Russia - St. Petersburg

            After a night train from Moscow, I arrive St. Petersburg in the morning. St. Petersburg has not yet grown into a big city like Moscow, so fortunately has retained the traditional European city vibe which is good for me as a tourist. St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and was, in several times, become the capital of Russia. The patron saint is of course the Saint Peter. As it was the home for the Tsars, a few grandeur palaces are around the area, which have my eyes wide-opened in awe. It's a four days palace tour for me.

  Tsarskoye Selo

I was first known of the Tsarskoye Selo from an exhibition in Hong Kong, so it is my first stop when arriving to St. Petersburg. The Tsarskoye Selo simply means "King/Queens' Village". It is also known as the Summer Palace for the Tsars. It's RR120 to visit the garden and RR400 to visit the palace. Only from 12:00 to 2:00 does the palace open for individual visitor. Other wise you need to join tour. While not joining a tour, I can spend abundance of time to enjoy this grandeur. It's such amazing!

The Catherine Palace is devoted to Catherine the Great who ruled Russia for 30+ years since 1762. She married the mentally weak Tsar Peter III. Upon his assassination, Catherine became a Tsarina. Russia was revitalized under her reign, grew larger and stronger than ever. Some interesting side legend about Catherine is that she had 22 males lovers during her long life. She had a particular taste of young boys. This Palace and garden is the "happening" place. ;-)
Gold, white and light blue is the prime color of the palace

The inside is also adored with gold
The Grand Hall or the Hall of Lights, the hall to host ball room, masquerade and formal reception. The hall covers almost 1,000 sqm. Most of the Catherine Palace is rebuilt as it was destroyed during the WWII. "The Catherine Palace presented a terrible scene. The grand hall, the picture gallery and the gala staircase had all collapsed... The Amber Room had been stripped and the gala rooms gutted by a fire..."
The whole palace was constructed in utmost extravagant state. The ceiling of the Grand Hall is painted with heavenly images.
Yet, the most amazing room of all is the one of the kind Amber Room. Originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia, the Amber Room was looted during WWII and the current whereabouts of the original panels remains a mystery. In 1979, effort of reconstructing the room begins. After decades of work by Russian craftsmen and donations from Germany, the current Amber Room was inaugurated in 2003.
  The Amber Room covers more than 55 square meters and contains over 6 tonnes of amber. The room is a priceless piece of art, with extraordinary architectural features such as gilding, carvings, 450kg amber panels, gold leafs, gemstones, and mirrors, all highlighted with candle light.  
Event the pictures are mosaics of gemstones. Because of the unique features and singular beauty, the original Amber Room was sometimes named as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
This Drawing Room of Alexander I stands out from the rest of formal rooms as the walls are covered in Chinese silk.
Yes, this wall painting is made of Chinese silk!

Some other exquisite display
Antechamber with beautiful color

The Portrait Hall with the royal gown of Catherine the Great on display
Cavaliers' Dinning Room

On the corner is the blue and white ceramic heater
Ceramic stove with unique tiles

Ceramic clock and vases
Main Staircase - leading to second floor where all function rooms locate

Porcelain on display with leafs gilding

The Mount Olympus ceiling of Picture Hall
Picture Hall
Paintings of the 18th century. Most of the paintings are for decorative purpose with no significance to Russia at that time.

White State Dinning Room (above) and the painted ceiling (below)

Banquet Hall / Antechamber to the Grand Hall

Behind is the porcelain stove
Some side rooms of the palace are for personal use. Below are personal belongs of Tsar Alexander I, the favorite grandson of Tsarina Catherine II, of whom Catherine wanted to directly pass the throne. A side story of Tsar Alexander I was that while he was 23 years old, he was in the palace at the moment of assassination of his father Tsar Paul I, in which one of the assassins announced his accession. Alexander's involvement in the assassination is still a mystery. Welcome to the world of politics...
  Now these rooms sever as memorial for him. Apparently he was tall!  

Campaign bed and sword of Tsar Alexander I

Study room of Tsar Alexander I

Favorite room for Tsarina Catherine II

Handwriting of Tsar Alexander I
Desk lamp

Not ordinary though, look at the carving on the mother of pearl...

Green Dinning Room
To me, the room is too dark, by then, what is waiting for me inside?
A group of young cadets! They wave at me first. The tallest one is quite coy, nodding at me when passing by. Guess they are wondering where I am from.

Then another group follows me...
Stasov Staircase - going back down to ordinary


Creaking (Chinese) Summer House
Marble Bridge

Cameron Gallery
A manmade island. Perfect for hide and seek.

I took a local bus 287 from Moscovskaya metro station, with like RR50 and 50 minutes I arrived the Catherine Palace. Same for return.

Then I meet a couple of friends - Dima and Max (half Ukrainian and half Russian). Dima is from Onega, a town with only 25,000 population at north of St. Petersburg. He is so so kind and sincere, as Max refers, "he has only one heart, but a very big one." I actually understand more of livelihood in Russia from them. It is such a pleasure to meet them both. Thanks!
怕什么?怕被迷晕。Why its as Shakespeare suggested, "the course of true love never did run smooth..."
They mix me a drink - Russian vodka with Finnish berry juice. Funny enough, they don't like to drink and they prefer whisky than vodka. Erase my perception.

I visit Dima's home at Parnas District, the last station of Line 2. It's good for me to understand life of a local rather than touristic tourist points.

The Hermitage

The next day I am ready to check out the another palace - The Hermitage. The Hermitage actually comprises of several buildings. Behind me is the Winter Palace, the former main residence of the Russian tsars. The Hermitage is a museum of arts and cultures. It was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and now contains over three million items.

Peter the Great and Catherine the Great

they are not husband and wife.
The entrance stairway hall to the second (main) level of the palace. Usually the first floor is for service purpose. Catherine the Great started her art collection in 1764 by purchasing paintings from a Berlin merchant whom assembled the collection for Frederick II of Prussia who ultimately refused to purchase it. Then the collection grows with other collectables.
There are 120 exhibition rooms. This one exhibits coins. But the room is already an exhibition.
The Raphael Loggias  

The armour room. I am more interested with the decoration.
The red room

Italian room 
Marble of two beautiful men holding hand

Warrior armour
Flooring mosaic

The Shepherd by Bertel Thorvaldsen
The Gothic Library of Nicholas II

It is the favourite place for Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of all the Russians.

It is a clock. Once the time reach the hourly mark, the peacock will display its full beauty.

Piano with beautiful painting.
The Woman in Blue by Thomas Gainsborough. Amongst the collections of Da Vinci, Monet, etc.

Some furniture were influenced by the re-discovery of Pompeii. Hence some exotic elements.
Unique painting of slaughters

Cute boy painting

Black white ceramic

There are also exhibits of other global regions. here is Sarcophagus from Myrmekion

Russia has a collection of Western-Xia discoveries

The historical center of St. Petersburg is a UNESCO site, including the Winter Palace, Hermitage,
Opposite of the Winter Palace is an arc shaped General Staff Building.

Performance at Palace Square for pre Victory Day celebration.

Triumphal arch commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in 1812.
Decoration on the arch

Alexander Column (with models)

Decoration on the arch
The Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side of the Neva River

It is 9:00pm in May when lights are illuminating the major buildings
The mid-night view. It is definitely still cold in Summer in St. Petersburg.

Clubbing, but it plays solely Russian songs...

3 am in the morning. Still lively
Peter and Paul Fortress - It served a a prison for high-ranking or political prisoners (including prince).

From ground level you won't know it's a fortress. Here is now it looks.
Double-headed Eagle - Coat of Arm for Russia. The body depicts St. George slaying a dragon.

Peter and Paul Cathedral - it is the burial place of most Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III.

Church of the saviour on Spilled Blood

- a traditional style Russian church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.
St. Petersburg is known as  "The Venice of the North" as the historical center is connected by canals.
Saint Isaac's Cathedral

Nevsky Prospect

The major road connecting to Moscow
A tank-taxi

Local area. The overall St. Petersburg is clean.
A modern shopping mall

Local shopping for souvenir

Trying street buns. Yum
Zvenigorodskaya - the station I stay. But actually I shall stay further away from the city center as commuting is so easy!

statue exhibiting at the Zvenigorodskaya station.
Checking out how the locals dress

The platform is like a bomb shelter, enclosed with iron gates
I've got myself a Faberge. Made in St. Petersburg

My other souvenir is this fur vest

Visit of a third palace in St. Petersburg. With RR55 and after a 45 minutes ride on local bus 404 at Baldyskaya Station, I arrive to this Peterhof (Peter's Court). It is nicknamed the home of the sumptuous "Russian Versailles". Instead of visiting the palace, I ought to visit the treasure of Peterhof - the Fountains! The fountains only open from May to October, so time your visit wisely. This palace, along with the St. Petersburg city center, is amongst the UNESCO sites.
Peterhof has upper and lower gardens. This Lower Garden is behind the palace which most of the fountains of Peterhof locate. This Sea Canal connects to the Gult of Finland draw on the water for the fountains.
The Grand Cascade was constructed in 1715 under the order of Peter the Great. Now it includes 64 fountains and more than 250 statues and reliefs.
The Samson Fountain shoots water 20m to the sky.
Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia's victory over Sweden in a war, as lion is a Swedish coat of arms and the war was won on St. Samson Day. However, this statue is a replica; the original was looted during WWII.

I remember I saw this scene in a math textbook in high school. I thought it was a computer generated graphic picture. Not until I am in St. Petersburg I realize it is real. I really appreciate life for me to see the world.
The Roman Fountain

Beautiful garden layout
The Trick Fountain

Music in the park
The Joke Fountain - water shoots out only if you

step on particular pebbles. try your luck @_@
Fountain height (water pressure) depends on your body weight. Can you escape in time?

The Sun Fountain, which the water pressure has the column to revolve
May 3, 2015, Peterhof
I saw this father in his later 20s taking his 2 year old son exploring and playing with the trick fountain. The son was thrilled and in joy figuring how the trick works, trying to step on the rocks to trigger the shower. Somehow I put myself into the position of this father; I imagine it will be so much joy if I am taking my son to explore this world. If words can describe how I feel. ;-)
The greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps. This pool at the front entrant on the Upper Garden of Peterhof created water pressure for the fountains at Lower Garden.
Golden dome at the palace

Band marching from lower garden to upper garden
Chapel and reservoirs of the Upper Garden.

Beautiful statue
My first dip of water from the Gulf of Finland
 I spend an hour walking the park of the lower garden, cherishing the moment of tranquility and  greenery.
St. Petersburg rail station.

I am taking the Red Arrow night train back to Moscow. Depart at 23:55pm
My Russia trip has come to an end. At this moment of life, I am single without burden, so can have the flexibility and leisure heart to enjoy the world and seeing difference. Soon I will start a busy job in a Chinese investment bank. My life style would change, possibly having less personal and leisure time. But change is good. I can appreciate different facet of life, can learn and grow. =)