Saint Petersburg: Pushkin Palace - Smolny Cathedral

Saint Petersburg


September 11, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

I met Rainer at the B & B in Saint Petersburg.  Rainer works for an insurance company in Germany and is here on a four day holiday.  In his early forties, he is single and adventurous.   He has traveled the world from Bonn to Bangkok to Burkina Faso.

We decided on two trips together – one out of town and one local.

Pushkin (Tsarskove Selo) lies 25k south of the city (Metro and minibus.)   Here is one description: 

“The Palace and Park ensemble were created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries....For admirers of Russian poetry, the place has a particular emotional value: it was here that the young Alexander Pushkin wrote his first verses….The Catherine Palace is the focal point of the ensemble.  Created over two hundred years ago, the palace has retained all of its solemn dignity and perfect beauty.”

The palace was destroyed during the War but the buildings and grounds have been restored to what must have been their original grandeur.  We strolled among outdoor sculptures, lakes, bridges, perfect gardens and dozens of palace rooms filled with art work, furnishings and dinnerware fit for a Tsar and Tsarina.

After our tour, Rainer and I visited our favorite cafeteria.  I selected the warm beet and onion borscht, juicy stuffed peppers and mashed potatoes.  I chanced a berry strudel for desert, but unfortunately, nobody makes strudel like my grandmother.  Well, maybe your grandmother.

Instead of our normal left turn to Nevsky Prospekt, the next day we took a right, hopped a bus, and headed for the Smolny Cathedral.   In the plaza near the cathedral, I get a sense of “imperial” and “imperious” Saint Petersburg.  The imposing municipal buildings are surrounded by broad parks fitted with the ever present statuary of Marx, Engels and Lenin.  At the city hall, a brace of stern-visaged guards signaled a decidedly stern “Nyet” when we tried to enter.  They did allow us a couple of photos.  

With its “forest” of towers and onion domes, the blue and white Smolny Cathedral seems to “soar” to the heavens.  The bell tower is 63m (206 ft).  For a small fee, Rainer and I climbed to the top for a sweeping view of the city.

In the evening, with our luggage rolling behind us, Rainer and I walked together to the MOCKBA Vukshal – Moscow Railway Station. *   I boarded the train for the three hour ride to Novgorod.   Rainer took a minibus to the Saint Petersburg Airport.  (The three letter airport designation is LED.  Can you guess why?)  I shook hands with my new friend.   He invited me to visit him in Cologne in the event I grow tired of frigid Siberia.  We’ll see….

Keeping warm, so far,


PS In the outskirts of St P stands a huge statute of Lenin, his beckoning arm outstretched to the world.  Tell me, my friends, where else in the world will I find such a statue, in the middle of an enormous plaza with a corps de ballet of water fountains blasting streams of water, soaring spouts  of showers, water dancing  to the heavens to the rhythm of the music of…wait for it… Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite?!  

  • There’s a delightful story about the origin of the “Russian” word for railway station –Vukshal.  Apparently years ago, several Russian dignitaries visited England and alighted at the Vauxhall Railway station in London.  They spotted the large Vauxhall sign and decided that that must be the word for “station.”
  •  BTW, the “Russian” word for railway ticket is “bilyet.”

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