Tuesday, August 02, 2005

St. Petersburg - day 1 continued

Lunch was held in the restaurant of the Hermitage. We were treated to vodka (it was quite harsh) and champagne. We ate and were serenaded by some singers who sang traditional Russian songs. We sat near a couple. It turns out that the man, Si was born in Grodno, the city where my mother was born. His uncles had emigrated to Canada, but his mother only left in the 50s.

On to see more. We passed the Rostrum Columns. They were originally built as beacons to lead ships to the port. Then we went to see the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. It was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. There had been assassination attempts on him before. Someone threw a bomb at his carriage and he was not injured. He got out of the carriage to see how his driver was and then a second bomb exploded and he sustained fatal injuries. He died that night. Every inch of the church is decorated, whether with mosaics, marble or gilt. The decorations are both inside and outside. It was closed for restauration and was only reopened in 1997.

After a short stop at an outdoor market, we went on to see Yusupov Palace. Every room is decorated in a different style. The original Yusipovs were of Muslim descent (Yusupov ancestor, son of the Great Khan Musa-Mirsa, Yusuf). The palace is also known as the place where Rasputin was killed. The Yusupovs were collectors of musical instruments (Nicolas Yusupov was a great violinist and was in charge of all the theatres in St. Petersburg – he started the collection). One room in Renaissance style is dedicated to the collection (most now gone). There were secret rooms where family valuables were kept. The billiards room is in moorish style. The main staircase, leads to an oakwood Venitian style dining-room. The tapestries in the sitting room were a gift from Napoleon III. In the banquetting room we heard a short concert by a quartet of male singers. One sang while the others provided almost a hummed harmony underneath. There was room for a choir above or an orchestra. In the Yusupov time, banquets were held for up to 2000 guests, with the main guests in the banquet room and others in adjoining rooms. The chandeliers are made of papier maché. The ceiling would not have been strong enough to support metal chandeliers of the size.

And so --- back to the ship for a rest, dinner and preparing for the next outing.


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