Back in in Saint Petersburg – some small charms such as the Чижик-пыжик

In June 2017 I spent four weeks in Saint Petersburg. Let me review a few Russian charms taken from here and there.


The smallest monumentЧижик-пыжик or Chizhik-pizhik 

From previous visits in Saint Petersburg, I knew that the Chizhik-pizhik exists somewhere above the Fontanka channel. This time I found this tiny monument. Ursula took the photos.

There are coins on the small platform that the bird stands on. Here you see that people are throwing the coins aiming carefully. When the money lands on the platform, you have a wish!

“Чижик” or “chizhik” means siskin (Zeisig in German) and “пыжик” is either a young reindeer or the caps made out of the reindeer fur. Hence, the Chizhik-pizhik is a small siskin with a reindeer cap. This alludes to the students that used to wear those caps and also used to visit  the pub of the merchant Nefedov near the place, where the Fontanka channel meets the Moika channel. In that pub the students would sometimes drink too much and then feel dizzy. The Chizhik-pyzhik is actually a drunken student. A small song explains that:

Чижик-пыжик, где ты был? На Фонтанке водку пил. Выпил рюмку, выпил две —Зашумело в голове.
Chizhik-pyzhik, where’ve you been? Drank vodka on the Fontanka. Took a shot (literally: a small glass), took another – Got dizzy (literally: it roared in my head).



The Swiss watch of the brand Omega

Not far from the blue bridge crossing the Moika we found this clock. It is a Swiss clock of the brand Omega.

I could not find out, why this watch hangs in the Pereulok Antonenko near the blue bridge. Greetings from our home – charming.


Great gardens all over

Beginning of June the tulips were in flower. It was still spring. Towards the end of June, summer flowers started to be in bloom. There are beautiful parks all over Saint Petersburg. One of them is the Jelagin Park where we took this photo.

Charming gardens!


Beware of “unexpected” obstacles Saint Petersburg or Venise of the North

The channels Moika, Fontanka and Griboedov as well as the Neva are great for a boat trip – we did two of them. Here our boat is flying along the Fontanka close to the houses called “Three Sisters”.

But… the channels are definitively impractical for cars.

Charming traffic sign!


“My” Planeta Fitness has now become a church

“My” Planeta Fitness or Планета Фитнес was the place where I kept fit, when I was in Saint Petersburg in 2013. I loved the Planeta Fitness for its efficiency and the good fitness trainers. Though the equipment was somewhat worn out, it was perfect and charming.

“My” Planeta Fitness does no longer exist now. It has become a church, as the new decoration on the window shows.

Fitness can still be acquired in Saint Petersburg, but I found a different setup. A friend of mine took me to a luxury hotel with a luxury spa… the elyptical trainers were modern and in good shape and there was a large swimming pool with wellness corners. Things have obviously changed in Saint Petersburg.


Rain, rain, rain… it is a cold summer in Saint Petersburg

2017 is a chilly summer in Saint Petersburg, and there are often heavy rainfalls. More than once, we were wet through to the skin. We never left our house without an umbrella. Very useful, as this photo taken from our kitchen window  shows.

When back in Switzerland, I had to switch on my ventilator, because it was so hot – more than 30 degrees. When skyping with my Russian teacher she says that she has no ventilator. I am about to feel sorry for her, but she laughs: “What do I need a ventilator for here in Saint Petersburg, it is rarely more than 20 degrees now.”

It is good that there is so much to do in Saint Petersburg, even when it is chilly and raining. It is a charming town, and I look forward to returning some time soon. This is the wish that I would utter, when successfully throwing money on to the platform of the Chizhik-pizhik or Чижик-пыжик.




Back to Saint Petersburg – some thoughts about the Russian language

Before leaving to Saint Petersburg in June 2017, Ursula studied the Cyrillic alphabet. When walking around, she would always read, what she sees – and she understood a lot such as: банк=bank, кофе хаус=coffee house, бистрот=bistrot, ресторан=restaurant, стритфуд=street food, магазин=shop (magasin), автобус=bus (Autobus), такси=taxi, вокзал=station (from Vauxhall) or – another example – френч дог=French dog.  Knowing the alphabet provides the first access to the language.

Having been exposed to Russian for quite a while, I experience the Russian verbs to be one of my most serious obstacles. I keep on stopping, when seeing advertisements and signposts… why have they used the perfect aspect here and the imperfect aspect there…? And why the multidirectional and not the unidirectional motion ? How do Russians think?


About the perfect and imperfect aspect – some cases

The perfect and imperfect aspect are unique in Russian (and other Slavic languages). The perfect aspect shows that the result of an action (or of some actions) matters or that the action is planned. The  imperfect aspect points to the fact (“has it happened or has it not happened?”) or to the process (now, in future or in the past). Russians use two separate verbs for their two aspects, and I could not find any consistent rules to relate one to the other (e.g. говорить is imperfect and сказать is perfect – both meaning “sagen”). The concept applies to all verb forms, also to the infinitive.

In the newly renovated park of New Holland in Saint Petersburg they play nicely with the two aspects, perfect (pf) and imperfect (impf).

It says: “We ask you (now, impf) to wait a little bit (pf, result “until” matters), until the young lawn will strengthen and grow (pf, future). Very soon it will be possible again to rest on it, to read, to eat or to simply look into the sky (rest, read, eat, look are processes in the future, hence impf).” It sounds charming – I do not know another language that gives access to those ideas so nicely. Translating the text literally into English does not convey the full charm of it.

This is another example. When going for a boat trip on the channels of Saint Petersburg, you are asked not to stand up under the bridges. “Под мостами” means “under the bridges” and “не вставать” means “do not stand up”. “не вставать” is a negative imperative in the imperfect aspect (expressed here using the infinitive –  in German you could also use the infinitive for the imperative: “nicht aufstehen!”).

Tatjana told me that, for the negative imperative, I should use the imperfect aspect in 95% of the cases. The reason: It is just forbidden to DO something – nobody is interested in the result of the action, what matters is just the “doing” that is not allowed. BUT if you are really afraid of the result of the action, then it matters and you would use the perfect aspect. Standing up under the bridge can really hurt, as they are so low above the water level. When approaching the bridge, I might watch my friend stand up, I might be shocked, I might fear, she will bump her head into the bridge now, I want to prevent the accident and, as the danger is very real and immediately ahead of us, I would then shout “не встань” (perfect aspect – do not stand up!).

Another example that puzzled me: In Russian trains there are green buttons that you are asked to press to open the door at the station. Having to press those buttons is a general fact. Hence in the trains, “press the green button” is written in the imperfect aspect: “нажимаете зелённую кнопку” (“нажимаете” means “press” and is imperfect). But then, in Repino, I find this plate: “Нажмите кнопку – ждите зелённый сигнал”. “Нажмите” (press) is the perfect aspect and “ждите” (wait) is imperfect. Why this? I sense that it is still a general fact that I have to press the green button, whenever I want to order green light to cross the street, but the Russians seem to think differently, as Tatjana explains to me.

For Tatjana, it was evident. By pressing the green button (perfect action), you start the process of waiting (imperfect action).  I can understand, what she means, but I find it difficult to get this right.


About the verbs of motion such as “ходить” and “идти” – and I am twinkling with my eyes

“По газонам не ходить” means “do not step onto the grass”. More precisely translated it means “do not walk around on the grass”. This also includes “do not walk to the shore and then back.” The verbs of motion differentiate between the process of going in one direction (“unidirectional motion”, идти ) and to walk around or go there and return (“multidirectional motion”, ходить). The sign says that it is forbidden to walk on the grass, “multidirectionally” or “to the shore and back”.

Now I am joking: These two guys may have done everything right, because so far they have only walked to the shore (which might be expressed by the unidirectional verb “идти”). In case they leave the place swimming, they have not walked around (“ходить” – forbidden) nor have they gone there AND returned (also – “ходить” – forbidden).

I am doing hairsplitting and twinkling with my eyes. Of course, the intention is to forbid “any” way of walking on the grass, which requires the “multidirectional” verb “ходить”.

Multi- and unidirectional motions is another concept that applies to Slavic languages and it holds for all verbs of motion such as climb, run, drive, bring, crawl, swim – in the imperfect aspect.


Back in Saint Petersburg – exploring Russian Art in the Russian Museum – Peredwizhniki and earlier

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) gives an overview of Russian painting and sculptures. Again using our guidebook “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014), I am now turning to my impressions about the Peredwishniki of the 19th century and earlier.


Second half of the 19th century – the Peredwizhniki are looking for the real life of people and for (real) Russian history

“The barge haulers” by Ilja Repin do fascinate me again and again. Eleven haggard men are dragging the boat that appears faintly in the background – and it is a hot day. Dostoewsky described what I also feel, “[I saw] barge haulers, real barge haulers, and nothing more… you can’t help but think you are indebted, truly indebted, to the people.” (Wikipedia, quote taken from Frank, Joseph. “Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881”. Princeton University Press, 2003. 111. ISBN 0-691-11569-9).

Repin: Barge haulers on the Volga (Бурлаки на Волге), 1873

Repin also painted portraits. For instance his “Tolstoy” is very realistic – he was a double-edged person – and his “State Council” shows many, many honorable men around the turn of the century.  In addition he created romantic landscape paintings like this “Taiga”.

Repin: Taiga

Repin was a member of the Peredvizhniki (передвижники). They emerged, when in 1863 a group of students protested and refused to do the mythological paintings needed to pass the exams. Instead they started to paint the real life of people and the real history of Russia and to show their paintings on traveling exhibitions – that is where the name “Peredvizhniki ” comes from.

In addition to Repin, I discovered Surikov who created some great history representations such as Stenka Rasin and Suvorov crossing the Alps.

Surikov: Stenka Razin, 1906.

Stepan or Stenka Razin was a Cosack that lead an uprising in southern Russia in the 17th century. Surikov painted him, when he was sailing on the Volga. He had planned to marry a Persian princess. His fellow combatants complained that he became mellow like a woman. He does not like that and decides to throw the princess into the river. Surikov painted him just after he had thrown the princess into the waves of the Volga. Listen to Shalyapin singing about this event of Glasunov’s opera – this is one verse taken from it: “Волга, Волга, мать родная, Волга – русская река, Не видала ты подарка От донского казака” (Volga, Volga, my dear mother, Volga – Russian river, you have never seen a gift from a Don Cossack).

I could not stop looking at Surikov’s dramatic scene of Suvorov crossing the Alps. Suvorov was one of the most successful Russian generals. Surikov painted him, when he was 70 years old and had lost his last battle against Napoleon in 1799. He escaped by crossing three smaller passes (Kinzigpass to get to the Mutotal, then the Pragelpass to reach Glarus and finally the Panixerpass to reach Graubünden). On the painting the troops are sliding down on an ice field and I can see the sheer angst in the faces of the soldiers. Suvorov succeeded to bring part of his troops back to Russia.

Surikov: Suvorov crossing the Alps, 1899.

Another poetic painting of Surikov’s is the bronze horseman representing Peter the Great in front of Isaac’s Cathedral.

Surikov: The Bronze Horseman

When looking at Surikov’s horseman, I can feel Pushkin’s poem which tells the dramatic story of Evgeny who loses his beloved Parasha, when Saint Petersburg was flooded. He survives sitting on the marble lions next to the Bronze Horseman. A year later, he remembers the event, goes mad and shouts at the horseman. The horseman comes to live and starts to pursue Evgeny (медный всадник).

There were more Peredvizhniki that I liked, for instance Wassily Polenov with his “Christ and the Aldulteress” and Archip Kuindshi with mysterious “Moonlight in  a Forest“.


First half of the 19th century impacted by the war against Napoleon

The 19th century started with the war that Alexander i had to fight against Napoleon (1806-1814). It was a traumatic event in Russia that ended with the invasion of Paris. Portrait and landscape painting is influenced by the Romantic movement. The joyful  “An Italian Midday” by Brullov is an example. I spend a long time in front of Iwanow’s  “the appearance of Christ before the people” studying the faces and gestures of the people.

Iwanow: The appearance of Christ before the people, before 1855 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014))

At this time, a few painters such as Wenezianow and Krylow were interested in real life. Wenezianow painted the farmers in his village and Krylow created a beautiful winter landscape.

Paintings of the bourgeois middleclass and romantic paintings of the city emerge. One example of a romantic city painting is the dramatic “Alexander column” during a thunderstorm by Raev.

Our guidebook points out that though the themes have changed to real life, the representation is still idealistic. Towards 1850 a dramatic touch appears. Fedotow paints such a scene where an impoverished noblemen asks the daughter of a rich merchant to marry him, and she refuses (major’s betrothal).


18th century impacted by Peter the Great opening the window to the west

In 1703 Peter the Great opened the window to the west by founding Saint Petersburg. He invited European artists to work for him and he sent young artists to Europe to study painting. After returning many of them became portrait artists at the court. An outstanding example is Nikitin, in particular his portrait of a Hetman. In addition, the artists take up antique and classical topics. Losenko puts a Russian theme into a somewhat classical setting: King Vladimir asks to marry Rogneda (she is reluctant).

Dimitry Levizki shows Catherine the Great making law and she stands in the temple of the Goddess of Justice – her portrait has been moved to European antiquity.

Levizki: Catherine II as Legislator in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice, 1783 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014)).

Some paintings show the grandeur of Saint Petersburg such as the view of the palace water front  taken from the Peter and Paul Fortress by Fyodor Alexeev.

Alexeev: View of the palace water front, after 1794 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014))

In 1764, the Academy of Art was founded. It shaped the Russian art scene for the next 100 years.


11th until 17th century dominated by religion

From the 11th until the 17th century, religion dominates the artistic scene with icons and church utensils. This site gives an overview of the icons in the Russian museum. I loved the various representations of Maria such as the Maria of Belosersk. The original of the Archangel Gabriel, painted around 1200 in Novgorod, is in the Russian museum – we have already admired him in Novgorod.

Archangel Gabriel, around 1200 in Novgorod, copy from Novgorod

I always say hello to Boris and Gleb, the sons of king Vladimir who became the first martyrs of the orthodox church and to the apostles Peter and Paul by Andrei Rublev.

Andrei Rublev: Apostles Peter and Paul, 1408

With the Russian icons we leave the Russian Museum. Russian art may have taken up their ideas first from Byzantium and then from Europe. However, they worked on those ideas and gave them the Russian character I do like.

Back to Saint Petersburg – exploring Russian art history in the Russian museum – late 19th and 20th century until present

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) of Saint Petersburg has been initiated by Tsar Alexander III. Valentin Serov painted this rather strong man – his painting takes up impressionistic trends in 1900.

Serov: Portrait of Alexander III, 1900

It then was Alexander’s son, Nicholas II, that inaugurated the museum in March 1898.

Serov’s portrait of Alexander hangs in the Benois Wing that hosts the Russian paintings of the late 19th and the 20th century until present. Let us explore this period now. My primary source for the background information is the book “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer”, Palace Editions, Sankt Petersburg 2014 as well as the detailed explanations in the museum.


Suprematism – the ultimate Avant-Garde

“Avant-Garde” – this is what the art trends before and shortly after the revolution of 1917 are called in Russia. The culmination was marked by Malevich’s and Rodchenko’s radically abstract geometric forms – their squares and circles. We talk about “Suprematism” here.

Malevich: Black square, black circle and black cross, 1915

Rodchenko: White circle, 1918

Malevich gave up painting after having reduced it to the minimum and only returned to it in the late 1920’s combining abstract forms with real objects. I like his Red Cavalry.

Source: Russisches Museum: Museumsführer – Red Cavalry, 1932

The Red Cavalry reminds me of this line of giraffes that Ernst captured at the horizon of the yellow steppe in the Etosha park in Namibia in 2008.

May be we are all trying to understand eternity beyond our horizon.


In addition to Suprematism, the Russian Avant-Garde has many more facets

The Benois Wing. presents many more sides of the Russian Avant-Garde that I have not been aware of so far.  In addition to “Suprematism”, “Avant-garde” materializes in various trends that are called “Abstract”, “Luchism” or “Rayonism”, “Neo-primitivism”, “Cubofuturism”, “Constructivism” and “Analytical”. Before the revolution, society was breaking up and looking for new horizons and so were painting and literature.

Famous is Nathan Altmann that painted the poet Akhmatova in cubist style.

Altman: Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, 1914

Pavel Filonov presented the Masleniza, a very Russian scene – celebrating shrovetide or fasnacht and the exit from winter. The painting counts as analytical style.

Filonov: Shrovetide and exit from winter into summer, 1913-14

A representation of the neo-primitive style is Natalja Goncharova with her evangelists.

Goncharova: Evangelists in blue, 1911

Boris Grigoriev painted in expressionist manner. This portrait of Vsyevolod Meyerhold reminds me of the devil Voland in Bulgakow’s “Master and Margerita” (Voland stirred up Moscow where Master and Margarita lived their adventures; written in 1928 and completed in 1940). However, Meyerhold was not a devil, but a very courageous theatre director and producer that was executed in 1940. I do not know, whether Grigoriev had the intention to make him look like a devil, but this is what he seemed to look like for Ursula and me.

Grigoriev: Portrait of Vsyevolod Meyerhold, 1916

One of the artists that stood at the beginning of the Avant-Garde was Michail Vrubel. Some of his paintings reflect Art Modern. He became famous with painting demons. In addition Vrubel took up the tradition of central Russia to make majolicas.

Vrubel: Sadko Dish, Abrametsewo Ceramics Workshop, Majolica relief and coloured enamels 

I read about the majolica production in Russia in “the Mikula and Volga fireplace” by Peter Stupples. Vrubel and other artists had the idea to decorate buildings using majolicas. In Abrametsewo an old oven was restored. Piotr Vaulin was the technically trained ceramist that enabled Vrubel to produce majolicas in good quality. No majolicas by Vrubel without Vaulin. Vrubel has taken the reputation for everything without sharing it – not a nice practice by my opinion. Today Piotr Vaulin has been almost forgotten. I was fascinated to meet him again, as he is the grand-father of my friend Anna Vaulina. He has decorated the mosque of St. Petersburg with blue ceramic tiles and, when staying in the apartment of Anna’s cousin in 2002, I noticed a blue plate decorated with a swinging relief of flowers. Vaulin’s majolica plate resembled Vrubel’s majolica plate – or the other way round.


The 1920’s and the 1930’s

After the revolution in the 1920′ and 30’s work and sports became predominant. Two examples are Sergei Luchishkin’s “skiers” and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkins “spring”.

Luchishkin: Skiers, 1926

Being a skier myself, I like the joyful atmosphere of the painting “skiers”. And – I admire my friends from Petersburg that are proud to be горнолыжники or skiers – and they have learnt skiing well, even dynamic carving, though the hills are very, very small around Saint Petersburg – by Swiss standards.

Petrov-Vodkin: Spring, 1935.

The couple enjoying spring reminds me of socialist heroes, but the bright and friendly colours attract me.


Present time: Paintings and sculpture of contemporary artists

Last, the Benois Wing shows sculptures and paintings of contemporary artists. The styles vary. Some remind me of the socialist style and others are more individualistic art interpretations.  I like this queue painted by Alexej Sundokov that seems to have no beginning and no end. The beginning disappears in the lower right corner. And the end must be somewhere far behind me (the spectator). I am standing in line looking at the back of the woman with the brown bag just in front of me.  The painting reminds me of this joke: There is a queue here? There must be something you can buy here! Let me stand in line as well! The spectators are invited to join the queue.

Alexej Sundukov: Queue, 1986

Adelaide Pologova’s sculpture shows a woman that is trying to get everything done – work, household, raising a child… much stress.

Pologova: Keeper of a hearth, 1983

Yevsei Mioseyenko paints a boy with his grand-father in a typical Russian village.

Mioseyenko: Sergei Yessenin with his grand-father, 1963-64

This is what the room looks like in which Andrej Jakowlew thinks about participation. What participation? Perhaps collaboration between the two men at the table?

Jakowlew: Participation, 1968


The Benois Wing motivates us to buy some souvernirs

There is a beautiful museum shop where I buy pretty shopping bags to present to friends, when back at home. The bag that I buy for me shows the painting “Churches. New Jerusalem” by Aristarch Lentulow.

Source: Russisches Museum: Museumsführer – Lentulow: Churches. New Jerusalem, 1917

Lentulow’s churches are very, very Russian and charming.

In the museum shop we also buy the Guidebook to the Russian Museum, in order to recapitulate later what we have seen. I wish that one of our museums in Switzerland would exchange with the Russian museum to make the latest Russian paintings and sculptures more known in Europe.


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.