St Petersburg


The Hermitage 1

Rushing into our Russian adventure, my family and I grabbed a taxi to chase the tour bus. We were on a group visa, so it’s a miracle they let us through the port. But, after passport and ticket checks, they sped us to The Hermitage, to join our fellow cruisers.

The Hermitage

We found our group, just one of many, queued round the block to witness the world’s second largest museum. With pillars and a mint façade stretching 233, 345 square meters, The Hermitage stole the breath we’d just caught.

Once inside, our tour guide Yevgenia directed us past classical statues, up marble stairs and to Winter Palace Small Throne Room. Here we saw the stunning silver guild throne built for Tsar Nicholas I, in 1833.

Travelling back in time, we walked through The Military Gallery, marvelling at the 332 portraits of generals who thwarted the 1812 French invasion of Russia. These included a large depiction of the Duke of Wellington.

Then passing another throne, we reached the most magical room, the Pavilion Hall. Here architect Andrei Stakenschneider had combined pale marble, gilded mouldings and crystal chandeliers to awesome effect.

Centre stage in Pavilion Hall was the Peacock Clock, a feat of engineering art. Its shining silver and gilded bronze animated a peacock, cockerel and owl, which moved as it chimed. Created by James Cox in the 1770s; the clock was procured for Catherine the Great, by her lover and ally Grigory Potemkin.

Tearing ourselves away we moved out the Hall, past Italian masters and gazed up to the Raphael Loggias – replicated ceilings of those in Vatican City’s Papal Palace.

The Italian theme continued as then we met Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy, a marble statue, bent over as if with foot pain. Intended for the Medici family tomb, the statue was created when Medicis regained rule of Florence, following the failing of the Republic.

Next we basked in the Small Italian Skylight Room, with 16 and 17 Century artists such as Veronese, and Carracci.

Finally, we reached the Rembrandt Room, where we discovered the dramatic Danae painting, depicting the mother of Demi God (Perseus) as she awaited Zeus. Remarkable from the first, Danae was styled on Rembrandt’s wife, before being altered after her death, to reflect the features of his mistress.

In 1985 Soviet Lithuanian Bronius Maigys slashed and chemically burned the painting’s canvas, in an act of madness. Restoration started on the day of vandalism and now the painting is faithfully repaired.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Imaginations ignited, we headed back to the bus – to our next stop – The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.  Safeguarded in the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cathedral contains the tombs of the tsars including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanov family.

Each Russian ruler brings sensational stories, including Peter I, who built the capital from swamp; Catherine II– who overthrew her husband to gain the throne- and the Romanovs who were killed by Communist revolutionaries.

As we heard their history, we paid homage to the Cathedral’s characters, as well as its icons, wood- carvings and canopies.


Heading back outside, we heard one final fable of The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, that of its roofer. In 1829, the spire’s angel was damaged by lightening and could only be repaired by expert Petr Telushkin. Petr climbed the spire without any scaffolding to complete the job. As a reward, Peter the Great gave him a flagon for free alcohol in any Russian Empire tavern.  Rather than carry the tankard, Petr got it tattooed on his neck – so he just had to tap it to get free alcohol. In today’s Russia flicking your neck with your fingers still remarks upon drunkenness or desire to drink.

Thirst awakened – we headed for lunch. After driving over the Dvortsovyy Most and Birzhevoy bridges, we circled back round the Winter Palace – for vodka shots at a barn conversion. Being the youngest of the group – and a fan of liquid lunches – all unwanted nips were passed to me. Thankfully potato salad and stroganoff soon arrived to soak up the booze.

Yusupov Palace

Spirits high we headed to our next stop, Yusupov Palace. Named after its once residents the Yusupov family, the Palace includes over 40,000 works of art and its own ravishing Rococo theatre.

The Palace started life as a gift to Peter the Great’s niece, before being bought in the mid-18 Century, by Count Shuvalov – whose heir commissioned Vallin de la Mothe to renovate it – in a similar style to the Small Hermitage. Then, in 1830, Prince Yusupov bought the palace, and it remained in his family until seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

A year before, the palace was the sight of a dark drama, the murder of Rasputin. We relived the mad monk’s final night, as we we walked through the Arab living room and down to the Garrison, where wax figures recreated the scene.

In 1916, in a bid to save the Romanovs from ruin, Prince Yusupov and nobleman Purishkevich invited Rasputin (advisor to the tsars) to Moika Palace, before poisoning him, shooting him and drowning him in the river outside.

 

The Moika River Tour

Retracing the murders’ steps, we went from the Palace to The Moika River. Here we piled onto a tour boat, with blankets on knees, to experience the capital’s lighter delights.

From the Moika we sailed along the Kryukov Canal, with views of St Nicholas Cathedral, Mariinsky Theatre, the Stroganov and Mariinsky Palaces, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the General Staff Building on Palace Square.

While soaking in our surroundings, we noticed a teen wave from the blue bridge, so we waived back. Then, the next bridge we came to, he was there too. He was racing the boat to greet us from every crossing. Our mascot’s marathon stretched over an hour, so when the trip finished we rewarded him with rubles.

Charmed by our first day in St Petersburg, we headed back to the ship to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures…

A Day in Copenhagen

Coasting into our Capital Cities of the Baltic cruise, my Mum, Aunt, Cousin and I docked at Copenhagen on 13 July 2019.

Unlucky for some!

No sooner had we joined the Red Sightseeing Bus than it inexplicably and prematurely stopped in the city centre, to offload all passengers. After some mapping and muttering, we decided to divide and conquer our six hours in the city. My Aunt and Cousin opted for historical site seeing and Mum and I made for the galleries.

 

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

 

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Heading across the road, we reached the highly recommended Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Showcasing the art collection of Carlsberg Breweries’ Carl Jacobsen, it was a refreshing mix of national and international taste.

Admiring its marble steps, high ceilings and gorgeous glass solarium, we explored the gallery’s Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Etruscan, Danish and French art.

French art of the 19th Century was the highlight of the stop, with superstars such as Van Gogh, Monet and Degas, all within footsteps of each other.

An entire room was dedicated to the painting, sketches and sculpture of Edgar Degas, which focused on racehorses and ballet dancers. A bronze cast of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen took centre stage; with notes explaining the original was made of wax, textiles and human hair, causing then audiences to label it ‘repulsive’.

Less controversial was the Danish art, with pastoral scenes from scriptures, legends and fishing villages. Here bright colours brought life to the canvases of Danish Golden Age artists such as Abildgaard, Eckersberg and Købke.

 

The National Museum in Copenhagen

 

The National Museum in Copenhagen

Moving from Danish Golden Age to Danish gold, Mum and I were bedazzled by Viking jewellery and artifacts in The National Museum.  Featuring one of Denmark’s largest collections of antique gold and silver, its highlights included the Tissø ring and the Fæsted hoard.

The Meet the Vikings exhibition signs told how designer Jim Lyngvild worked with museum experts to depict lifelike Viking statues that epitomised the housewife, warrior, berserker, völva and peasant, complete with authentic tattoos and togs.

Switching from ancient to recent history, we entered The Children’s Museum part of The National. Here we found toys through time, including Lego, mechanical structures and a stunning collection of antique dolls’ houses. With dimmed back lighting and illuminated interiors, we admired a world of magic miniature mansions.
 

Tivoli, Copenhagen

 

Tivoli Gardens

Childish delights continued as we headed over to Tivoli Gardens, to discover the 19 Century legacy park that inspired Walt Disney.  With wooden roller coasters, modern rides, manicured gardens, water features, and an Youth Guard (of parading children) there was plenty to see.

Soaking up the ambience, we enjoyed a pint in one of its alfresco cafes, relaying our adventures to my Aunt and Cousin. Refreshed, but with ship curfew calling we choose to try just one ride, the Star Flyer.

Climbing 80 metres high, the Star Flyer swing-carousel provided a visceral view of Copenhagen, perfect for people watching! My Cousin who was scared of heights was not so thrilled, however even she enjoyed the view once coaxed.


Hans Christian Andersen, by Henry Luckow-Nielsen

 

Hot-footing it back to port, we stopped only twice to admire statues. The first was at Copenhagen City Hall Square, where we dodged tourists to pap the statue of author Hans Christian Andersen, by Henry Luckow-Nielsen.

The second stop featured similar jostling as we snapped The Little Mermaid bronze by Edvard Eriksen, at the Langelinie promenade.

Back on board we listed top tips for visiting Copenhagen again: arrive early to beat tourist congestion, be prepared to check bags into lockers at museums, also to pay at museums, to utilise concession discounts, and to never trust a Red Sightseeing Bus!