The Hemitage and the Winter Palace

Actually a thoroughly imposing complex made up of five different buildings: the old Hermitage, the new Hermitage, the large Hermitage, the small Hermitage and of course the Winter Palace. There is a canal crossing through two of these and to tell you the truth I am not quite sure which one of the buildings I am standing in front of in the photo.

A visit to the Hermitage or the Winter Palace would have been impossible if we hadn't prebooked. It opens to the general public at 11 am – not the earliest of opening times for a museum - and we would have had to queue for hours. Our tour arrangements circumvented all this. We were allowed into the museum on arrival at about 9 am and we had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours. As we wandered around the exhibits we could see all the other poor sods queuing outside in their thousands - as shown above.
Inside the Hermitage and the Winter Palace

‘In Russia Baroque means gold.’ The only place I have ever seen which is more ornate and over the top is the Vatican Museum of which curiously enough a replica passage is found inside the Palace. Catherine the Great visited the place, found it to her liking and had a copy made to measure. That's it in the photo above. I have seen the original. It is identical. Except that what you see here is not stucco but canvas!

The River Neva

The man responsible for the whole enchilada. That’s Peter the Great.

A glimpse of the ‘Aurora’, the battleship that fired the blank shot that that signalled the start of the assault on the Winter Palace and therefore the October Revolution, It’s a museum nowadays.

The ship was flying the Russian Federation flag, the Naval ensign and the Naval Jack. They were all designed by Peter the Great, a man with very limited imagination - according to our guide. The countries he most admired were Holland, England and Scotland. So he used the Dutch Flag placed upside down as the Russian flag, the Scottish Saltire but with a white cross of Saint Andrew on blue for the navy - the naval ensign - and a slightly modified Union Jack for the military - the Russian naval jack.

The Church of Our Saviour of the Spilt Blood

The name this stereotypically Russian church refers to the fact that it was built over the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.

When visiting this church we noticed two things. One was that there were quite a few people dancing and singing, celebrating their wedding day. The second was that all the metal railings that lined the canal that crossed the main road were full of uselessly locked padlocks. Apparently these were placed there by newly married couples who then symbolically threw away the key.

St. Isaacs Cathedral

The square in which the cathedral stands marks the beginning of the end of the WWII German siege of Leningrad. The facade of the church is pockmarked with bullet holes.

The Astoria, an dull looking five star hotel that stands just next to the cathedral. It seems that Hitler was so sure that his army would take Leningrad that he arranged to hold a victory celebration party in this hotel: he even had a guest list and had tickets printed for the event.

The Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul

On top of the cathedrals’ gilded spire stands a golden angel holding a cross. This weathervane makes it one of the most prominent symbols of St Petersburg and the highest building in the city – or until Gazprom builds its skyscraper on the banks of the Neva.

Built on Sayachii Ostrov inside the Fortress of the same name which was the first thing Peter the Great built in St. Petersburg. For many years it served as a high security political prison - Dostoyevsky, Gorky and Trotsky were all inmates at one time or the other.

The cathedral is also the last resting place for the Romanov family. They are all there including Nicholas II and his family who were killed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks and then buried in various locations. There is a special room – shown above - reserved for them. You are not allowed to go inside but our guide thought it appropriate to tell us that ‘It took a hell of a long time to sort out all their bones!’

Moving on she added, ‘If you believe in science and DNA identification they are all there. However if you don’t it becomes quite interesting especially in the case of Anastasia . . . ‘