St. Petersburg
By Yvonne Mason

We arrived in traffic clogged St. Petersburg, from Helsinki on a Finnish train, after a relaxing seven hour ride through forests of cedar, birch, oak, anchored by fallen cottonwoods and the bluest skies with fluffy white clouds. My thoughts of Dr. Zhivago and romantic eighteenth/early nineteenth century characters gave way to twenty-first century chaos.

Hotel Dostoyevsky, named for one of my favorite writers, was refurbished from something else, the windows did not open, did not look out to sky or street, but into a indoor three story mall.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg has many malls, capitalism is alive and well in Russia, even though many inhabitants were complaining of having no money.

Amazing onion domed cathedrals and palaces are there for everyone to see, but if one wants to go inside, itís gonna cost and usually a lot of rubles.

Cathedral of the Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in St. Petersburg, although it is recently reconstructed, the frescoes appeared to be the originals, but who knows from where. Our guide really didnít want to show us this beauty for some reason we were not able to understand, but we persevered.

Five million people live in St Petersburg and it appears each one constantly smokes two cigarettes at a time. We seriously could not breathe. We bought deli food to eat in our room, as there was way too much smoke billowing out of the restaurant doors.

Dostoyevsky Hotel breakfast was dreary at best, the smoked salmon slimy. It is better to stay with yogurt in cartons and fruit you peel.

LíHermitage is a complex of five palaces. The Gold Room has the most extensive collection of gold objects including those of 2nd and 3rd century central Russian tribes, with antelopes, bears and other animals. Greek crowns by the dozen, jewels, jewels, jewels and incredible rubies, huge baroque pearls, depicting frogs, ships and other fantasies. Gold serving pieces, snuff boxes and accoutrements of the privileged.

St Petersburg

LíHermitageís Italian Renaissance collection has Fra Angelo, Titan, , Raffael, Tintorento, and two Leonardo da Vinci madonnas with no barriers. One can get nose length from these amazing paintings. Canít do that in the Louvre. Michelangelo statues and 34 Rembrandts, plus all those Impressionist works make this palace worth the trip to St. Petersburg.

Catherine Palace, built for Catherine the Great, is robins egg blue and white with copious gilt accents. It is stunning. The ballroom of mirrors, windows , lights and gold, gold, gold, is the most beautiful room I have ever seen. The Amber Room, dismantled during WWII, is reconstructed of thousands of soft amber pieces in all shades of the resin, carved to cover the entire room. This is a big deal and a supposed must see and, of course, costs extra money. I could easily skip it, amber looks much better as jewelry..

Peterhof Palace, built for Peter the Great, is a most amazing display of gilt onion domes, gardens with espaliered fruit trees, thousands of tulips and fountains synchronized to dazzle the most sophisticated. It is out at on the gulf of Finland. The best, most impressive way to get there, is by barge, from St. Petersburg. However, the day we were there the sea was way to rough.

The Grand Hotel, on the Nevsky Prospekt somewhat like a barren Rodeo Drive, is a grande dame from the beginning of the 20th Century and fairly smoke free. It is very expensive and we found dining here to be worth every penny. We indulge in the best beluga and ostrega caviar served with toast points, chopped egg whites and yolks and a dollop of sour cream. Imperia Vodka served icy cold in crystal glasses is $25 per shot. The bill U. S. was $140. The chef sent us complimentary fois gras with white peach slice. The taste splurge will be remembered for the rest of our lives.

Several days later we are back on the clean Finnish train for the lovely ride, through forests, to by now our friend Helsinki.

Was the trip to St. Petersburg worth it? Iíd say definitely yes because of the art, the palaces, the cathedrals and the caviar.

Last update Mon February 18, 2013 2:11 PM