Tuesday, August 09, 2005

St. Petersburg - Day 2 continued

After St. Isaac’s we went for lunch in a “5 star hotel”. It is the first time I have ever eaten in a 5 star hotel with my coat on and no shirt under it! We again were served vodka (this time much smoother) and champagne with our meal. It felt good after being chilled by the damp clothes.

After lunch we continued on. We drove past the former headquarters of the KGB. It was said to have been the highest building in the world. From the bottom floor you can see Siberia.

Our next stop was the Peter and Paul Fortress. The Peter and Paul Cathedral, on the site, is the burial place of the tsars from Peter the Great on. The Romanovs were the ruling dynasty from 1613 until 1917. Michael was elected to be tsar when the previous dynasty had no herrs. Peter was his grandson. Peter was married twice. His first wife produced 2 sons, but Peter fell in love with serving girl. He sent his wife to a convent and eventually married Catherine. He and his sons from his first marriage had little in common. His first son was accured of conspiring against his father and was the first prisoner to be held in the Peter and Paul fortress. He was tortured, confessed and was sentenced to death. He died the day before the sentence was to be carried out. Some historians believe that he was secretly put to death as Peter could not bear to see his son executed publicly. It is now believed that he was falsely accused by Peer’s second wife who wanted her own children to inherit his title. Peter changed the rules so that the tsar could name his / her own succesor. Ultimately, their son died and Catherine reigned for 2 years. A neice of Peter – Anna from Germany, became tsarina. A coup d’état took place as she was more interested in balls than government. Peter’s daughter, Elizabeth became tsarina and was responsible for commissioning many of the well-known buildings in St. Petersburg, including the Catherine Palace and the Winter Palace.

The Peter and Paul cathedral is built in European, not Orthodox style. The “marble”columns are simply painted columns. The iconostasis is made of linden wood and is covered with gold leaf. All the tsars have identical tombs. The family of the last tsar, Nicolas II, is now buried in a separate room outside the main chapel. This is because he was not tsar when he was killed. His bones and those of this wife, three daughters and 4 servants are buried together. This tomb is the only one that is different. Nicolas’s mother, a Danish princess (the one seen in the family picture in Christianborg) will be buried in St. Petersburg in 2006.

We drove past the wedding building. It is customary to throw small candy or small coins. One custom is for the best man and maid of honour to go the room where the newlyweds will be sleeping and to fill everything with rice. We went to the Rostral Columns – a chance for photos. We were not the only ones taking advantage of a photo op. There were 2 newly wed couples with their best man and maid of honour posing for photographs.

Then there was the compulsory shopping stop. What do tourists buy in Russian? Matrioshka dolls, laquered boxes, vodka, amber. The tours always leave enough time for shopping.

It was an exhausting 2 days. On the way back we saw a sculpture of a soldier helping someone who was leaning heavily on the soldier. One of the people in the bus said - “that’s how they get us on the ship after 2 days in St. Petersburg.

And so – back onto the ship.


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