Helsinki

Finland! Finland! Finland!
I know nearly nothing about you!
You’re in the north.
You’re sandwiched between Sweden and Russia.
You have a blue and white flag.
You’re big into Eurovision and weird wife carrying contests.
Other than that – I know nothing!

But we were in Helsinki today, and we came to see what we could learn.  Helsinki is the capital of Finland and is the largest city in the country.  It is a very beautiful city drowning in lovely art nouveau architecture.  Not quite as elaborate as what you see in southern art nouveau cities, in France for example, but with a Finnish simplicity incorporated into the design somehow.  Many of the buildings we saw in town were beautiful.The striking Uspenski Cathedral, built in the 1860s. Much of the city’s design was the result of one, Carl Ludvig Engel, who was appointed to plan the city centre.  He designed many neoclassical buildings in the city, with the focal point being the large Senate Square which is surrounded by the Government Palace, the Helsinki Cathedral and the main Helsinki University (yellow building below).  Helsinki Cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church that dominates the skyline in the central square of Helsinki.  the Chruch was originally built in the mid-1800s (and called St Nicholas Church), as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who was also the Grand Duke of Finland before Finland gained their independence in 1917 when it was renamed to be the Helsinki Cathedral.  The Finnish never had a lot of trouble with Russia by the sounds of it – Nicolas allowed them to be predominantly autonomous whilst still being part of the Russian Empire.

Located near Helsinki’s Market Square, is a beautiful art nouveau statue, called the ‘Havis Amanda’.  It is a bronze cast figure of a beautiful woman that sits in the center of a large granite fountain with four seals sprouting water.  She is depicted as a mermaid leaving the sea, and casting her gaze backward as if saying goodbye to the water.  It’s really very pretty – it was designed by an artist named Vallgren (French guy, I believe) and was intended to symbolize the rebirth of Helsinki.

Our guide, Olga tells us that the statue was initially considered to be too saucy for the Fins and many originally didn’t like it because it was too suggestive, and others disliked the passivity and objectification of the womens (Finland was the first country to give women the vote, so they were very progressive in their thinking towards women’s right as early as the beginning of last century).  Now, the Havis Amanda is fondly accepted and is a favoured spot for bucks parties and bachelorette parties to end up for late night drunken swimming, and students traditionally put a cap on Amanda every graduation season.   Next we wandered down along the water front to see the local markets.  Here there were lots of food products being sold – fruits and berries, seafoods, reindeer and bear salami (?!), as well as a handicraft market that contained a goodly amount of souvenirs as well.Saw this sign on a food stall in the Market Square – I have no idea what they are selling (baked goods?), and their website is dead – so its likely to remain a mystery… but I was amused because we are a bloody long way* from Eromanga!
(*In fairness, Eromanga is a bloody long way from anywhere, but a seriously long way from Helsinki!)
Timber products, horn items, knives and pewter goods were all very popular. After this, we were heading out of town for a bit.  And went past quite a few iconic landmarks.  Helsinki is home to quite a lot of art nouveau still buildings, as the movement was very strong during the early 20th century (Haha! just wrote ’10th century’… glad I picked up that typo!) One of the most famous art nouveau buildings in the city is the Helsinki Central Railway Station, that was designed by a master of the Finnish art nouveau style, Eliel Saarinen. The National Museum of Finland contains the ‘history of Finland from the Stone Age to the present day, though objects and cultural history’… though I am told there is a serious lack of focus on the dark ages or medieval period, so I’m not sure how accurate that description is.  The building was erected in 1910 and while it has a pretence towards looking medieval, it is actually another example of the national romanticism, art nouveau fad that the city was taken with at that time.

Anyway, we were heading out of town to see the 14th century village of Porvoo.  Porvoo is one of six medieval towns that remain in Finland and is located approximately 50kms to the east of the capital.  It was first seen in medieval texts from the 14th century and has its city rights bestowed at that time.  Porvoo is well known for being in the middle of the Swedish speaking Diocese of Borga… that is, most of the people who live in this area speak Swedish as their primary language and they study Swedish and Finnish in school (and English and Russian, of course – multilingual people always makes me feel like such a desperate underachiever to only be able to communicate in English and only a smattering of French!)   Many residents here have dual citizenships, and even though they may have been born here, and raised here, and work here, and have their families here… many of them consider themselves more Swedish than Finnish!

Porvoo has those delightful cobblestones streets – the ones with the huge rounded cobbles, which are far more delightful to look at than to walk on for very long!  Lots of timber buildings, and winding streets. Our first little stop in Porvoo was to see the famous Porvoo Cathedral – which in Finnish is the ‘Porvoon Tuomiokirkko’, and in Swedish is the ‘Borga Domkyrka’.  The street signs here are bonkers!  The cathedral was mostly built in the 15th century though parts of it date from the 13th century.  While it is in the middle of the Swedish speaking Borga Diocese, the cathedral holds services in both Swedish and in Finnish.

Originally the church was made of wood, and the first stone walls were added between 1410 and 1420 when the size of the church was expanded to meet the expanding population of the village.  However, the church has been destroyed by fire several times according to church records – once in 1508 by Danish troops, and again in 1571, 1590 and 1708 by Russian troops!  Further, some juvenile tosser torched the cathedral in an arson attack in 2006 causing two years of restoration works to be needed – justly,  he ended up in jail for his efforts, though I doubt neither the Danish nor Russian troops did.

17th century casket for alms. The interior is rather austere compared to the grandiose orthodox churches we have been visting in St Petersburg over the last few days. With the pulpit being the most ornamented element of the church interior. Porvoo actually is named after the river which runs through the town, the Porvoonjoki River… don’t forget to heavily roll your ‘R’s if you try to pronounce these words.   The whole town is very quaint and picturesque, and is apparently a favoured spot for the Finnish to come holiday in the summer.
The Porvoo Town Square.  The orangy-pink building in the center is the town’s Folk Museum. A string of shops selling mostly tourist souvenirs, antiques and handicrafts. I saw this map on the wall in a confectionery shop – a cute twist on the ‘Where have I been?’ map… this map asked visitors to place a pin to show, ‘Where are you from?’.We wandered around the shops for a while and had a stroll through old Porvoo before stopping at a local restaurant for lunch – thick salmon and potato soup served with an oddly sweet, pumpernickel bread that was both very tasty, and very welcome on a cold and windy day.

On our way back to Helsinki, we made a stop at a very striking monument dedicated to the memory of Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).  The Sibelius Monument is located in a park of the same name and the creation of local artist, Eila Hiltunen. It consists of 600 stainless steel pipes welded together to look like organ pipes.  Initially it caused some confusion and no little amounts of consternation, as the composer was not known for his organ compositions, but like many of these things, the Finnish came to love it after a time, once they got over the abstract art of it all.
Our next stop was to the Temppeliaukio Kirkko, which is also known as the Rock Church or the Church of the Rock because it is built directly into solid bedrock. It was designed by two brothers/architects named TiSuomalaineno Sulmalainen in the 60s and was opened in 1969.

Plans for a church in the Temple Square space were begun as early as the 1930s when a plot of land was selected for a church and a competition was held to design it.  An architect named J.S. Siren won the competition but the whole thing got put on hold during the early stages of WWII.  After the war, another competition was held, and the Brothers Suomalainen were awarded the job in 1961.  The actual building of the church took a fraction of the time the decision making took, with barely 12 months construction required until completion.

The interior was excavated and built directly into the solid rock, with skylights allowing lots of natural light into the construction.  The church apparently has excellent acoustics which has led to it being frequently used as a concert venue.  It’s very striking design has also led to it being a favoured wedding location – for people who both belong to the church, and those who don’t.  We had only a short day in port today, so our visit to the church was quite short – perhaps we dallied too long over beers at lunch?  #holidayproblems

So, at the start of our tour, I knew nothing about Finland at all – except that Monty Python took the piss out of the country very successfully back in the early 80s…  and from several assertions made by our guide for the day, Olga, it sounds like this – this lack of foreigners’ knowledge of Finland and their cultural heritage – is a real problem for the Finnish.  They want to be ‘on the map’ and to be distinguishing themselves as writers, artists, sportsmen, poets, musicians etc.  They are constantly striving to see their people and their country recognized as an independent nation with a strong national and cultural identity.  And even though they are currently celebrating 100 years of independence, quite literally, this year in 2017, it seems like Finland may still have some work to do in this department because it sounds like they have a bit of middle child syndrome – always overlooked between Sweden and Russia.

From the short visit I had today, I quite liked Helsinki, though if I came back, I’d definitely want to come in winter and see the place on independently… hire a car, drive up to Lappland, see the reindeer, drink vodka, and watch the northern lights dance through the skies.  I think that cool and groovy side of Finland exists, and not many of us get to even hear about it, let alone see it.

St Petersburg Day Two

Up early and off the ship for a canal cruise on the Neva River through some of the city’s waterways. We took a short drive from the port to the canal pontoons and boarded our canal boat by 8:15 am and thankfully, this morning, the weather turned out so much better than yesterday!  Cool and clear, blue skies and a lap rug… what more could you want.

The canal cruise left from right near the Kunstakamera, which is the St Petersburg science museum, also known as the Cabinet of Curiosities.  It was established by Peter the Great (he seems to have done a lot of establishing), in 1727 and it hosts an enormous collection of over 2 million items of anthropological and ethnographical importance.Directly opposite is the amazing Winter Palace, also known as the Hermitage Museum, which has been on my bucket list for some time now… but more on that a bit later.  🙂 Further down the canal, we finally got a better look at the unique lighthouses that we tried to see last night in the rain – they are known as the Rostral Columns and they are placed on the square directly in front of the Stock Exchange building.  At 32 meters tall, the red brick towers were used as lighthouses from 1727  until the mid 19th century, at which the Spit of Vasilyevsky was a functioning port still.  They are decorated with prows of conquered ships and mythical sirens.

The ‘Little Mansion’ built by Catherine to entertain her private guests along side the enormous Winter Palace. St Peter and Paul’s Fortress from the canal…St Petersburg has many beautiful bridges – over 500, according to Maria, and the widest is  a huge 99m wide.  St Petersburg has so many canals and bridges, that many have dubbed the city, ‘The Venice of the North’… though we are reliably informed that Russians prefer to think of Venice, as ‘The St Petersburg of the South’, because SPB has far more bridges than Venice!
Some beautiful 18th century buildings… the names and purpose of each, now completely escape me barely 12 hours later!The Stock Exchange building.
One of the many statues lining the canal.

Next stop was the State Hermitage Museum, which is one of the largest and most prestigious museums of art and culture in the world, let alone just Russia.  It was started in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive number of paintings and objet d’art from a Berlin art merchant by the name of Johann Gotzkowsky.  The museum has been open to the public since 1852, and other than the taint from it featuring heavily in an unfortunate and completely traumatizing piece of cinematic ‘art’, “The Russian Ark”, the Hermitage has been somewhere I have been wanting to visit since studying visual arts in the mid-90s.

The Hermitage gets its name from, a ‘dwelling of a hermit or recluse’… Because naturally, this elaborate palace is the type of place you build when you want to withdraw from society and spend some time on your own!  The building was originally given this name because of its exclusivity – Catherine only allowed her family, and her favourite grand duke courtiers to visit.
Of its extensive collections (Egyptians antiquities, classical antiquities, pre historic artworks, jewellery and decorative arts, Italian Renaissance paintings, Spanish fine art, Dutch Golden Age works, Flemish masters, Russian Art, French Neoclassical art, Impressionists, Modernists, German Romantics, and Lord knows what else!), only a very small portion is on permanent display.  The collection, which contains the largest collection of paintings in the world, is comprised of over three million items, of which one-third of that is made up of coins, historical documents, and medals. The palace itself is spectacular… The Military Gallery – contains 330 portraits of generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812, all were painted by English artist, George Dawe and his assistants. Regalia of a member of the Order of the Garter. German herald’s tabard, c.1520. 11th century ivory mirror case. Limoge enamels. Mosaic floor panel, done in the Italian style copied from the Vatican. The private courtyard of Catherine the Great.Medieval chairs, 12th-13th century.

A Raphaelo here…

Another one there… As we gallop on through the museum, Maria points out a ‘disciple-ah of zee school-a ova fine-a artses’ who ees painting-a zee copy-a of one-a of zee paintings’, but somehow she fails to mention that the lady is painting from an original van der Weyden as we skip on by!  Masterpieces at every turn!Some 16th century textiles…Games box. Ebony, with silver and ivory inlay. c1620. Passageway elaborately painted in the style of the Vatican’s Passeto di Borgo… seriously, this is uncanny.  I was at the Vatican in July last year, and the style is very very similar. Skipped through an entire room of Majolica ware (can email more pics to anyone who is interested). Michelangelo’s, ‘Crouching Boy’ Malachite urn in the Spanish masters room. I simply include all the photographs of individual artefacts, so I have focused here on including the spaces in the Palace. I have already determined that I will have to come back to St Petersburg one day and do the Hermitage at my leisure.  They say that if you stood in front of every piece on public display at the Hermitage for barely one minute, it would take you three years to see everything – and I well believe it.  I imagine a week in St Petersburg is probably going to end up on the schedule at some point in the next few years. Oh and look, here is one of the twenty-four Rembrandts in the collection!  If but one of them were appropriated? relocated? to an Australian museum, it would probably cause an entire wing re-named, the “Northern Renaissance Gallery”… and here?  Here they have twenty-four.  Greedy, if you ask me.  😉  They could share them around with the rest of the world, don’t you think? Stunning sweeping central staircases are a feature of all the palaces it would seem.

The Malachite Room.

I took many, many more photographs of items in the museums, but they are too numerous to include here, I may make a separate post on the Hermitage when I get home (ship internet is dreadful for blogging… it’s dreadful full stop really, but particularly so for uploading images and blogging).

The Menshevik party, (literally meaning, ‘the Minority’, who were moderate socialists) had formed a Provisional Government after Tsar Nicholas abdicated in 1917.  They maintained power for only eight months but were apparently moving too slowly for the Bolshevik party (hard-core lefty communists) with their prevaricating over the electoral processes and legislation associated with elections – so the more radical Bolsheviks decided to depose them. Below is the actual dining room in the Winter Palace where the Bolshevik party overthrew the Menshevik Provisional Government which started the Soviet era. On temporary display – these ‘flowers’ are entirely ceramic.

After we left the Hermitage, we bundled back into our little bus and head over to the most iconic of St Petersburg landmarks – the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (aka the Church of the Spilled Blood, or the Temple of the Spilled Blood or the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.

Construction began on this church in 1883, during the reign of Tsar Alexander III, it was intended to be a memorial to his father, Alexander II – as this was the exact site where Emperor Alexander II was killed by political nihilists in March 1881. Maria claimed that the construction cost was somewhere in the realm of 4.5 million rubles, funded by the Imperial family and many wealthy donors. The Cathedral was not completed until 1907 during the reign of Nicholas II.

Being in a Medieval Russian style, the Cathedral is very different from the rest of St Petersburg’s other architectural wonders, which are mainly baroque and neoclassical.  The Church of the Spilled Blood was created in the Russian romantic nationalism style, and with its onion domes and ceramic tiled roofs, it deliberately mimics the 17th century Yaroslavl churches and the famous St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow (Been there!).

The interior is inimitable… it contains over 7500 square meters of detailed mosaics, which according to the restorers, is more than any other building in the world. The walls and ceilings are completely covered in mosaics depicting biblical scenes and figures, surrounded by decorated borders and motifs. The central altar contains the Holy Gates, which were lost in the 1920s during the Soviet era, but were recreated and replaced in 2012, on the 129th anniversary of Alexander II’s assassination.  Gate detail: The main dome must easily be 100 feet high.  Easily. After the Russian Revolution (which saw the end of the Tsarist autocracy and the rise of the Soviet Era), the church was ransacked, looted and badly damaged – Maria described the Bolsheviks as ‘people who destroyed everything, and they build nothing’. The Soviet government actually closed the then very damaged church in 1932.  During WWII, when many people were starving due to the Seige of Leningrad at the hands of Nazi Germany, the church was used as a morgue for people who died in combat, and from starvation or sickness; bit gruesome.  The Church suffered, even more, damage during this period.  After the war, the buildling was so little thought of, that it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the name, The Saviour of Potatoes!  I just can’t imagine what led people to use a building like this to store vegetables!  I guess when you are starving though, you don’t have much use for gold mosaics.    

It was not until the 1970s that the management of the Church of the Spilled Blood was handed over to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and it was turned into the mosaic museum that it is today.  Proceeds from the profitable St Isaac’s Cathedral were used to fund the restoration of the church, and it was eventually reopened in 1997 after nearly 27 years of extensive restoration work.  The church was never reconsecrated and is now a major tourist destination as a mosaic museum and monument to Alexander II. Just outside the Church of the Spilled Blood is tourist central…  we were told to watch for pick pockets, but I think they are all working stalls here – souvenir prices were ridiculous!

After our amazing visit to the Church of the Spilled Blood, we walked across a lovers bridge (yes another one covered in locks), to a local restaurant to have a bite for lunch.  Lunch consisted of pumpkin soup, beef stroganoff (how unsual for Russia!) on mashed potatoes, and some honey cake.  We had forgotten about the Russian honey cake we tried in Moscow, but I am going to have to hunt down a recipe for it, it is super sweet but quite nice.

Lunch done, we made our way to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (aka Isaakievskiy Sobor) which is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city, and the largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the world, and the fourth largest cathedral of any denomination in the world (apparently – something to do with the volume of the cuppola).  It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, because Peter the Great (who seems to have built nearly everything in St Petersburg) was born on St Isaac’s feast day, so he adopted him as a patron saint.

The church was built on instructions by Tsar Alexander I to replace an early chruch that had been built by Vincenzo Brenna, and it is the fourth church to be bulit on the same site.  A specially formed committee examed designs until the French-born architect, August de Montferrand (1786-1858) was appointed to build the current cathedral.  Montferrand, who had studied under Napoleon’s pet desinger Charles Percier, had create a design that was criticised by some members of the commision for the allegedly boring rhythm of it’s four identical octastyle porticos.  Some thought that even though the design had enormous proportions, it would look short and squat and not particularly impressive.  There were also apparently concerns about building a 100m tall cathedral on old and insecure foundations could be problematic.  However, the emperor favoured the design and things worked out in Montferrand’s favour after all.

 

Montferrand moved to St Petersburg from 1818 to 1858 to oversee the construction which took a full 40 years to completion – the cathedral’s foundations were strengthened by driving 25,000 piles into the fenland of Saint Petersburg and innovative methods were created to erect the giant columns of the portico.  Montferrand dedicated his life to creating this edifice, and his one wish was to be buried here in his creation, but the Emperor would not allow it, as Montferrand was Roman Catholic and this was an orthodox church.

 

The Cathedral has had a spotted history – during the Soviet era, most of the building was stripped of its religious treasures and iconographies, and in 1931 it was turned into the Musuem of History of Relgion and Atheism.  The dove sculpures were removed and replaced by a Foucault pendulum.  Further, during WWII, the dome was painted over in gray paint to avoid attracting enemy air craft, and on it’s top in the skylight of the dome, a geodesical intersection point was installed to assist in determining the positions of German artillery.

By Maria’s account – the church continues to have a somewhat dubious place in social history.  The state has funded any restoration, management and administration of the Church in recent years.  It has been a pet project of Putin’s to maintain and upkeep this particular cathedral, however recently, it has been handed over to Church control, which means the income from St Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Church of the Spilled Blood will no longer be open to public scrutiny.  Instead the Church will be able to do as they please with tourist income received from these two iconic sites… the people are not happy about this change of plan, and there is some speculation that Putin’s cronies stand to benefit from these new financial arrangements.  So much so, that various sectors of the public and the tourism industry in particular are considering striking and protesting actions to attempt to return the control of these public treasures to public administration. Incredible mosaic work, and so much carved and gilded timber, it was really quite breathtaking.  The only church I have seen more impressive than this one was St Peter’s in Rome… and that I think was largely due to the sheer scale of it. Detail of the mosaic work… 

Next stop on our tour was the Yusupov Palace which was also known as the Moika Palace.  It was the primary place of residence of the Family of Yusupov who were very close to the Romanovs.  The building was also the place where the younger Yusupovs murdered Ra-Ra-Rasputin on December 17th, 1916.

The palace was built around 1776 and from 1830 to 1917, the palace belonged to a noble Russian family called the House of Yusupov.  They were immensely wealthy, close to the Romanovs and known for their philanthropic tendencies and their art collections.  They had personally amassed more than 40,000 works of art, including works by Rembrandt, and expensive sculptures decorated the palace and expensive jewels decorated their persons.  During the Russian Revolution, the family fled for their lives unable to take their treasured possessions with them, and the Yusupov art collection was nationalized and relocated in the Hermitage and other museums.

The palace was as lavishly decorated and appointed as the royal palaces of the time, the Yusupovs were extremely wealthy – though the rooms and spaces are not as large as the royal residences. Inside the Yusupov Palace is a private theatre that was built to entertain family and friends for private ballet and opera performances.  This was the start of the current home theatre trend, I am sure of it! Though today, most people don’t do them in quite so much style.  😉 

Yusupov Palace is where the assassination of Grigori Rasputin was played out.  A monarchist group led by Prince Felix Yusupov, heir apparent to the vast Yusupov family fortunes, together with Vladimir Purishkevish and the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich invited Rasputin to the Yusupov Palace to a dinner in Felix’s lavishly appointed private rooms in the cellar of the palace.

Here, Rasputin was served poisoned wine, and the others made an excuse to leave him for 30 mins.  When they were sure he would be dead, Felix returned to the cellar to find him unaffected. Rasputin, immediately clued onto their surprise and knew that something was up.  He attempted to run, but Felix Yusupov retrieved a revolver and shot Rasputin from the side.  Felix then went back upstairs to inform the plotters that Rasputin was dead, but he took Felix’s absence as an opportunity to flee from the cellar through a side door.  The plotters chased Rasputin out onto the street, where Purishkevich shot Rasputin in the back.  He was then dragged back inside and a third, close range bullet, was shot into his forehead.  The murderers then wrapped him up and drove outside the city to dump his body into the Neva River!  Only according to Maria, they did not allow for the fact that the river was frozen, and it took them a long time to dig a hole through the ice in order to dump his body.

Felix Yusupov must not have been a particularly bright fellow, as he immediately started telling everyone that he had killed Rasputin and saved the aristocracy from his influence over the Romanovs, and was promptly arrested. (Gotta admit, I don’t love the wax dummies.)

Well, after this it was a final stop for some souvenir shopping in lovely St Petersburg in what must have been the most expensive souvenir shop in all of Russia – or perhaps we only thought that because we had seen prices in Moscow where they don’t have thousands of cruise ship passengers to fleece on a semi-regular basis.  🙂

We had a marvelous, if hectic, two days in St Petersburg and for now, it remains firmly on my list to go back to – mostly to see the Hermitage properly.  I feel we had sufficient time in each of the other historical sites we visited, and it was only here that I could have spent many, many hours wandering the galleries and corridors.

Tomorrow – Helsinki!

 

St Petersburg Day One

Where to start?  We had a huge day in St Petersburg today. We have an overnight stop here and the Russian authorities won’t let anyone ashore without an official Russian visa, unless they are on an organised tour, and while we have visas because we visited Moscow on the way to Stockholm, doing a tour was going to maximise what we managed to see of the city.  So we chose to do a two-day tour with SPB – the ship tours are just crazy expensive and everything is done in large groups… there are two main companies that people recommend very highly for small group tours in the Baltic, SPB and Alla tours.  We met our guide, Maria, just outside the customs area (which wasn’t as bad as we were expecting, about a 30 min wait to be processed, but still…. what a pain in the arse), and we were whisked off to take a ride on the St Petersburg Subway.

Unfortunately, I have no idea which subway station we were at – as we discovered in Moscow, the maps you pick up at the desk are written in Latin alphabets as well as Cyrillic alphabet, but the signs underground are all in Cyrillic so I couldn’t even make an educated guess as to where we were.  The stations they chose had some lovely mosaic art works in them, though not as decorative as the Moscow stations we saw…

Now, you’d think this was a pretty easy exercise – leave everything on the bus except yourselves and the subway token that Maria had just handed out and off we go for a quick subway ride, but no, we had several people who left their tokens in their bags on the bus!  So they ended up lining up to buy a subway token, which was less than a $1 on their credit cards, because even Maria had left her bag on the bus and no one had any Rubles,  It did not bode well for the rest of the day… between that and the weather I wasn’t feeling too positive.  It was raining fairly steadily and looked to be quite set in, so standing around waiting for people who couldn’t follow instructions wasn’t really going to made for a fun day.  But we would see.

Our next stop was to Kazan Cathedral or the Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan… yep, we were back in the Land of the Mulitple Naming Protocols!  It is a Russian Orthodox Church on the Nevsky Prospekt and is considered one of the most venerated icons in all of Russia.  It was built in 1801 and took nearly ten years to build, the architect Andrey Voronikhin apparently modeled the building on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, according to Maria, but you wouldn’t know it; it’s very small in comparison.

Beautiful inside, the church is still in everyday use, there was a service happening, so only a few photos from the back of the church.

Next, it was dodge the puddles, and head to the famous Peter and Paul Fortress, which is the original citadel of St Petersburg.  It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and built by an Italian architect, Domenico Trezzini from 1706 to 1740.  In the early 20th century, the building was being used as a prison and execution square by the Bolshevik government – Maria did not shying away from the less pleasant aspects of the Russian history which was refreshing.  Currently, the fortress complex is part of the State Museum of History.

The square is normally flooded with tourists, but the rain seems to have kept many indoors this morning – there was still a ridiculous crush to get inside as the tour guides were vying to get their groups in our of the rains… seriously I got claustrophobic being pushed around in the crowd and was concerned I was going to be hurt.  People need to chill out. Inside is an extravagant gold leaf interior, in what would become a familiar pastel green colour that was favoured by Catherine II.   Tombs of Peter the Great, Catherine I and their daughter Alexander who played a large part in public life. The cathedral is the burial place of all the Russian tsars, from Peter I to to Alexander III (with only the exceptions of Peter II and Ivan VI). The chapel of St Catherine is dedicated to the Romanovs.  The remains of Nicholas II, his entire family and entourage were reinterred here in 1998 on the 80th anniversary of their deaths. About ten years ago, the remains of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna were removed from Roskilde Cathedral near Copenhagen and also reinterred here, beside her husband, Alexander III.

After this we had a stop at the Pushkin Art Gallery… mostly for some souvenir shopping and of course to find some clean bathrooms – very important while traveling!  Here I learned that not all Russian dolls are made equal.  I mean, you can tell the difference between the cheap and quickly knocked out dolls, that are probably made in China, and the ones that are practically works of art… but I didn’t know that different artistic schools of Russian doll makers have very different styles, and that the eyes usually give them away.  Interesting.

Anyway, next we were off to Peterhof Palace to see the famous, UNSECO World Heritage Site, gardens. These waterfalls are often referred to as the Russian Versailles, and it sounds very much like they were modeled on the gardens that were constructed for Louis XIV.  There is a magnificent cascade made out of an artificial grotto two stories high. The water then flows into a large semi circular pool that contains a large statue of Samson tearing open the jaws of a lion, which is supposed to represent the great Russian victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War – the lion is part of the Swedish coat of arms, and the war was actually won on St Samson’s Day (learn something new every day!).  From the lion’s mouth shoots a 20m vertical jet of water, which today was blowing all over the place and we couldn’t tell if the water was from the rain or the fountains.   The statue was created by Mikhail Kozlovsky but was looted by invading Germans during WWI, and a replica was installed in 1847.

Samson is in there somewhere – there was just so much water. Like Versailles, one of the greatest achievements of these gardens is that all the fountains operated without the use of water pumps.  The water was supposed to come from the nearby Gulf of Finland, but eventually, architects decided to supply the cascade and fountains from natural springs that collect in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens.  The elevation differences allow for enough pressure to create the fountains in the Lower Gardens including the cascades.  The Samson Fountain has an independent aqueduct that is 4km long and draws water and pressure from a higher more distant elevation source.

After the lovely gardens, we went to a local restaurant for a bite to eat – and of course, they must feed the tourists local food, so we had vodka, Russian beers, borscht, chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes, (chicken cutlets that were suspiciously like chicken rissoles!), followed by tea and ice cream even though it was such a cold day!  We had quite a relaxing stop at lunch because we rushed through the gardens somewhat – everyone was keen to see it, but not too keen to stand around in the rain.

From there we were off Catherine Palace, which is an enormous rococo palace located in the town of Tsarkoye Selo, 30kms south of St Petersburg.  Peterhof and Catherine Palace were the summer palaces built for the Russian tsars. Maria mentioned many times how Peter and Catherine I didn’t really get along, so they had separate palaces and pretty much lived separate lives.

The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I hired a German architect Johann Fredrich Braunstein to create a summer pleasure palace for her and her friends to recreate in.  In 1733, the Empress Elizabeth commissioned extensions to the Catherine palace, though apparently, Elizabeth found her mother’s palace to be ‘outdated and incommodious’, and in 1752 asked her pet architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the old structures and replace it with a much grander building in a more flamboyant rococo style.  It took four years to build and was completed in July of 1756 – Rastrelli presented a 325m long palace to the Empress much to the amazement of her courtiers and foreign ambassadors.  It’s not hard to see why people would have been flabbergasted at the sight of it – it’s enormous and at 300m+ long and hundreds of rooms, it seems to go on forever.

Our guide Maria, doing her best to keep everyone’s spirits up as we waiting in the rain to gain entrance to Catherine Palace… she had lots of jokes about St Petersburg weather that no doubt have been used to good effect over the years that she has been showing visitors her city. We were given lovely booties to cover our shoes – jeans all rolled up to stop the hems from getting soaked… it was cold, wet, gray and gloomy, but we were in St Petersburg!  So all good.  🙂  A blue ‘dressing room’.  The Empress Elizabeth was reported to have had over 15,000 dresses and would change 7-9 times a day in the performing of her normal court duties of receptions and parties.I love the ceilings – we just don’t take this sort of care in our building these days.  😉  The grand hall… gilded carved timber as far as the eye could see.  The room has large windows on both sides, along with long mirrors inserted into every panel between the windows giving the impression of more light and even more space in what must be a 20m x 10m room.  The amount of light, mirrors, and gold here definitely give Versaille a run for its money. The dining room – for family parties and receptions.  Mostly only family and their private guests were hosted here. Fabulous ceramic heaters. The grand ballroom – which looked as elaborate and lavish as the grand hall, but was about four times as large.  Just enormous… and so much goldwork! View out to the gardens. A re-creation of one of Empress Elizabeth’s dresses… of which she is reputed to have had over 15,000.   The Amber Room… has an extraordinary history – the TLDR is:  this Amber Room is a recreation only, the original Amber Room was pillaged by the Germans in WWII and the location of the famous amber panels is still unknown (shortest version of that story you’ll ever see!).

And yes, of course you are not supposed to take photos in here because they want you to buy the guidebook, and yes, of course I bought the guidebook to get the good photos, and yes, of course I may have accidentally clicked the shutter on my camera that was cradled in my hands a few times.  On the scale of ‘good’ to ‘going straight to hell’, this is right up there with having overdue library books – I’m such a rebel.  After the Amber Room, there was another grand reception hall. And this was Catherine II’s favourite room… she had a penchant for pastel green and light rose decor in a Wedgewood sort of style.  You can see this colour scheme evident in many spaces that were dedicated to her use.  Personally, I find it rather insipid…

The Palace from the rear garden.

After this we left the rest of our party and went off to have some dinner at a local hotel.  Lots of stroganoff and potatoes all round!  😉

Then a private tour of the Faberge Museum.

The Faberge Museum is a privately owened museum that was establised by Viktor Vekselberg’s Link of Times foundation, which attempst to repatriate lost cultural treasures to Russia.  The musuem has been located in the middle of St Petersburg in a refurbished palce, called the Shuvalov Palace – I love that the city has so many run down or empty palaces that they can just appropriate an amazing building like this and turn it into a museum!  The Shuvalov Palace is on the embankment of the Fontanka River and has only been renovated in the last five years or so – it now contains a fabulous collection of more than 4,000 decorative arts objects, including gold and silver items, porcelain, paintings, bronze ware and so many many beautiful things.  The centrepiece of the collection is the Imperial Easter Eggs created by Faberge for the last two Russian Tsars.

We had a great audio guide that took us through the palace to see all the items, however most items were not labelled in English, and the best guidebook of the museum was also not available in English.  So I have a massive pile of photos here, and not a lot of information on ost of them…  the bulk of items were from the 17th century onwards, and many were fairly locally made.
19th century model of the Tsar’s Canon that we saw in Moscow at the Kremlin. Beautiful 18th – 19th century enamel pieces filled cabinet after cabinet. A card holder designed to hold visiting cards, displaying the imperial arms. Tea/coffee set.
This item appealed to me a great deal – anyone interested in decorative arts would recognise this design as appearing on marble/stone work in places like Athens, Pompeii and Ephesus, though to art nouveau pieces, to the edging on the carpet in my dining room!  It is a truly classical design motif that has been continuously replicated through the ages. Imperial design on a tea spoon. Punchbowl. The Red Drawing Room in the palace, with it’s beautiful silk damask wallpaper! Malachite was a favoured material during the time of the Romanov Family. Crazy huge drinking horn adorned by St George slaying a dragon. Detail in the restoration – gold filigree work added around the wallpaper. The Blue Drawing Room which houses most of the Imperial Faberge Egg collection. The Order of St George Egg. The lovely blue silk damask wallpaper design… The ceiling in the Blue Drawing Room. The Duchess of Marlborough Egg, which is also a clock. Bay Tree Egg. Fifteenth Anniversary Egg. The Renaissance Egg Keith Chanticleer Egg. Lillies of the Valley Egg. Carriage of the … … Coronation Egg. Cockerel Egg. Gold Drawing Room Malachite wax seal. Cigarete boxes, card boxes, pill boxes etc. Salmon enamel work.

Imperial Fidget Spinner… just kidding, this was a bell.  It used to have a metal dome that sat over central screw there, and was decorated with three enamel coins. Gothic Room – most of these paintings were medeival in period, but were ‘added to’ with gold and silverwork and lavishly enameled.  After the Faberge Museum, we drove back to the port.  It was still raining and I attempted to take a photograph of a lighthouse that Mr K liked the look of… as you can see that was spectacualarly unsuccessful, but I kinda liked the image, it summed up out day – lots to see but it was pretty damn wet out!Tomorrow we have another big day – I have rushed this post so I don’t fall behind, but I am hoping to come back to it once we have our next sea day.  🙂

 

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital city, and major political, financial, cultural and education hub of Estonia.  It is also where about 440,000 of Estonia’s 1.3m population live. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – gotta love those UNESCO people… preserving all the history for future generations.  I’ve been to more UNESCO sites this year than you can poke a stick at!  ( <– Australian expression for a ‘whole bunch of them’).

Anyway, Tallinn is first mentioned as having received city rights as far back as 1219, (I actually typed that as 1912, twice, before getting it right!), but humans are believed to have settled here as long as 5,000 years ago. Initially, the land was owned by the Danes in the 13th century after a successful raid of Lyandisse led by Valdemar II of Danmark.  After this, Estonia alternated between Scandinavian and German rule.  Due it’s important strategic location, Tallinn became a major trade hub from the 14th to 16th centuries as it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League – I’ve written about the Hanseatic League before, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, you can kinda think of it as the early European Union.

This striking pink building is the Riiggikogu, or Estonian Parliament, also known as Toompea Castle located in the upper part of the Old Town.  According to legend, Toompea is the grave mount of an ancient Estonian king, Kalev, which was created by his wife, Linda, who carried rocks for it in her apron.  A thousand years ago, it was the seat of an Estonian stronghold, and from the 13th-19th centuries was the home of the nobiity.  The houses and palaces that decorate the Toompea now were all built after a huge fire in 1684 and are in the German-Batlic style preferred by the families of noble descent who lived here.Directly opposite Toompea Castle stands the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky – built in 1894-1900, the building has five onion-shaped cupolas that rest of a study granite blocks and follow the 17th century building style of Mosow and Yaroslavl.  The facade mosaics are by A Frolov as are the wall paintings on the inside.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral boasts the most impressive ensemble of church bells in the country – it comprises of 11 bells, including Tallinn’s largest bell which weighs over 15 tonnes.
The church holds services and local worship here still.

Around the corner is Toomkirik, also known as the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin which dates from the early 13th century, howeve, all the older decorations were destroyed during the fire of 1684, so the rebuild occured after that and it acquired a baroque spire in 1778-79.
The interior of the cathedral is relatively simple but contains a remarkable collection of heraldic epitaphs for many of the Baltic-Germa noble families that patronised the church.  There are more than 100 of these elaborated impressas decorating the church, many of which were made by Tallinn wood carver Christian Ackerman in the late 1690s. The narrow cobbled streets of the upper Old Town. View from the panorama viewpoints towards the gate towers of the lower Old Town. Rear of the Presidential residence. Rooftops of Tallinn.We had a little bit of time to poke around the shops in the upper area of the old town, and there is a heavy focus on amber (amber, amber everywhere!), woolen sweaters, Russian dolls, painted plates, and strangel little ceramic buildings that can be used as candle holders).

St Catherine’s Church – though which Catherine, I couldn’t tell you. Our next stop was to Kadroig Palace.  Literally meaning ‘Catherine’s Vale’, Kadroig with its beautiful gardens and huge swan lake is a favored outing place for locals.  The palace and grounds were built by Russian Tsar Peter I.  He had acquired some land with a small house on it and launched on the construction of a summer palace for his wife, Catherine, in 1718.  The design was by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti. and has extensive parterres, fountains, cascades, canals, and lakes.
When completed, Kadroig Palace was the most magnificent example of baroque architecture in Estonia.  At present, the main hall is the only extant example of a completely unaltered baroque hall from the time of Peter I.  The building is currently used to house the Estonia Art Museum’s collection of foreign art.
Peter’s second wife, Katherine who it is claimed he fell in love with at first sight, even though she was a common washerwoman at the time.  He left? abandoned? sent his first wife to a convent? and married Katherine who then became Empress of all Russia. Allegorical fresco depicting the goddess Diana being surprised as she bathed with her nymphs by a hapless hunter.  She turned him into a deer, and he grew horns; his dogs did not recognize him and they ripped him to pieces… apparently, Diana represents the triumphal hunter, ‘Russia’ and the hapless hunter-turned-deer, represents ‘Sweden’. A random Bruegel in the collection… A chinoiserie ceramic slipper – no provenance listed anywhere. Heating furnaces. Front facade of Kadroig Palace. Another chance to have a bit of a poke about the shops came up and we found more textiles… this time in the form of heavy felt hats with cat faces embroidered on them…?!

We went for a bit of a wander through the lower Old Town area in the afternoon, which afforded some beautiful examples of gloriously textured old buildings… A Medieval merchant’s home. Tomb’s on the outer wall of St Catherine’s Church (or should I say another St Catherine’s Church). Katariina Kakik – St Catherine’s Alley Wandered through the artsy fartsy section of the old town – glass blowers:
Timber workers:  Loads of buttons made of juniper, applewood, ash, birch etc.  Smelled amazing. Traditional wooden cups and ladles: The original medieval fortress walls and gatehouses of the Old Town.  

Rickety and uneven stairway up to the walkway above the city gates. The nice and stable Medieval walkways of the walled city. Over the roof tops from the medieval walled walkways. Arrowslit fortifications. View out a window from the Medieval gate house. More textiles shopping markets along the fortress walls.  The Old Town of Tallinn certainly is a good example of a Medieval city – I think it probably rivals Toledo for having that ‘medieval feel about it’.  It’s beautiful and I am now more determined to visit Dubrovnik one day (no segue, it’s just on my list!). The Viru Gate at the end of Viru Street.

We had a lovely day out in Tallinn, but in the interests of self-preservation – we have two full on days in St Petersburg coming up! – and the fact the ship was due to leave at 1630, we didn’t really have time to go enjoy some of the local food and drink etc.  Though Mr K did get to ride on the first ever driverless bus we have ever seen… it was a dinky little thing that is doing runs back and forth along a set route, but it does navigate live intersections with other vehicles.  He was very excited – more than one should be by a self-driving bus imo… but there you have it!  😉

Warnemunde and Rostock

As a cruise port, most people use Warnemunde as a gateway to Berlin, but if you’ve been to Berlin before or you think Berlin needs more than just eight hours of exploration, then you might find yourself exploring the little seaside towns of Rostock and Warnemunde instead. Which is what we decided to do today.

Rostock is the largest city in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, located on the Warnow River.  It is a beautiful university town, with the University of Rostock at its centre having been founded in the early 1400s.

The Neuer Markt with its double gabled houses and vaulted cellars were built in 1270.

Directly opposite is the Rostock Town Hall, which is a large baroque fronted building with seven brickwork spires.Right next to this centre part of town is the St Marien Church.  With buildings across narrow streets right beside this church on every side, it is very difficult to stand back far enough to take a photo of the outside of the building – but it is a stunning and very significant church having been built in 1230 and it contains a unique medieval astronomical clock.Stained glass in the southern portal windows depicting “Christ as the Judge of the World”.  Tirolean stained glass painting. c.1904.  Wing of the Our Lady Altar, the painting depicting scenes from the passion of Christ.  (c1430-1440AD). The Prince’s Gallery and pipe organ were added in 1749-1751 for Duke Christian Ludwig II who reigned at this period.  The two-storey organ was Rostock local, Paul Schmidt, however from the outset, the instrument was deemed wheezy and it needed considerable restoration work as early as 1791.  The present organ dates from 1938 and was made in Frankfurt.  It is a 4-manual siding chest organ with electro-pneumatic action and 83 stops with 4 free combinations (which no doubt means something to someone, but very little to me).  It certainly is quite an impressive work of art. Both the organ, the Prince’s Gallery, and the pulpit which was added around the same time have been executed in a soft olive green with gilded accents to maintain a singular colour scheme with the main altar. The main altar was created by cabinet maker Kahlert and painters Hohenschildt, Marggraf and Bromann. Behind the main altar is the most extraordinary astronomical clock that was made in 1472, attributed to master clockmaker Hans Duringer.  Before this, Duringer made the Danzig Clock at St Mary’s in Danzig, which together with the Rostock Clock makes the ‘Baltic Clock Family’.  This clock in Rostock is the only one that still has its medieval clockworks, which are still in working order.  From 1641-1643, it was renovated and extended, figures were changed and a carillon was added.  The latest restoration occurred between 1974 and 1977.The clock consists of a calendarium and a clock face, figures of the apostles stand in niches at the top, and Christ is depicted in the middle.  At midday and midnight, one of the apolstlyst walks from right to left and the carillon plays at ever other hour. The field below shows the time of day, the zodiac with the appropriate month sign, the position of the sun, and the phases of the moon.   The calendarium is approximately 2m in diameter and revolves 360 degrees one every year.   Carved figures supporting the calendarium. In the northern portal is this spectacular triptych altar piece. Fountain in the Rostock University Square. The Kropelin Gate is a magnificent fortification gate built in 1280, one of 22 former city gates.  Now the ultra modern KTC shopping center sits incongruously right beside it! View from the top of the Kropelin Gate… below are part of the medieval walled fortress. Canon balls. Kropelin Gate. After wandering Rostock a little more and doing some shopping, the weather started to come in.  Normally when this happens, I head for a museum, and Rostock has an excellent museum – the Kulturhistorisches Museum of Rostock.  Unfortunately for us, it’s a Monday and that means, (in the habitually annoying habit of museums the world over), that all the museums in the town were unhappily closed today.  Instead, we decided to head back to Warnemunde to find a nice German pub to warm up and to find a couple of pints and maybe some schnitzel… as you do!

I honestly thought I was ordering a chicken fillet burger of some sort… the menu said: ‘hamburger chicken schnitzel) – turned out to be chicken schnitzel with potato and an egg on it!  Delicious still.
And… mulled wine!The canals of Warnemunde. A quaint little fountain I found in a back street… I could find no information on this and not being able to read the plaque that was situated beside it, it remains a mystery.  🙂  European lock habits strike again. As luck would have it we have arrived in the area in the middle of the summer strawberry festival – I have never seen so many strawberry based products before… strawberry soft drink, strawberry liquor, strawberry hand creams and beauty products, strawberry confectionery and strawberry homewares!

We had a lovely day in Rostock, my only lament was that the historical and cultural museum was shut.. but you have to be somewhere on a Monday when you’re traveling, and unfortunately we were here.

The port of Warnemunde is a very busy little place, and quite a nice stop for an easy day of cultural immersion instead of running all the way to Berlin and doing the headless chook thing.

I found this schedule of ships that were due in during the 2017 season – the Regal Princess is the biggest one that calls in here.