Journey of the Czars
a diary along the blue highways of the Russia rivers

Sunday, June 20:

Yesterday was long and tiring but absolutely fascinating. We went to the 3 buildings of the Hermitage in the morning, then after lunch and a nap on the boat, we returned to Pushkin Village and saw Catherine's Palace on the southern outskirts of St. Petersburg. Both are incredibly opulent, ostentatious, expensive, wealthy, pompous, grand, and decadent. But, beautiful -- exceeding Versailles in some respects.

The Hermitage consists of 3 connected buildings:

  • The Winter Palace (Zimniy Dvorets) - former residence of the Russian imperial family
  • The Small Hermitage (Maliy Ermitazh)
  • The Large Hermitage (Bolshoy Ermitazh)

In addition, there is the Hermitage Theatre where we saw the Marishnikov Ballet.

Most of the wealth of the Hermitage is real - brought out of collections over the past 300 years. Most of Catherine's Palace has been restored during the past 30 years because all of it was bombed, stolen, or stripped bare by the Nazi's during the 900 day siege of St. Petersburg.

When asked about their favorite room, many mention the green malachite pillar room or the in-process amber room. There are gilt covered wood carvings hallways that are one right after the other like a series of golden necklaces round the Empress' neck. Private quarters, smaller and no doubt warmer in winter, are strung along parallel and to the interior of the building's public corridors.

Catherine's Palace - The Amber Room

Church of the Spilt Blood

That night we went to Pavlovsk for a group dinner, multi-courses, at a new Russian restaurant hosted by the same entrepreneur who hosted our lunch along the river -- Sergei Gutsay. To our eyes, he's a savvy businessman, building up the restaurant using local labor, materials, and skills, hiring lots of Russian to do the right kinds of things to appeal to international tourists. I should talk with the Intrav people to see if they consider him part of the "new Russians" - kids of former Communist elite who "laundered" their wealth by taking from the state.

Catherine's Palace has large gardens stretching out front, plus a ring of "mini palaces" where serfs or servants lived and stocked supplies for the royal family. These little units were smaller than our ship rooms. Russian regard for their laborers is beneath contempt. Russian regard for their leaders borders on idolatry. What a distance they have to go to value the simple average man or woman.

Most of the tourist staff are women. Most of the ship's crew are men. There are only two servers at mealtime who are men. The translators, Irina, and some of the day-city guides have spoken derisively of their husbands as lazy, not carrying their own share of the load. The three youngest guides do not share those opinions, however. It might appear that the older men faced the worst of the job shortage situation, while the younger men are somewhat more trained. Also, the men clearly are taking care of the children while these women are away from home. So, some responsibility is being borne -- or babushka's are helping still.

Peterhof - the Grand Cascade