Tuesday, March 14, 2017 - St. Isaac's Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Visiting artist Iurii Petrochenkov, Faberge Museum

The Belmond Grand Europe Hotel is quite fancy. We headed downstairs for breakfast, and the dining room had amazingly detailed stained glass windows on the ceiling and the far wall. When we sat down at our table, they even brought me a little red upholstered stool for my purse to sit on!

I should take a moment to say that we did not choose the hotels on this trip; they were part of the set itinerary. We can only imagine that the Belmond Grand gave A&K really deep discounts for the off-season. Considering the good price we got on the entire trip, we are surprised that it even covered the cost of our stay at the Belmond alone. The hotel had a fancy bar and five fancy restaurants which were above our budget. The only meal that we ate there was the breakfast, which was included in the price of the room.

The buffet was extensive, and we enjoyed beef stroganoff, hunter's sausage, cheese, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, coffee, and cranberry juice. There were also some of the most amazing cheese danishes I have ever tasted.

We met our "guardian angel" Sergei just before 10 a.m. Our meeting with him was quite brief, as we had no questions or concerns. Sergei asked if the room was satisfactory, and apologized that since the hotel dates back to 1875, the rooms are a bit small by modern standards. How he could be apologizing for this world-class hotel, which was so far beyond what we require, we have no idea. We assured him that we were overwhelmed by the luxury of the hotel. The room was perfectly spacious.

Tamara met us in the lobby for our day of touring. No bus today: we were in a black Mercedes sedan with tinted windows. Again, much more luxury than we are used to. Minivans are fine with us, but we certinly enjoyed the luxury. We met Andrey, who would be our driver for the remainder of the trip. He was very professional, attentive, and friendly.

Although it was not on the itinerary, Tamara knew that we had enjoyed visiting different churches. The St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral had a Lenten service at 10 a.m., so she wanted to bring us there. The baby blue and white exterior of the church is of a baroque style, dating back to the 1750's. It has always been associated with sailors and employees of the nearby Admiralty (St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors). The matching bell tower was a separate structure in front of the church.

As a woman, I had to cover my head to enter. I was wearing a nice scarf, so that worked nicely and I didn't look much different than the locals. Two priests were standing in the center of the church, leading the congregation in prayer, chanting readings from a giant gilded Bible. People were lighting candles in front of icons. The gates of the gilded iconostasis were open (in active churches, this only happens during services), and we could see the altar through the opened gates. A choir was singing intermittently, and it sounded lovely in the acoustics of the church.

It was fascinating, and we are grateful that Tamara spontaneously decided to add it to our itinerary.

When we got back to the car, Andrey insisted on opening the car doors for us. He then drove us to St. Isaac's Cathedral. It is the 4th highest domed cathedral in the world. Its patron saint, Isaac, advocated for the holy trinity in the 4th century. The cathedral is a remarkable feat of early 19th century engineering, as it is built on a swamp. To prove that the design would work, they built scale models which have survived the past 199 years and are still on display within the cathedral today.

The foundation of the building is 7 meters thick. At the front of the building stand 48 columns. Each is carved from a single piece of granite, and they stand 17 meters tall and each weigh 114 tons. There were models which show how the columns were raised: an elaborate scaffolding structure was built around the front of the cathedral. Each column was surrounded by wooden planks and fabric, and they were hoisted using a capstan system. It took a crew of eight men 45 minutes to raise a single column.

The interior of the church is gorgeous! The paintings are stunningly, vibrantly colored. The iconostasis is framed by brilliant columns covered in a veneer of polished green malachite and blue lapis lazuli. The open gates of the iconostasis reveal an elaborate stained glass window depicting Jesus. The underside of the central dome depicts the holy spirit, which St. Isaac advocated was as much a part of God as Jesus Christ was.

There are religious-themed mosaics where each tile could consist of several colors, to provide a 3-dimensional effect. There are also matching paintings which were used as models during the creation of the mosaics. There are imposing oak doors with bronze relief work depicting the life of St. Isaac and the baptism of Russia by St. Vladimir.

Tamara explained that during World War II, the basement of this cathedral was used to store and protect various works of art. Curators lived down there to protect and catalog the items.

The cathedral was awe-inspiring, and we very much enjoyed our visit.

We got back into the car and Tamara explained the various sights as we drove through the city center. As we drove around the various islands and canals which make up the city, we stopped on the banks of the Neva River at the Quay with Sphinxes. At this area at Universitetskaya Embankment, two 3,500-year-old stone sphinx statues look out over the river, having been brought to Russia from Egypt in 1832. It was similar to a ghat in that there were steps down to the river. I walked down to the bottom step and looked across the frozen river. I could see St. Isaac's as well as the Admiralty on the opposite bank. Several tourists had walked right out onto the ice here to take selfies. Although it may have been safe, it seemed quite risky, especially this late in the season.

Andrey drove us through the Twelve Colleges, a gorgeous, sprawling, red and white stucco'ed baroque building dating back to the mid 1700's. This building was commissioned by Peter the Great as the seat of the 12 branches of the Russian Government. Today it is the home of St. Petersburg State University. We drove by the Kunstkammer, a gorgeous teal-colored baroque structure built in the early 1700's to house Peter the Great's collection of medical oddities.

We drove further along the river and stopped at another point along the Neva called the Strelka, or Spit. This is on the end of Vasilevskiy Island, which cleaves the Neva River into the Malaya (Small) Neva to the north and the Bolshaya (Large) Neva to the south. There were two "rostral columns" here, 32 meter tall lighthouses built in 1810. They were originally oil lamps, but now they burn gas, and are only lit for special occasions. We looked across to the opposite bank at the at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, which would be our next stop.

Andrey crossed a bridge to the Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost) on Hare Island between the Neva River and the Kronverksky Strait. Peter the Great began construction of the fortress in 1703 to protect his city from invading Swedes. It was completed 22 years later. Included within the walls of the fortress are a cathedral, a former prison, and a mint, among other buildings.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is easily recognizable by its long, thin gilded steeple. It was commissioned by Peter the Great in 1712 to celebrate military victories. Peter the Great planned the height of the steeple so that it would be even taller than Ivan the Great's bell tower in the Kremlin. As we entered, we were greeted by Klava, the resident calico cat. She proudly posed for a photo, and Tamara said that Klava believes herself to be a Tsarina, and is treated accordingly.

The iconostasis of this church is carved from linden wood (the same wood used to carve matryoshkas). Icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary are depicted wearing the dress of a Tsar and Tsarina. After Peter the Great's death in 1725, he and successive Tsars were entombed here.

We really enjoyed the animated film Anastasia, historical fiction about the fall of the Romanov dynasty. In the film, an orphaned girl discovers that she is really Anastasia Romanov, and reunites with her only surviving relative, her exiled grandmother Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. This movie encapsulated the hope of many Russian people at the time that a Romonov heir might have somehow managed to have escaped the family's execution in Yekaterinburg following the Red October Revolution. The movie was released one year before remains found in Yekaterinburg in the late 1970's were positively identified as Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and daughters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia.

Following the DNA testing in 1998, the remains of these five family members (as well as their faithful servants who were murdered alongside them) were entombed in this church, in the Chapel of St. Catherine the Martyr. It was quite sad to see their tombs, especially those of the children. Since 1998, the remains of their daughter Maria and son Alexei have been identified, but they have not yet been laid to rest with the rest of the family.

As we walked around the church, we were invited into a little side chapel. Four singers performed an a capella version of the Lord's Prayer for us. The acoustics were amazing, and their voices blended ethereally. We really enjoyed this little treat, and wanted to give them a donation. They had several CD's of religious and folk music for sale which they had recorded in this chapel. They had a great deal for three CD's, and we were happy to purchase them to add to our collection.

Exiting the church, we walked across the courtyard and down an alley to the Trubetskoy Bastion, a political prison in operation from 1872-1921. Although the sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, and temperatures were in the 40's, we were walking into the wind. The arctic cold swept down the Neva River. We were thankful for the beautiful weather, imagining just how cold it must be in the depths of winter.

The first political prisoner held in the fortress was Tsarevitch Alexsey, son of Peter the Great. Alexsey was unjustly accused of treason, and, after a succeessful escape abroad, was told that he would be pardoned if he returned to Russia. However, on his return, he was tortured and beaten to death. Subsequent political prisoners included Dostoevsky, and the Decembrists. This originaal prison, known as thh Secret House, was replaced in 1872 by Trubetskoy Bastion.

Trubetskoy Bastion was used as a holding facility for suspected enemies of the state while they were awaiting trial. Following trials, they were either exonerated, executed, or banished to Siberia. At the entrance, we saw the simple clothing which was issued to prisoners. These included lightweight shirts, pants, slippers, and gowns. There was also a straightjacket on display. We also saw the woolen clothing (coat, pants, and hat) and shackles which were worn by those exiled to Siberia. The jacket had a red diamond-shaped piece of cloth ("ace of diamonds") sewn onto the back to identify them as prisoners. Though obviously warmer than the prison garb, it still looked like no match for cold Siberian winters!

A diorama showed the registration process for intake of prisoners. Guards were required to look away from prisoners, as nobody was supposed to know exactly whom was imprisoned here.

There were 69 solitary confinement cells. These were surprisingly spacious, but sparsely furnished. Several of the cells have been refurbished to their prior condition. A cell contained a simple bed, a writing table and lamp, sink, and a toilet made of a wooden box with a round hole in the top. The doors contained a long narrow slit at eye-height, and a small hinged flap through which food could be passed. There was a window which let in natural light. There were stoves recessed into the walls between cells. Staff would stoke the stoves from the hallway, and the stoves would heat the adjacent cells.

All activities except for reading were banned. Prisoners were not allowed contact with other prisoners or with the staff. Because of this, the prisoners developed a sort of morse code "tapping alphabet" to communicate with one another. If someone suspected that he or she would be arrested, they would study up on this alphabet.

As if this wasn't solitary enough, prisoners who misbehaved would be sent to one of two isolation cells. These cells were unheated, and insulated so as to be sound-proof. They were not allowed to read or smoke while in isolation, and could remain there for up to a week at a time.

It was quite a somber place to visit. 1500 prisoners served time in this prison, women as well as men. Oil lamps were eventually banned after the self-immolation of a prisoner. After the 1917 revolution, the prison was still in use for an additional five years. However, the tables turned. Rather than Communist revolutionaries, the inmates became anti-communists and those loyal to the Tsar.

Those imprisoned in Trubetskoy Bastion include:
  • Alexander Ulyanov (Lenin's brother who attempted to assassinate Alexander III)
  • writer Maxim Gorky (following his protest of the Bloody Sunday shooting of participants in a peace march in 1905)
  • Marxist revolutionaryt Leon Trotsky
  • Ministers of Tsar Nicholas II
  • Pitirim Sorokin (Arrested multiple times as an anti-Communist, he narrowly escaped death at Lenin's orders and was eventually exiled. He came to the United States and was a sociology professor at Harvard from 1930-1959. He died in Winchester, Massachusetts in 1968.)
We were reminded of a painting that we saw at the Tretyakov Gallery called "Princess Tarakanova in Prison" by Konstantin Flavitsky. This woman, who pretended to be a Russian princess, was ordered arrested by Catherine the Great. She died in Peter and Paul Fortress in 1775. The painting was quite striking: the princess stands on her bed leaning against the cell walls, while water floods her cell and a rat clings to her mattress.

After a sobering visit to the prison, we exited the fortress. Andrey was right there to pick us up, and helped Craig to get into the car (the car was a bit low for Craig and he had some difficulty getting in and out). As we crossed the bridge, we noticed a hovercraft moored at a pier. We thought that was probably a fun vehicle on the ice!

On our way to our next destination, we passed the warship Cruiser Aurora. This shape dates back to the year 1900. In 1917, it fired a blank shot which was the signal for revolutionaries to storm the Winter Palace in the Red October revolution. Tamara said that in Soviet times, all schoolchildren learned the first letter of the Cyrillic alphabet as "A is for Aurora". There is also a joke: What is the most powerful Soviet weapon? The Aurora. It fired a single shot and caused 70 years of economic ruin. This seems typical of the dark humor of the Russian people.

We drove to a more residential area of the city. Andrey dropped us off at Liteinij Prospekt, next to a rather incongruous wall decorated with Chinese tiles. It was brightly colored and quite pretty, but seemed to have little to do with its surrounding neighborhood. We were here to visit a local artist.

We walked about a block and were met on the street by a jovial gentleman with long gray hair and a neatly trimmed white beard. He shook our hands in welcome and introduced himself as Iurii Petrochenkov. He invited us inside. We walked through a nondescript door and he ushered us into a tiny elevator. There wasn't enough room for all four of us, so Iurii walked up the stairs and met us at the landing.

His lovely wife Neli welcomed us to their flat. They took our coats and showed us in to their living room and started to chat. The personable, 75-year-old Iurii started out his career as an industrial designer in Soviet times. In those times, to be an artist, you needed to sign allegiance to the Communist Party. He did not do this, and as a result only became a professional artist after the collapse of Communism. He paints and also creates and decorates porcelain. Neli is a retired biologist who specialized in "acoustic bugs" (crickets, cicadas, etc.) They have one adult son who lives with them, but he was off at a dentist appointment this afternoon.

Their high-ceilinged apartment is incredily interesting, as he has much of his own work on display as well as souvenirs from travel and gifts from artist friends. It could be a museum in its own right.

The living room contained a glass showcase filled with his porcelain work. The styles and subject matter ran the gamut from abstract to surreal, political to satirical. He has created many porcelain eggs, as they are so symbolic in Russian Orthodox culture. In fact, he was just commissioned to create a porcelain egg for an upcoming Dali exhibition at the Faberge Museum. It is a surreal egg with little arms protruding from the sides. Iurii's abstract and surrealist paintings hung on the wall. We enjoyed admiring his work; he is very talented. The living room featured a small loft accessible via a wooden ladder.

He and Neli have much heavy, wooden, antique furniture. There are old family photos displayed, including an original large format print of Neli's grandmother. Together with its frame, it dates back to 1912. Next to it is a framed swatch from the actual dress that she is wearing in the photograph.

The kitchen feels old fashioned and comfortable. A collection of beer steins sits on a shelf, along with samovars and vases. Porcelain plates are decoratively mounted on the walls, including some which were painted by their son as a child. On the wall there was antique phone from the 1920's which still works today. Iurii put the receiver up to my ear and I could hear the dial tone. There were two bells on top and a heavy rotary dial. He said that he finds it much more satisfying to dial than a cell phone.

They brought us into their lovely formal dining room for tea and delicious homemade snacks prepared by Neli. We had not yet had lunch today, so the vast spread of food really hit the spot. We sampled various varieties of homemade cakes and biscuits, as well as store-bought fruit jellied candies. Neli insisted that we try everything, and refilled our china plates as soon as fast as we could eat. The dining room was decorated with paintings created by their friends, as well as religious icons collected by their families over the years.

Iurii asked us how Russia compared with our expectations, and a lively conversation ensued during which we explained our philosophy of travel and meeting people from around the world. They told us how in Soviet times, anything from America was banned, which made them covet it all the more. At public dances, people were stopped if they tried to do rock and roll style dances, and were instead made to waltz. Everyone at that time thought that the grass was always greener on the American side of the world, but now they have some nostalgia for the Soviet times.

Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Russians were allowed to travel, Iurii and Neli took full advantage of the opportunity. He has shown his art work at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, as well as in New York City and Washington, D.C. As they are now growing older, they appreciate being at home more, and like to host foreigners in their home so that they get to meet and talk with people from other cultures without having to leave home.

We could have chatted with them for hours, and before we knew it, it was time to thank them and say goodbye and head off to our next destination. It was a wonderful visit, and they are lovely people. This was a highlight of the trip, as we always like to connect with local people. We hope to meet Iurii and Neli again some day; they are fascinating, friendly, talented people.

Andrey picked us up and drove us to our last stop on the day's tour: the Faberge Museum. This is a private museum of decorative-applied and fine arts which has only been open for 3.5 years. It is housed in historic Shuvalov Palace. The palace dates back to the late 18th century, and underwent extensive restoration between 2006 and 2013. The palace was leased to the Link of Times foundation, founded by Viktor Vekselberg to repatriate Russian works of art that have wound up overseas.

The foundation's first project was the acquisition of the world's largest collection of items by Carl Faberge, owned by Malcolm Forbes in the United States. These Faberge items, as well as other works of art created by Faberge and their contemporaries, have been on display since the museum opened in 2013.

The highlights of the collection are 9 Imperial Faberge Eggs which were commissioned by the Romanov family. The House of Faberge was a prestigious fine jewelry workshop founded by Estonian-born Gustav Faberge, and passed on to his son Carl.

Carl Faberge's work had impressed Emperor Alexander III and his wife Empress Maria Fyodorovna at the All-Russian Art and Industrial Exposition in 1882. Easter is a very important time in the Russian Orthodox religion, and eggs are the symbol of St. Petersburg. Alexander III commissioned an Easter egg from Carl Faberge for his wife Maria Fyodorovna in 1885.

That first Imperial Faberge egg was on display here. The egg looks plain from the outside, like a real chicken egg in white enamel. Inside is a round yolk made of gold, and inside of that is a gold chicken. (So in a way, it had a matryoshka-like component). Empress Maria was so impressed that it became a tradition for her husband to order a new egg for her each Easter. It took the Faberge company a full year to complete each egg, delivering it on Good Friday. Each egg contained a surprise of some kind.

Upon Alexander III's death, his son Nicholas II took up the tradition, commissioning eggs for his mother Maria and wife Alexandra. All in all, there were 50 Imperial eggs produced up until Nicholas II abdicated the throne in 1917.

Eight other Imperial eggs are on display here. They became much more elaborate and detailed than the original egg. They are encrusted with diamonds, rubies, pearls, and jade. There are gold and platinum adornments. The enamel is oftentimes decorated with fine machine-engraved herringbone patterns through a technique called guilloche. This give the eggs a shimmering, color changing effect.

The Coronation Imperial egg was a gift from Emperor Nicholas II to his wife Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna on Easter of 1897. It celebrates the couple's coronation, and the surprise inside of this egg is an exact replica of their coronation carriage. The surface of the egg itself resembles luxurious golden royal upholstery, with the guilloche's patterns tufted with double headed eagles.

The Lilies of the Valley Imperial egg (given by Nicholas II to Alexandra Fyodorovna on Easter 1898) uses guilloche for a speckled effect. The egg itself is rose with flecks of guilloche gold. The egg is covered with three dimensional pearl lilies of the valley (the Empress' favorite flower). When a pearl key is turned, the diamond crown on the top lifts automatically. Below it, three miniature portraits fan out: Nicholas II and his two eldest daughters. The portraits are encircled with diamonds. They are watercolor paintings, and as such, the amount of detail and photo-realism is mindblowing.

As time went on and the House of Faberge needed some unique ideas, the "eggs" eventually became more diverse. The Cockerel Imperial Easter Egg Clock was a gift from Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna on Easter of 1900. This clock is shaped like an inverted egg on a golden stand. The surprise of this egg is that a miniature rooster pops out of the top, flaps his wings, and crows before disappearing back into the egg.

The Bay Tree Imperial Easter Egg is not an egg at all, but Another gift from Nicholas II to his mother, Easter 1911, this egg celebrate her 30-year anniversary of her coronation. It is in the shape of a laurel tree with fine jade leaves. A bird pops up from the top, sings, and then disappears back into the laurel.

The Fifteenth Anniversary Imperial Easter Egg was gift from Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, Easter 1911. It did not open to reveal a surprise, so its exterior could be even more elaborately decorated. Incredibly detailed miniature watercolor portraits depict the royal family, as well as key historical events from their fifteen years in power. We saw young Anastasia's portrait, and thought of this morning's visit to her tomb.

In addition to having the first Imperial Easter Egg (the Hen Egg), this collection also includes the final Imperial Easter Egg. The Order of St. George Easter egg was commissioned by Nicholas II for his mother Maria Fyodorovna for Easter 1916. The egg celebrates the awarding of the Order of St. George medal to Nicholas II and his son Alexei. Much like the first egg, it was more simple than some of the others. Luxury materials were hard to come by during World War I. This egg is decorated with opaque white enamel painted with a simple floral and leaf motif. Order of St. George medals pop up to reeveal miniature portraits of Nicholas II and Alexei, and they are connected by detailed gold ribbons. This egg was the only one which Maria Fyodorovna was able to take with her when she fled Russia in 1919. It was in her possession until her death in Denmark in 1928.

Viktor Vekselberg has purchased whatever vestiges of Imperial eggs that he can find, and as such, some eggs in the collection have no surprises, and some surprises in the collection have no eggs.

We have seen Faberge eggs on television and in photos, but we had no idea just how impressive they were until we saw them in person. The detail is amazing. Such small, priceless treasures! We were blown away!

The museum also houses non-Imperial eggs created by Faberge. The Duchess of Marlborough clock seemed to be both pink and gold at once depending on the angle of the light, due to the guilloche herringbone patterns on its enamel. A diamond encrusted serpent indicated the time.

There were other Faberge objects which had nothing to do with Easter eggs. There was a diamond and platinum necklace which could be separated into two bracelets commissioned by Immanuel Nobel for his wife. It contained a medallion engraved with the portraits of their two children.

Faberge produced works in 144 different enamel colors. In the anteroom, we saw display cases of items grouped according to color. One case contained around 50 pink/gold guilloche enamel pieces: clocks, belt buckles, photo frames, snuff boxes, opera glasses, jewelry boxes, walking cane handles, jewelry, letter openers, nail clippers. Other cases were devoted to green items, blue items, etc.

There were display cases of a variety of items made as gifts for the Tsars to distribute to friends and dignitaries. Some were made by Faberge, and some by contemporary craftsmen. The items included snuff boxes (some elaborately painted, some with intricate tiny inlaid mosaics), photo frames, plates, and "objets de fantaisie" (works of art with no practical purpose, including clay figures of peasants).

While we were walking around studying the minute detailing on each item, focusing on the micro, we lost track of the macro: that all of these exhibits were displayed in a beautiful palace which would be worthy of a tour in its own right. Things are so opulent in St. Petersburg that sometimes you get a bit immune to it, and need to take a step back and consider your surroundings.

Other rooms housed other art forms, and though we looked at all of it, our imaginations were captivated by the Faberge eggs. They really stole the show. It seemed so romantic as well. Here was a royal family for whom money was absolutely no object. Yet the Tsars kept up this romantic tradition of giving a sentimental, beautiful gift to the women in their lives. This thoughtful, romantic gesture does more to humanize the royal family than anything we had seen in Russia thus far.

The other galleries contained military themed art, Russian silver (samovars, tea sets, kovsh drinking vessels), porcelain, and enamelware. There was also a collection of icons, some fashioned by Faberge.

We bought a couple of items in the gift shop, and then headed back to the hotel for a short rest before heading out for dinner. We said thank you and goodnight to Tamara and Andrey, and would see them again the next morning. The doormen at the hotel greeted us by name.

After taking a short rest and dressing for the colder weather of evening, we walked down Nevsky Prospekt toward a sign for Georgian food that we had seen a couple of blocks away. Along the way, We stopped at a souvenir shop to look at their extensive collection of matryoshkas. They had an amazingly beautiful matryoshka which consisted of 30 dolls and was exquisitely painted. I was drooling over it, but with a $3000 price tag, I was content to drool.

Craig struck up a conversation with a young lady who worked there named Viktoria. She was quite friendly and asked where we were from. We chatted with her and she asked us if we preferred Moscow or St. Petersburg. Since we have been here, we have realized that St. Petersburg seems to have a rivalry with Moscow, and always seems to be trying to prove itself (perhaps because its status as the capital was taken away by Moscow). Craig said that he knew well enough not to take sides, and Viktoria laughed. She was interested in our travels, and we gave her a card so that she could visit our web site.

We walked a block further on Nevsky Prospekt and around the corner to Khinkalnaya on the Neva, a cosy Georgian restaurant. We had such an appreciation for the Georgian food that we ate in Moscow that we wanted more. We each had a shot of Russian Standard Original Vodka, and Craig had a Georgian beer. I had a glass of cranberry mors.

For appetizers we had Magrelian style khachapuri (like a sauceless pizza on delicate dough topped with sulguni cheese) and chakhokhbili (stewed chicken with onion, bell pepper, tomato, spices, and garlic). As a main course, we shared an order of sadzh (meat ragout of veal, chicken, lamb, and onions, with grilled potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant). Everything was absolutely delicious. We each had an additional shot of vodka before heading back to the hotel.

On our walk back to the Belmond Grand, we stopped into a book store called Bookvoed ("Verbalist") and enjoyed browsing through their selection of books and souvenirs. They had an especially interesting Soviet section. Like every other building, this book store was stiflingly hot. But unlike restaurants and museums, there was no place to check our coats. We really enjoyed browsing, but we were sweating.

We went upstairs and I lost sight of Craig for a moment. Then I noticed him sticking his face through a cartoon cut-out of what our European friends have kindly informed us are the Moomins (Finnish trolls). Shopping after vodka shots is fun!

We had an amazing first full day in St. Petersburg. Tomorrow it is off to the Hermitage!

St. Isaac's Cathedral

Peter and Paul Fortress

Faberge Museum

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

Tsar Nicholas I statue in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral

Tsar Nicholas I statue in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral

Ceiling of St. Isaac's Cathedral

Ceiling of St. Isaac's Cathedral

The Holy Spirit is depicted on the interior of the center done, St. Isaac's Cathedral

The Holy Spirit is depicted on the interior of the center done, St. Isaac's Cathedral

Iconostasis framed by pillars of malachite and lapis lazuli, St. Isaac's Cathedral

Iconostasis framed by pillars of malachite and lapis lazuli, St. Isaac's Cathedral

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

Cruiser Aurora,  which fired a blank shot to signal the storming of the Winter Palace in the Red October revolution of 1917

Cruiser Aurora, which fired a blank shot to signal the storming of the Winter Palace in the Red October revolution of 1917

Iurii Petrochenkov shows Craig his porcelain work

Iurii Petrochenkov shows Craig his porcelain work

Artwork by Iurii Petrochenkov displayed in his apartment

Artwork by Iurii Petrochenkov displayed in his apartment

Tea and sweets with the Petrochenkovs: Tamara, artist Iurii Petrochenkov, his wife Neli, and Craig

Tea and sweets with the Petrochenkovs: Tamara, artist Iurii Petrochenkov, his wife Neli, and Craig

Blue Room, Shuvalov Palace, which houses 14 Faberge eggs

Blue Room, Shuvalov Palace, which houses 14 Faberge eggs

Hen Egg, the first Imperial Faberge egg

Hen Egg, the first Imperial Faberge egg, gift from Alexander III to wife Maria Fyodorovna, Easter 1885

Renaissance Imperial Easter Egg Jewelry Box

Renaissance Imperial Easter Egg Jewelry Box, gift from Alexander III to wife Maria Fyodorovna, Easter 1894

Coronation Easter Egg

Coronation Imperial Easter Egg, gift from Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, Easter 1897

A Georgian dinner at Khinkalnaya on the Neva

A Georgian dinner at Khinkalnaya on the Neva

Georgian Beer, cranberry mors, and vodka at Khinkalnaya on the Neva

Georgian Beer, cranberry mors, and vodka at Khinkalnaya on the Neva

Craig frolics with the Moomins in Bookvoed bookstore

Craig frolics with the Moomins in Bookvoed bookstore

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