Back in Saint Petersburg – visiting the Russian Museum Folk Art department – found the burial of the cat once more

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) is located in the neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace. It opened in March 1898. The 400’000 exhibits are primarily based on the collections of Alexander III, the Russian artifacts of the Hermitage and the nationalization of private collections after the revolution of 1917. The museum gives an overview of Russian paintings and sculptures from the 11th to the 19th century and of Russian Folk Art. In addition the Benois Wing displays works of the early Russian avant-garde and its leading artists (i.e. late 19th and 20th century up to present).

I have been in the Russian Museum before, once in 2002 with Ernst and then alone in 2013. Now, when visiting Sankt Petersburg with Ursula in June 2017, we went twice and we bought the book “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer”, Palace Editions, Sankt Petersburg 2014. It gives an excellent overview of the museum and the history of Russian art.

Let us first go to the Folk Art department where we found a surprise – the mice burying the cat.


Burial of the cat in Russia – the same theme as in Tarragona

This small sculpture shows, how the mice buried the cat.

F.D. Yeroshkin: How the mice buried the cat, late 19th/early 20th century

This seems to be an important topic in Russia, as this second representation of the mice burying the cat shows.

Lubok: How the mice buried the cat, early 20th century copy (Lubok: popular print from literature, religious stories and popular tales)

The related Russian tale is: The cat was sleeping. The mice thought that the cat was dead and put it onto a sledge attaching its paws (just in case). They celebrated the death of the cat joyfully pulling the sledge to bury the cat. After some time the cat woke up, freed itself and ate the mice.

We found the same theme in the cloister of the Cathedral in Tarragona (Spain), except that there they say it  is rats (and not mice) that are trying to bury the cat.

The procession of the rats (my blog about our excursion to Tarragona).

A blog  on “Tarragona Experience” explains it well: The cat only pretends to be dead, then “wakes up” and eats the rats. This alludes to temptation: “Never think that you are in full control of a situation, it might change rapidly.” Thank you, Ivan Rodon, for clarifying this. Same theme, same story and – I assume – same morale in catholic Spain and in orthodox Russia.


Now I understand, what a “полотенце с петухом” or “a towel with the cock” looks like

This towel with the cock amidst the hens opened my eyes.

Part of a towel, 1880

The towel opened my eyes, because it reminded me of “the towel with the cock” or “полотенце с петухом”. This is a very touching story that Bulgakow wrote about the time, when he was a young country doctor. By amputating one leg of a beautiful young lady, he saved her life (she had fallen into the brake). As a thank you she gave him a white towel with a red cock embroidered onto it. I had read Bulgakow’s short story many years ago, but only now I understand that the red cock must have looked like this cock standing amidst the hens.


Good eyes needed to see all the details of these small lackerware boxes

The lackerware boxes are tiny and you need good eyes to see the miniature paintings. There are many of them. This is a lady sewing…

and this is a box for cigars showing a troika in the Russian winter.


Russians in the villages are also masters in woodwork

These instruments are called прялка in Russian and the English equivalent is distaff . The spinner sat on the board and took the unspun material from the top of the vertical piece. The decoration shows  much care and skill…

… as does this wonderfully carved gable.

There are many more exhibits from the daily life in Russian villages in the Folk Art department. I was here in 2002, in 2013, in 2017, and I would love to visit it again – there is always something new to discover.


Back in Saint Petersburg – visiting the Hermitage (Эрмитаж) again and again

The Hermitage (Эрмитаж) consists of the Hermitage buildings “as such” and the Winter Palace. The Hermitage buildings as such are called the Small, the Big (Old) and the New Hermitage. This is where the Tsars started to display their art and ancient as well as medieval treasures. Now the Winter Palace also holds part of the Hermitage collections and in addition presents the halls that the Tsars lived in.

This is the Winter Palace seeen from Palace Square.

The Winter Palace has been designed by the main baroque architect of Peter the Great, Rastrelli. The facades show clearly his handwriting. The palace has been completed and then partially been reconstructed by the following Tsars. After a fire in 1837, Stasov and Briullov restored and reconstructed the Palace. Inside it is mainly of neoclassical style.

This is the view from the Neva. The Marble Palace starts the line of palaces and the Winter Palace is at the far end.

You can spend days to see the collection of paintings and sculptures (Italian, Netherlandian/Flemish, Spanish, German, Austrian, French and English), the ancient and medieval collections and treasures from Egypt and Asia (including Russian Asia) and the Palace Halls. As a matter of fact, six years only suffice to see everything when spending only one minute in front of each exhibit (Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015, p. 10).

We visited the Hermitage several times, because after three to four hours we were no longer able to digest more. First, we went at day time. Our landlady acted as a very knowledgeable tour guide – this was a great introduction. However, the Hermitage was very crowded, as tour groups from the cruises rush through the halls with the most renowned paintings. They approach the “must see” painting, turn round, take a selfie and rush to the next milestone painting… doing as many milestones possible. We once were shouted at by a cruise tour guide, because we spent some (though little) time looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna with Child” after having waited in the queue.

We then returned in the evening, around 5pm; twice a week, the Hermitage is open until 9 pm. Much less tourists then and far better access to the paintings and treasures. To be recommended. We avoided the queues by buying our tickets in the General Staff Building (instead of standing in line in the Winter Palace across the Palace Square).

In all we have spent some ten hours in the Hermitage. We have not taken any photos inside. Instead we bought two guidebooks, Wladimir Dobrolskij: “Museumsführer Eremitage, Geschichte, Sammlungen, Interieurs, Pläne”, Alfa Colour, Sankt Petersburg 2015 und M.B. Piotrovsky: “The state Hermitage, museum guide”, Slavia Saint Petersburg 2015. In addition our Dumont Kunstführer was a very reliable guidebook, as always. Let me recapitulate some impressions. I have scanned in some photos from the Museumsführer Eremitage.

Our first milestone was the Italian collection, above all Leonardo da Vinci (“Madonna with flower” and “Madonna with child”), Raphael (“Holy family”), Michelangelo (“Crouching boy”), Caravaggio (“Lute player”), Strozzi (“Healing of the blind Tobit”) and in addition the paintings of Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Tizian as well as Tiepolo. We had met all these artists in Florence, we are fans of them and they are familiar to us.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Leonardo da Vinci: Madonna with flower

Our next target were the Netherlandian paintings, above all the Rembrandt hall. Particularly the painting of Danae is famous; she has suffered from an attack with acid and has been restored. Also from Rembrandt, I very much like the joyful painting of his wife (“Flora”) and his touching “Return of the prodigal sun”. We spent much time to discover details of the life in a Dutch town in winter in the “The adoration of the Magi” by Pieter Breughel the Younger. Then there are Rubens, his pupil van Dyck (beautiful his two sisters Whatton with their dog) and the portraits of Franz Hals.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Rembrandt: Return of the prodigal sun

My favorite Spanish paintings are “The boy with a dog” by Murillo, “The apostles Peter and Paul” by El Greco (deeply entrenched in a conversation) and “Madonna and child” by Morales (the Madonna has a sad expression in her face, when kindly looking at her son).

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Murillo: The boy with a dog.

The highlight of the German and Austrian collection is Lucas Cranach the Elder, with “Madonna and child under an apple tree” and with the “Portrait of a woman”.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Cranach: Madonna and child under the apple tree.

From the French collection of older paintings and sculptures I recall Houdon’s statue of Voltaire. Houdon made the statue, when Voltaire was an 84 years old man, wrinkled and toothless, but with the expression of intelligence, serenity and wise life experience.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Houdon: Voltaire

The collection of the French impressionists have been moved to the General Staff building (before they had been displayed on the second floor of the winter palace under the roof). The Monets, Rousseaus, Gaugins, Renoirs etc now have the space they deserve. I feel Ernst inside me, when looking at the  dancers by Matisse that he loved so much.

Source: my own photo, taken in 2013. Matisse: Dancers.

In the beautifully renovated General Staff Building, Ursula turns right and disappears in a special exhibition of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes. Well, I follow and I find mostly shoes with high heals, harmonically designed – very, very elegant. Some shoes are eccentric like the boots that end attached at the belt. Blahnik is a great discovery for me.

It was wonderful to stroll through the almost empty and luxuriously decorated enfilade of halls shortly before the Hermitage closed at 9pm. We almost  had the feeling, the Tsar would turn up in one of the doors.  I am particularly impressed by the Malachite Hall crafted in Russian mosaic “inlay” technique: The malachite is cut into small slabs used to cover large surfaces (such as columns) and create the impression of solid malachite.

In the archaeological department we focus on Russian Asia with the treasures found in Scythian tombs. We are particularly impressed by the more than 2000 year old Pazyryk carpet found in the grave of a Scythian nobleman and preserved by the ice of the Altai mountains. The red carpet is 183x200cm of size, has been elaborated with a high knot density and the bordures with horsemen, animals and ornaments are just beautiful.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015: Pazyryk carpet

Sure, when visiting Sankt Petersburg again, we will return to the Hermitage and include the Treasury in our visit. Perhaps we will aim for October/November, when there are less tourists. And in the meantime, we look at the Hermitage portal .


Back in Saint Petersburg – lucky eggs in the Fabergé museum

In June 2017 we spent four weeks in Saint Petersburg.  We visited three museums – just great. We started with the Fabergé museum and then continued with the Russian Museum and the Hermitage. Let me share some my take aways from the Fabergé museum with you first.

Fabergé (Фаберже) was a clever jeweler and business man from Switzerland – his lucky eggs are now displayed in this former palace on the Fontanka River.

Fabergé and his atelier crafted about 50 jewelery eggs йца Фаберже) between 1885 and 1917. The last tsar Nicolas II gave such eggs to his mother and to his wife. Other noblemen from his entourage also ordered such eggs.  The eggs carry surprises inside – somewhat like “lucky bags” or “lucky eggs”.

This is the “Chanticleer“. It is an “egg-clock” with a cock on top. Inside there are a red egg and inside the red egg Fabergé hid a hen.

Tsar Nicolas II gave the Bay Tree egg or Orange Tree Egg to his mother. There is a lever disguised as a fruit. When turning it, a songbird starts to sing and move.

This egg – called “Duchess of Marlborough” – has been ordered by the later Duchess of Marlborough after having visited the tsar.

The exhibition shows many such eggs and in addition jewelry used by the tsar and his entourage. Everything has been arranged with much taste and matching colors.

I liked this sledge with the “real” Russians in their winter caps.

The whole palace has been wonderfully restored.

It is a pleasure to simply enjoy the well crafted jewelry in the Fabergé museum. However, the incredible luxury also makes me understand the explosive social situation at that time. After the revolution, Fabergé returned to Switzerland. His factory, a Style Modern Building at Bolshaya Morskaya (Большая Морская), is now a jewelry shop.

In the tastefully decorated modern cafeteria we have some sweets and a coffee.

We finished off the day in the Russian Museum – but about that I will tell later.

Near Saint Petersburg – Puzhkin or Zarskoe Selo with the palace

On a beautiful sunny day in June 2017, we take the Elektritschka from the Vitebsky railway station in Saint Petersburg to Pushkin.

Around eleven we arrive in the city centre of Pushkin. The central railway station of Pushkin is called Tsarskoye Selo.

A bus takes us to the area of Tsarkoye Selo with the park and the castles. We buy a ticket for the park and then search for the place where we can buy the ticket to enter Catherine’s palace (Екатерининский дворец). We walk around the palace, we ask and ask, we always get the answer “the ticket you can buy inside the palace”. But where? After half an hour of walking we find a long queue and this is the queue waiting to buy tickets and enter the palace. As we were waiting, the queue behind us became longer and longer.

The palace opens at noon, and then ticket sales for the palace begin. Around 1pm we are about this far in front of the beautiful facade conceived by Rastrelli. It is 300m long.

The facade is decorated with lady atlantes that are called caryatides. They are made out of terracotta dyed in yellow (they look as if made out of gold).

A large group of loudly shouting Chinese tries to squeeze into the queue. A Russian with a flag has acted as their placeholder. No! A battle is about to start, as we and some others are defending our places in the queue – successfully. Around 1:15, after 1.5 hours waiting, we are inside the palace. We are not alone.

This is the bright Grand Hall. It is 80m long.

The ceiling shows allegories of art.

We follow the enfilade of rooms – one door behind the next. One room more precious than the previous.

This is one example, called the Green Room.

The most precious room is the Amber Room (Янтарная комната) reconstructed in 2003. I point to the images in the Internet, as it is forbidden to take fotos. Ursula likes the room. It is just amber brown which gives it a harmonic look. The amber room has been reconstructed from scratch, as the original plates have been lost during the Second World War. What would they do, if they found the original again? Would they redo the amber room with the original amber plates? Or would they sell the original room at Christie’s?

After a short break in the cafeteria, we take more photos in the beautiful garden. This is the Upper Bath.

The Ermitage in the park…

… is decorated with some more caryatides.

The Grotto pavillon…

… is overlooking a lake with this romantic island.

Not far from here are a Turkish mosque.

… and the romantic Marble Bridge.

It is a beautiful large park. We enjoy the view back…

… and then take the Elektritschka to Vitebsky Station in Saint Petersburg. It is a beautiful modern style building.

Perhaps we will have to come back to Saint Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo in late autumn or winter to see, what the palace of Catherine I looks like, when it is less crowded. And then we might also visit the Alexander Palace that the last Tsar preferred, because it is more intimate.


Back in Saint Petersburg – exploring the metro stations on a rainy day

In June 2017, it is again a rainy day in Saint Petersburg. Rainy days ARE rainy here, indeed. It is as if the clouds opened some “gates” to pour water onto the streets. Walking above the ground is an extremely wet experience then. Sightseeing UNDER the ground is an alternative. The metro of Saint Petersburg is great for that, above all the red metro line 1 inaugurated in 1955. Here we are at Pushkinskaya – each station displays the route of the metroline.

There are five lines and changing is possible at seven “multi-station” stops where stations are connected by tunnels – each station has its own name. Six are double station metro stops, and under Sennaya Ploshchad there are three interconnected stations that are called Sennaya Ploshchad, Sadovaya and Spasskaya (metro lines M1, M2 and M5). It can take quite some time to walk under the ground to change between stations.

The two anchors of Petersburg decorate the trains.

We move from station to station on line number 1 to see the underground palaces built for the people. This is Baltiyskaya (Бальтийская).

Pushkin, the great Russian poet, welcomes us at Puschkinskaya (Пушкинская).

Narwskaya (Нарвская) with its heros of work is a socialistic experience reminding me of Ploshchad Revolutsii in Moscow.

This is the station Kirovsky Savod (Кировский Завод). Kirov headed the communist party in Leningrad. He was murdered in 19434 – some blame Stalin for that, as he might have feared that Kirov became too powerful.

Lenin stands at the end of the Kirovskaya station.

Avtovo (Автово)  is our last station on metro line 1. The columns are very carefully designed….

… and some of them are covered using glass.

The mosaic here says “peace for the world”. In Russian this can be said very shortly: “миру мир” (literally “for the world (we wish) peace”), as “мир” (“mir”) means both “world” and “peace”.

At Pushkinskaya we change to the connected station Svenigorodskaya (Звенигородская) to continue with the purple metro line 5. Here we find Peter the Great.

At Admiralteyskaya (Адмиралтейская) we leave the metro. Neptun says good-bye to us.

We tackle the long-long escalator of Admiralteyskaya. This station is 86 meters under the ground. The metro of Sankt Petersburg had to be dug deep into the ground because of the swamps – and Admiralteyskaya is its deepest metro station.

While riding on these long-long escalators I like to watch the people – reading a book, chatting, kissing, combing their hair, wiping on the smartphone, searching for something in their bags or simply dreaming. Few people rush, as the metro comes every three minutes anyway. The few who do so jump down along the escalators; sportive people running upwards are very rare.

Above the ground the heavy Petersburgian rain welcomes us. We immediately look for shelter and enter the nearest restaurant – Bonch at Bolshaya Morskaya. Oh yes, high heels are not very practical, when it is pouring with rain. Ursula has taken a photo of these design shoes that need to dry, whereby mine – a more sporty style made from Goretex – are  still dry…

Yes, the metro in Saint Petersburg is not only very practical to move around in town, but it makes also a sightseeing object on its own right at the cost of one metro ticket, about 40 Rubles.

Around Saint Petersburg – an afternoon in Peterhof

Peterhof near Saint Petersburg is my favorite park ever. I was there with Ernst – some fifteen years ago. I was here alone in the pouring rain – some four years ago. Now on a sunny Sunday in June 2017, I return with Ursula and I am happy to see that she enjoys Peterhof as well.

We take the hydrofoil or meteor at the Admiralty Embankment and chase along the Newa and the Baltic Sea.

At the peer of Peterhof we buy entry tickets for the park. This is the view of the peer with the Gulf of Finland taken from the castle.

The channel leads from the Sea to the castle. It must have made a great impression on visitors visiting Peter the Great at Peterhof. A clever demonstration of power that Peter the Great had  conceived together with his German architect Braunstein. The castle has been designed by Rastrelli, one of Peter’s main baroque architects.

The central cascade with the fountain of Samson reflects in the sun.

And Rastrelli’s castle is a romantic silhouette behind the “water curtain”.

It is Sunday, and many, many, many more people from Saint Petersburg enjoy the park with us. We can feel, they do ENJOY the park. The atmosphere is relaxed. Actually, the large number of relaxed visitors adds to the charm of the park with its fountains.

We first explore the fountains west of the castle. This is the Golden Mountain fountain and we believe the tree in the foreground is a quince tree.

Then there are the Lion’s fountain,…

… Eva and…

towards the east of the castle, Adam.

I am not sure, what this fountain is called like.

These are the Christmas Tree Fountain (Peter added humor to his park)…

… and the Chestboard Fountain.

There are also some nice Pavillons in the park.

This pavillon is called “Marly”. It was a guesthouse that now has been renovated to show the furniture that Peter had selected for his guests. For instance the kitchen with the blue Dutch tiles and the sleeping room with millefleur wallpaper and matching curtains. The Marly can only be visited with a tour guide that goes into detail… we escaped silently in the middle of the tour.

Peter the Great loved his Monplaisir house located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. The garden leading to his Monplaisir shines red – the tulips are in full bloom, as in June it is still spring in Petersburg.

Unfortunately we could not enter Rastrelli’s palace. When we tried to buy tickets more than an hour before closing time, the ticket office was already closed. Well, we enjoyed the gardens and we look forward to seeing Rastrelli in Puschkin – he has also conceived the Palace of Catherine I.

Around six o’clock, we return to the peer. We say good-bye to Monplaisir (in the background) and to mama duck with her chicken…

… and take the hydrofoil back to the Ermitage in Petersburg.

Near Saint Petersburg – two days in Veliky Novgorod – a sunny Sunday

In June 2017, we spend a weekend in Novgorod. On Saturday, we saw the cathedral of Saint Sophia, the Intercession Church and the market place. Then we relaxed going for a boat ride on the river Volkhov. We slept well in our luxury hotel room and, on Sunday morning, we wake up to spend another sunny day in Novgorod.

Before breakfast we visit some more churches north of the Kremlin of Novgorod. Our first church is the Peter and Paul Church in Kozhneviki  (Церковь Петра и Павла в Кожневиках) from the 15th century.

Next we enter a complex that looks like a small monastery offering workshops. The church here is called Church of Simeon the Godbearer (Церковь Симеона Богоприимца, 1468). I meet a man who proudly tells me the story of Simeon the Godbearer. Saint Simeon was in the process of translating the old testament. The Prophet Isaia says that a virgin will have a son. A virgin? No, this cannot be! He is about to replace “virgin” by “woman”. But an angel comes and tells him that “virgin” is correct and that he will only die, when he holds Christ in his arms, as born from a virgin.” It is said that Simeon lived until the age of 360 years, until he was able to take Christ on to his arms and verify, the mother WAS a virgin. (See also wikpedia)

In the Sverinj Monastery we find the Church of Intercession or Покровская (Maria Schutzkirche). A service is going on inside and we attend it for a while. The white church to the right with the black dome is called Church of the White Saint Nicolas.

In the monastery we find a monument for Patriarch Alex II. He was the first patriarch after the fall of the Soviet Union. He says: “Do not allow to sow the seed of hatred in your souls.” Beautiful.

After breakfast we take the bus to the south of Novgorod to visit the Juriev monastery (Юрьев монастырь). It has been founded in the early 12th century (by Jaroslaw the Wise). The eyecatcher is this Cross Exaltation Cathedral from the late 18th century with the blue roof and the golden stars.

The gem of this monastery is the Juriev Church from 1119…

… with the (restored) Pantokrator in the main dome – high up in heaven.

Our next destination is the Vitoslavlitsi museum (Витославлицы), some 500m away from the Juriev monastery. On the way we catch this view of a wooden church tower across the ponds.

Inside the museum we find a collection of restored wooden churches and farmers’ houses. This is an example of a farm house with a traditionally dressed woman hurrying by.

The State Novgorod Museum rounds off our two days in Novgorod. It has a large collection of artefacts related to the history of Novgorod. We are very impressed by the many manuscripts written on birch bark (берестяные грамоты) from the 11th to the 15th century. About 1000 such manuscripts have been found in and around Novgorod.

Novgorod was a powerful republic until being conquered by Moscow in the end of the 15th century. It had its own school of icon painting and the museum has many of those icons on display. This is the defeat of the aggressors from Suzdal that started to flee, when the Novgorodians showed the icon of holy Mary (our Lady of the Sign) on their town wall (the miracle is reported to have happened in the 12th century).

Ursula likes the archangel with the golden locks from around 1200. The icon is from Novgorod, but, if I understand correctly, this is a copy and the original is on display in the Russian Museum of Saint Petersburg.

We finish off our museum tour in the room that displays artefacts carved in wood, like this beautiful orthodox cross.

The Novgorod State Museum has a heart for kids. In the entrance hall we find a picture gallery…

… and a table with material that make artists out of kids that are forced to wait for their parents.

Perhaps one day the Novgorod State Museum will open up a room for the best artefacts created by kids.

We look back to the Saint Sophia Cathedral and the monument that shows all the important men and women that by the middle of the 19th century had shaped Russia during 1000 years.

At 18:05 precisely. our Elektritschka (suburban train) leaves for Saint Petersburg. We are amidst all the Russians that return from their datscha weekends.

The sky covers with dark clouds and by the time we arrive in Saint Petersburg, it is pouring with rain. One of these Saint Petersburg rainfalls that make everyone wet-through within five minutes. We walk in the metro UNDER the Sennaja Ploschtschad, until we reach the metro exit that is closest to our apartment. Nevertheless, at home we have to hang up our trousers and jackets, while the umbrellas land directly in the bath tube. Fortunately I always wear waterproof Goretex shoes for sightseeing.

Novgorod was worth visiting and two days are not enough to see everything. Will I go back one day and also continue to Staraja Rossija, where Dostojewsky lived for a while?


Near Saint Petersburg – two days in Veliky Nowgorod – a sunny Saturday

While spending almost four weeks in Saint Petersburg in June 2017, we made an excursion of two days to Veliky Novgorod (Великий Новгород). The main attraction is the Saint Sophia Cathedral with the Bronze Door from Magdeburg. But then there is much more to see: the Kreml with the State Museum, about 50 more churches and the gorgeous setting of Novgorod on the river Volkhov and the Ilmen Lake. Novgorod is at about 190km south of Saint Petersburg. This counts still as a suburban connection and we can buy a “suburban” (пригородный)  ticket at the Moscow station – easy and without having to stand in line.

Source: Google Maps

Our suburban train or elektritschka leaves Saturday morning at 7:25. About two hours later we are in Novgorod. We have reserved a night in the Volkhov Hotel and receive a beautiful room on the fifth floor.

Ursula takes a great panorama foto of the Kreml wall (or Detinets).

Our first destination is the Saint Sophia Cathedral from the 11th century. It is the oldest Russian Cathedral modelled after the Hagia Sofia in Byzantium.

The Bronze Door is unique. It was produced in Magdeburg in 1153 and it is unclear, how this door travelled from Magedburg to Novgorod – perhaps, because Novgorod was trading with the Hanseatic League.

With my small guide “Die Bronzetür von Nowgorod” (Piper Bücherei 1963), we study the plates in detail. We particularly like the Ascension of Christ, as he is drifting upwards, away from this world.

Inside we are proud to find Constantin and his mother – forbidden to take fotos in this holy place.

Behind the Cathedral we take pictures of the belfry or bell tower.

It is a sunny Saturday and the Novgorodians love the beach life under the Kreml wall. They swim in the river Volkhov and I am not so sure, whether I would like to join them in that muddy water…

Across the river Volkhov, there is the former Tvorg (творг) or market place. Only the arcades are left as well as a few churches donated by merchants.

One example is the Paraskeva Pjatniza Church (Церков Параскевы Пятницы на Торгу) from the year 1207.

Above the Tvorg or market place, we find the Transfiguration Church (Церковь Спаса Преображения на Ильине улице) from 1374.

It contains frescoes by Teophanous the Greek from the 1370ies. He is one of the few icon painters known by name. His style is almost abstract and he gives perspective to his figures by adding white lines. One of his frescoes shows the Old Testament Trinity, when the three angels – “disguised” as vagabonds – ask for food. They are rejected, until they come to the house of Abraham and Sarah. I listen to a guide who tells the story to a family with a young boy – very kind, how he explains that these angels looked like vagabonds or бродяги – would you have invited them?

In the dome there is the Pantokrator of Teophanous.

And then we find three saints sitting on columns – I simply cannot imagine, how that works – sitting on a column day in and day out.

Next to the Transfiguration Church are the domes of the newer Snamensky Church from the 17. Jh.

Enough culture – we need a rest and book an hour on a boat. Along the river Volkhov the boat takes us to the Ilmen Lake. On the way we see the Juriev monastery that we will visit tomorrow.

The Ilmen Lake is very, very large. We cannot see the opposite shore line.

We have dinner in the Volkhov hotel on the fifth floor balcony. A great view and a good service. Then we sleep well in our luxury room to be ready for a sunny Sunday with more sightseeing in Novgorod.

Near St. Petersburg – Three days in and around Kizhi

Kizhi (Кижи) is a small Karelian island in the Onega Lake. With the gorgeous Transfiguration Church and its 22 domes, it has been an old dream of mine – one of these destinations of a lifetime.

While staying in Petersburg, we plan an excursion to Kizhi – for a few days to experience Kizhi and Karelia more intensely.

In the internet, Ursula has spotted the guesthouse Grace or Благодать. It is the only hotel within reach of Kizhi. It is located in the tiny village Ersnevo (Ерснево). I call Tanja, the owner. She is very friendly.  “Yes you can stay two nights and we have a boat service to Kizhi”, she says. I reserve two nights with meals.

From Petrosavodsk bordering the Onega Lake, three hydrofoils (“meteors”) leave for Kizhi in the morning (the first at 9:30 am), and the same three hydrofoil boats return to Petrosavodsk in the afternoon (the first at 3:00 pm). In the morning they take tourists to Kizhi and in the afternoon they bring them back to Petrosavodsk. This is a daily service.

Tourholding operates the hydrofoils. I call them and reserve tickets for the first Friday morning boat at 9:30 a.m. and return tickets for two days later – Sunday 3 pm.

Our train from Saint Petersburg will arrive in Petrosavodsk late in the afternoon and therefore I reserve one night in the Karelia hotel not far from the peer or причал to catch the first hydrofoil boat in the next morning.

Hotels and boats reserved… now we still need train tickets from Saint Petersburg to Petrosavodsk and back. Be aware: To buy (long distance) train tickets in Russia, you have to show your passport! At Ladoga station, we wait in a very slow queue. One hour later and just three minutes (!) before our booth closes, we have finished buying our train tickets. Uff! We are ready for Kizhi and our dream, the wooden Transfiguration Church with its 22 domes.

On Thursday morning, we board the train at Ladoga Station in Saint Petersburg. The train leaves exactly on time, 9:55. We travel in a so called Obschy Wagon (общий вагон) with couchettes. We have a compartment for us alone and stretch out on the couchettes, while the Karelian forests and some wide rivers fly by the windows. Seven hours later we arrive in Petrosavodsk (500km north east of Saint Petersburg). Peter the Great has founded this industrial town in the same year as Saint Petersburg (1703). The promenade invites for an evening walk along the Onega Lake.

I meet an old man who sells his book about the winter war in the 1940’s, when Russia conquered East Karelia again. He is so kindly proud of his book that I buy it.

We spend the night in the Karelia Hotel. At 9:30 a.m. our hydrofoil boat leaves, exactly on time. It is raining heavily. One and a half hours later we approach Kizhi. This is what we look forward to seeing: The 22 dome Transfiguration Church (Церковь Преображения Господня).

And this is what we see through the hydrofoil window that is damp from the rain: The Transfiguration Church is topped with about five cupolas… the other 17 domes have been removed for renovation.

Big disappointment about the church of our dreams. In addition it is raining. We decide to go to our hotel on the neighboring island. Tanja picks us up and the boat jumps across high waves. A tea warms us up.

Our Guest House is also a farm, and they offer what the farm gives: Eggs, milk, cheese, quark (творог) and fish from the Onega Lake. I particularly like the syrniki or сырники. A recipe to take home!

Fishing is an important sport in Russia requiring mastering and tactics. This newspaper teaches the school of mastering the fishing (школа мастерства).

It has stopped raining and we walk along our island. It is quiet and peaceful. The wind plays with the Onega Lake.

We catch a view of the central Kizhi church complex with the Transfiguration Church (now under renovation) and the Intercession Church.

We have a chat with a lady journalist who writes articles in the local Karelian newspaper – in the local Karelian language that is related to Finnish.

In the next morning the wind has stopped. The trees are now reflecting in the lake.

After a long breakfast we head for Kizhi to see the wooden churches and wooden buildings at display in the museum of Kizhi as well as to walk and visit the villages on the island.

The Transfiguration Church (the 22 dome church now under renovation, Verklärungskirche) and the Intercession Church (Mariä Schutzkirche) are surrounded by a wall. We have bought a pretty booklet that translates Intercession or “Покровская”  with “Maria Deckung Kirche”.  Both churches are from the 18th century. The walls are made from pine wood (сосна, Kiefer) and the domes from aspen (осина, Espe). The aspen domes shine in the sun, as if they were made from silver.

The Intercession church can be visited. It consists of three consecutive rooms. This is the view of the iconostasis, as seen from the second room.

The Transfiguration and the Intercession churches have always been the main churches for the area, whereby the latter can be heated in winter.

Around the churches of Transfiguration and Intercession, we find a museum of wooden houses, barns and wind mills as well as more wooden churches brought to Kizhi.

This is the farmer’s house of Oschewnewo (Ошевнего).

This is the church of Archangel Michael amidst cuckoo flowers.

The church of Lazarus is from the 14th century. It is the oldest church in the Kizhi museum.

The island Kizhi is not only a museum, but also a “normal” island with “normal” villages where people live in their wooden houses. Kizhi was one of the places where the Old Believers (Raskolniki, расколники)) retreated after the Orthodox schism of the 17th century. This is a beautiful house in the village Vasiljewo (Васильего).

After a long day walking on the island Kizhi, we return to our friendly guest house Blagodat or Grace. We get up at 2 a.m. in the middle of the night and take pictures.

On our last day our host takes us for a two hour boat trip to visit six more churches and three more villages. This is the chapel of Peter and Paul in Volkostrov (часовня Петра и Павла в Волкострове).

This is the chapel of the Three Saints on Kizhi (Часовня Трёх Святителей, on the other far end of the island).

We learn that only few people still live in these villages for the whole year. Most houses now belong to people from the town. They use them as their datschas. In Vorobji (Воробьи), we say hello to this small white cat and have a chat with the owner of the house.

In the afternoon we take the hydrofoil back to Petrosavodsk and at six (precisely on time) our express train leaves for Saint Petersburg.

The extended Karelian forests and some villages and small towns fly by the window. At eleven the train arrives – as planned – in Saint Petersburg. We take great memories with us from our excursion to Kizhi, though we may have to return, when the 22 domes of the wooden Transfiguration church are back in place…




Back to St. Petersburg – shopping and relaxing

Culture – so much culture in Saint Petersburg. We could not get enough of it – and from time to time we had to relax. And Petersburg is also great for that.


Enjoying the Newsky Prospekt – the heart beat of Petersburg

We return to the Newsky Prospekt again and again, enjoying breaks in one of the many coffee houses while admiring the Russian ladies walk elegantly on their high “pencil” heals.

This was the Volkonsky restaurant where I had an excellent okroschka (cucumber soup on kefir, also served on kwas) and blackberries on fresh cheese on a bisquit – easy to prepare and delicious. Ideas to take home!

We also had an excellent ice cream in the posh hotel Europe (at normal prices). Wherever we stopped we enjoyed the atmosphere, the meals, the desserts, the coffee and the service.

The Gostiny Dvor is the traditional department store originating from the late 18th century. It consists of a gallery of shops arranged around a triangular court yard. This “guest court” is an interesting neoclassical building. However, we find empty shops, high prices and unmotivated shop assistants. Also the Dom Knigi has changed. What a pity for this nice art nouveau building.

However, there are many excellent smaller and bigger shops at and near Newsky Prospect.

A great address for gourmet gifts is the beautifully decorated Jelissejew shop where we buy delicious date confectionaries for our friends. Russians love pralines.

We very much liked the department store “Au Pont Rouge”. It has recently been renovated celebrating now its 110 years amniversary. It is luxury store overlooking the red bridge of the channel Moika.

This is what it looks like inside.

Here we try some wonderfully designed dresses supported by a very, very friendly shop assistant. Without buying anything we savour the atmosphere and dream wearing the design dresses. Some designs are of Russian origin.

Not far from the Au Pont Rouge, we find a great outlet shop where we buy an elegant jacket for Ursula. In the Pik overlooking Sennaja Ploschtschad we buy a nice jacket for me – ice rosa – and we have lunch in the restaurant on the top floor with a great view of the city.


Shopping is also great in the Kuznechny Market. Fruit, vegetables, meat and also antiques as well as Russian souvenirs at reasonable prices.

Here we buy gifts to take home, for instance potholders with tasteful Matrjoschki patched on to them. And from the food stalls we acquire dates, tea and chocolate.


Relaxing in the many parks forming green lungs of Saint Petersburg

There are many relaxing parks in Petersburg. On a sunny Sunday we visited the wonderfully restored Summer Garden with its fountains. The cosy pavillons offer coffee, sweets and small dishes.

The small castle is under renovation. Peter the Great had again asked the Swiss baroque architect Trezzini to design this castle.

Particularly famous is the fence from the late 18th century – this is a detail of it.

Another garden we liked was the Jelagin Park in the far north of Saint Petersburg. The neoclassical castle has been designed by Carlo Rossi.

It was a warm and sunny day, when we strolled around the park meeting friends with their daughters. We were amidst many citizens from Petersburg that enjoyed the garden with the ponds and the Newa river.

Jelagin and later the zars must have enjoyed it here on their island that is just ONE large garden surrounding one palace and a pavillon with another excellent restaurant.

The Jussupow park is not far from our apartment – a great evening walk.

On our way to the Smolny Cathedral we take a rest in the Tauride Gardens. Syringa bushes are now in bloom in Saint Petersburg – it is a late spring.


In New Holland we find beautiful herb gardens. We escape the pouring rain for a coffee in the friendly restaurant Deli. Soon the rain stops and we stroll around the island.

Peter the Great had built New Holland to store the wood needed for his navy. The buildings are now being renovated, nicely hidden behind curtains.

The hanging structure reflects in the pond.

And with the twinkling of an eye, visitors are asked to wait a bit, before stepping on to the freshly sown meadow. The grass has to grow first and strengthen – but very soon visitors will be allowed again to lie on the grass, read, eat or simply look into the sky.

The parks are also kids friendly. Eating a standard ice cream in the waffle coup we join the kids playing in the Alexander Gardens behind the Isaac’s cathedral.

Yes, there are many parks, small restaurants and shops to relax in Saint Petersburg – and to be ready again to absorb the culture offered in this town.