St Petersburg

Looking North

Arrived into St Petersburg late on Sunday, after a minor delay departing both Edinburgh and then Frankfurt. After some transportation issues, made it to the hostel which reminds me of one I stayed at in Prague – an extremely un-prepossessing stairwell (visually and nasally) but perfectly reasonable accomodation within. Based on the condition of the common property, statutory notices have not yet been dreamt up here.

St Petersburg itself seems like an odd cross between central Paris (huge, 18th century boulevards) and Amsterdam (completely flat, with canals). Almost all the buildings are of complementary height, mostly four stories, giving the place a very consistent feel – there’s no skyscrapers towering overhead, nor Soviet-era housing projects.

Visited the fortress, which is understated (if one is expecting a medieval-era fortification) due to its very low profile – useful when trying to dodge canon balls, however. The fort contains an ornate, gilded cathedral where the tsars are buried (and topped by a gilded spire), and next door a museum with the history of the city. The cathedral ceiling includes various terrifying frescoes, most notably a central apex with four cherubs – one of which is brandishing a ladder, and another, a large length of lead pipe.

On Tuesday, visited the Winter Palace which is the expected physical demonstration of how big and impressive a palace one can build if one rules an entire country1. Quite aside from the extravagant architecture (‘this room was built for the wedding of princess so-and-so’), it’s jammed full of art. Most of this was of little interest, but the top floor contains a large number of Gaugins (not to my taste), some Picassos I actually like, and a good smattering of the other Impressionists, as well as a small but interesting collection of recent Russian pieces. The worst aspect of the visit was the half-hour (at least) wait to gain entrance due to the extremely slow moving queue. Walking around the building does start to convey the opulence of the Tsarist era, and the corresponding political ammunition it gave the Bolsheviks.

  1. Can’t imagine where Peter got that idea from []
Posted Thursday, June 5th, 2008 under art, history, travel.

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