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.


Tarragona – From Roman Tarraco to lively Catalan town

Another Tuesday in June 2016. Today we visit Tarragona, the Roman capital of Hispania Citerior (then called Tarraco), the medieval town with its Romanesque-Gothic cathedral and the relaxed Ramblas Nuevas of today’s lively Catalan city.


Train from L’Hospitalet de L ‘Infant to Tarragona – just one left out

The train leaves L’Hospitalet at 8:27, in theory. The next train would leave at 8:55, and this is, when we actually leave. I believe they have just skipped one train. This must be Spain and trains.


Just a few stairs from the train station to the Ramblas Nuevas

It is just a few stairs from the train station to the Ramblas Nuevas. We have an espresso in this nice bar…

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… and then stroll along the Ramblas. There is a market. Cloths, handbags and shoes are on sale. I buy a blue beach dress for 5 Euro.

Then we head to the old upper town. I notice that there are many multlingual schools in Tarragona.

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No wonder, Catalans already are bilingual to begin with and hence are more open to multilinguality. As compared to earlier visits I have noticed that  the Catalan language is much more present – signs in the town are all in Catalan now – just that and practically no Spanish.


The walk along the Roman wall (Passeig Arqueológic)

About one kilometer of the old city wall has been preserved. This makes up the Passeig Arqueológic. We walk along the wall, together with many school classes that are learning about their history. The base of the wall is Iberan – these are the rough blocks of stone. The more elaborated stones have been added by the Romans…

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… and some towers have later been fortified to resist gunfires.


The cathedral of Tarragona – a gem showing the transition from Romanesque to Gothic

Built from 1171 to 1331, the Catedral de Santa Maria demonstrates the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. This is the main facade.

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Inside visitors are allowed to explore all details, also around the choir. This is the nave with the altar.

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The cloister is a place to pray…

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… and also a place to smile at the humor of the sculptor who carved the procession of the rats that carry the dead cat.

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More Roman reminsiscents: The museum, the circ and the amphitheatre

After some tapas we visit the Archaeological Museum.

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Yes, Roman Tarraco has been founded by Scipio Calvus. This is what the town looked like in Roman times.

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The museum has been constructed around the old Roman town wall – the wall became part of the exhibition. What I like most are the mosaics.

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Cute is the special exhibition about the villa Centcelles with children’s drawings.

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Below the archaological museum is the entrance to the old circus.

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After having dived into the Roman past, we take a quick step back to medieval times on the Plaça de la Font,…

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… and then we visit the Roman amphitheatre with its gorgeous view of the sea.

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Back to the Ramblas Nuevas and the tower of people

We return to the Ramblas Nuevas to see the statue of the tower of people (castell). The habit to build such towers is said to demonstrate the will and sprit of the Catalans to cooperate.

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The finale: More than three hours for a half hour journey in train

Our train of 19:09 arrives just a few minutes late to take us back home to L’Hospitalet. We leave, we arrive at Salou, we leave Salou, and then we stand… stand… stand… finally we hear this message: “There was an incident ahead, we apologize”…. We continue to Cambrils and stand… and stand… and stand. It is very cold in this train… we stand… and stand… and around ten at night the doors close and the train continues slowly, but pretty steadily. Shortly before 10:30 we jump on to the platform at L’Hospitalet, find our car and drive back to the apartment. Uff. Will I ever again take a train in Spain? Well later I read that today Zurich had similar problems after someone had set a fire to the SBB railway cabling. Perhaps this delay has happened out of compassion with Zurich? But, more than three hours for a half hour train journey is quite a bit a record for me.

Well subtracting the train incident, our excursion to Tarragona was a wonderful experience.


Beyond the Costa Daurada – Montsant, monasteries and the Roman aqueduct

A round trip to the montains with two monasteries and to the aqueduct near Tarragona, this is our plan for a hot and sunny Thursday.


The impressive rocks of Montsant 

From the golden coast line (Costa Daurada) we cross the mountains behind Cambrils to Falset and enter the Priorat area approaching the rocks of the Montsant…

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with the vineyards hanging on the steep slopes.


We reach the small village of La Morera just under the rocks of the mountain Montsant – with its fruit gardens,

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There is a great view of the mountains we have just crossed coming from the coast.

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There are more vineyards here… they surely are producing high quality wine given the low density of vines.


The Montsant rocks watch over the monastery Scala Dei

The impressive mountain Montsant protects the monastery of Scala Dei or literally the “staircase to God”.

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This Carthusian monastery was founded in the 12th century, after the Moors had been expelled from the area. Backed up by the king, it became a powerful monastery with large land possessions. In 1835 the monasteries in Spain were expropriated. The peasants having felt oppressed for centuries destroyed it.

We enter the ruins through the main gate with a statue of Maria decorating it.

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To understand how the monks lived, a cell with courtyard, kitchen, bedroom and work areas has been reconstructed. This is where the monks sat and read the bible.

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Also the cloister has been carefully reconstructed reusing parts from the ruins.

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A delicious trout with a jar of wine

Near the monastery we find a nice small restaurant, where we eat a full menu with salad and products from the area. The trout from the rivers has been cooked in the oven. A crema Catalana  and a crema limón top our menu.

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The price of 15 Euros includes a jar of country wine – I can just take a mouthful (as I am driving). Some cyclists from Norway join us here and later a group of about 20 very noisy motor cyclists.

I later buy some wine from the Scala Dei cellar. It is a Garnatxa or – in French – Grenache.

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Across the mountains to our next monastery: Poblet

We take a road that winds along a mountain ridge and then down to the monastery of Poblet. This monastery is large (the walls surrounding it measure 1.5km) and is located amidst vineyards.

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Like Sacala Dei, this Cistercian monastery was also founded in the 12th century and it has also been expropriated and destroyed in 1835. However, it has been rebuilt reusing what could be reused from the old monastery and now has a living community of monks.  This is the cloister with the cypress trees and the fountain.

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From the cloister we enter the main church with the renaissance altar made from alabaster.

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The kings of Aragon have been buried in these coffins hanging in front of the choir.

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We say good-bye to this impressive place.

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Stop over in the small town Montblanc – and why is it called “white”?

Yes, here in Spain, we find a small town called Montblanc. Why is it called “Montblanc“? Perhaps the rocks are white? The guard of the church only can say that there is a mountain nearby also called Montblanc. Well, may be a small brother of “our” Alpine Mont Blanc covered with ice and snow?

Through narrow streets…

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… we walk to the cathedral sitting on the top of the hill.

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A beautiful atmosphere inside.

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The guard explains to us that this gothic church has not been completed. Right – the nave ends abruptly somewhat in the middle and there is also no tower. We climb to the roof and enjoy the view.


Our next target: The Roman aqueduct

Our next target is the Roman aqueduct built to supply water to Tarraco. We find the access from the N240 shortly before entering Tarragona. Here it is crossing the valley.

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This aqueduct can also be seen from the motorway – there is a platform providing the view of it – for those travellers that are in a hurry.


Along the street canyons of Salou and Cambrils

We cross Tarragona and follow the street canyons of Salou and Cambrils. No, we would not like to stay in one of these skyscrapers with beehive apartments. But – Ursula has found the excellent restaurant Les Barques here, where we have some delicious seafood before returning to our apartment in Hospitalet – yes, we enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the great view of the pine trees and the sea from our spacy balcony.