Unveiling the Pearl – Saint Petersburg (Part II)

Now let’s get serious… The really heavy stuff: St. Petersburg Metro, Peterhof, Hermitage, etc. – The true gems of the city! A kind of culture itself is the metro of Saint Petersburg. It reminded me on the Mines of Moria in “The Lord of the Rings”. Suburban halls, full of wonders and splendor. All are designed quite uniquely, some from the 1950’s, some rather new. The oldest metro lines are the most interesting to see, underground historical catacombs with many signs of the Soviet era. Just the time one rides down to the platforms is amazing – the longest I recorded was nearly 3 minutes standing on the moving starway…

It has to be said, that I was not especially lucky with the weather. However, the only day I had a little sun (followed by a lot of rain) I caught a minibus westbound out of the city and made it to Peterhof, the famous residence of Peter I (the Great). He was it that made Saint Petersburg capital, very much to the anger of the Moscow society (which still lasts to these days: a statue of Peter in Moscow may stand there only after a long debate why he should be honored in Moscow at all). And what can I say: Peterhof is magnificent! One enters the big upper park and walks towards a grand palace with an orthodox church besides it which roofs shine golden in the sun. The huge lower park is divided into the eastern and the western part. I only made it to the western one and spent about 2 hours there. And there is the beautiful, calm, relaxing, salty smelling golf of Finland at the northern border of the Park. Peter surely knew why he ordered the palace to be built here and in the fashion of European palaces like Versailles or Sanssouci. There I noticed that Russians – who are not really known for their knowledge in foreign languages (a little like the French by the way, or the South-Italians…) – try everything to help you, even having the language barriers. Scratching together all they know in English or German is used and are not afraid of jolting along (Germans are more of the kind “I am not perfect in the language so I don’t even try…”). However, that kind of courtesy is totally missed when it comes to officials, like in train stations, police, etc. I think I have never ecountered such a widespread and culturally tolerated unfriendliness. Luckliy, also exceptions from this rule may be found!

I also had a great trip to Peter & Paul Fortress, the nucleus of the historical Saint Petersburg. Besides the fortress, that was turned into a prison later, the Commander’s House was especially interesting which holds a great historical museum about the city’s history. Besides stands St. Peter & Pauls church. Its grand bell tower holds a carillon and I was lucky enough to climb the tower just when its’ player started a special performance. The sound was ear-deafening… My ears were still buzzing when I visited the church’s main building, holding the tombs of the Romanov tsars and their families. Especially interesting the little chapel to honor last tsar Nicolaus II. who was killed along with nearly most of his family after the 1917 revolution.

And of course, the Hermitage has to be noted. I only had a “brief visit of 6 hours” but managed to see all rooms. If I would care more than I do for paintings I would not have come far. I was more interested in the architecture however and it is just wow… Literally every room is different in style and decoration. It is so full of gold and richness that you soon get an overload and just walk from room to room, each one a little piece of art for itself, and just think “nice”, “very nice”, “super nice”. So many riches and treasures are on display there, ranging from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome until modern art. Also I saw pieces of looted art, taken after WWII from Nazi Germany. Well, who can blame the Russians. Russians remembers WWII as the Great Patriotic War. Nearly 30 million were killed during the war, roughly half of total amount of deads. My host Anna told me about villages where 100 men set out for the war, and one or two came back (and that this shortage in men actually was the reason why Russian women started to take extreme good care about themselves and that looks as well as being in a relationship are very highly ranked values – until today). I was astonished that despite the past everybody seems to like Germans (Angela Merkel and Mercedes are guarantees for civilization and quality).

The Russian hospitality was proven again when Anna prepared spontaniously a nice dinner and invited some friends. There was borscht (beetroot soup), fish balls (like meat balls), raw bacon, fried broccoli, chocolate, etc. It was quite a fun and long evening, getting to know Annas friends. That night I was told what not to do in Russia: Wearing your outdoor shoes inside a home, whistling inside a house or apartment (keeps the money away), shaking hands over or steping on the doorstep, etc. I will keep that in mind when my travel through Russia continues…

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