, seven minutes – to take pictures. And yet, miraculously there was time for a half hour visit to a tourist shop, where the guide, of course, would have gotten kickbacks from all sales. 

My advice to the unwary. Never take an organized tour off a cruise ship.

We are on our way to Finland now. I am not sorry to see Russia’s shore line recede.


Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Blair McDowell's latest tale of Suspense  takes the reader to Italy's  beautiful Amalfi Coast.

"Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives."
-   Marlene Harris,

When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?

Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime.

Books of Blair McDowell
To review and purchase any of Blair McDowell's books, Click Here.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to send a comment. I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

Blair McDowell