Monday, November 3, 2014

Birthday celebration in a monastery & Catherine's Palace at Pushkin

Church at Monastery
As always, click on any image for larger view.
On our final full day in Russia we were treated first to a special celebration for the birthday of Alena's sister and then a tour of Catherine Palace outside the city at Pushkin.

My handmade Russian doll
I am embarrassed to admit that I have forgotten the name of Alena's sister.  She is a soft-spoken woman who always wore a smile each time we saw her during this short trip.  She owns or operates a bakery on the premises of a monastery and that is where her birthday celebration was held.  I am especially embarrassed about forgetting her name because she had made personalized little dolls for each of the foreign women who attended the wedding.  Mine was like a little grandmother.
Most appropriate, don't you think!

Pretty cup and plates.  And that delicious salmon!
It was another day of freezing rain and intermittent snow.  Riza again arranged taxis and once again Bill, Frank, Barbara and I crammed ourselves into a taxi intended to hold only 3 passengers.  At a major intersection Frank pointed to a huge arch with enormous statues of horses that looked as if it should be the Arc d' Triumph of St. Petersburg...if there were such a thing.  The taxi driver must have misunderstood and he turned left to pass the monument.  Soon he realized that we had not intended to send him to a new destination; turned around and got back on course for the destination to which Riza had instructed him to deliver us.

I never got the name of this monastery.  It was not the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.  And it was not the Smolny Convent and Monastery.  I found this site listing monasteries in St. Petersburg but none of these appear to be the one we visited, as you can see from the few photos taken with the iPhone.  I forgot to bring the camera this day (so no good photos of Catherine Palace either).

List of important churches and monasteries in St. Petersburg

Scrumptious baked goods!
The bakery/restaurant was situated on the right hand rear part of the monastery property.  It looked like a place where people might go not just for baked items but also for a comforting hot meal.  We understood that Alena's sister gives one-half of her restaurant earnings to the monastery.  

Tables had been set up in the rear room, covered in nice plates and serving dishes and scrumptious looking baked goods.  There were also small plates of smoked salmon (yay!!!) and small bowls of red caviar.  Large plates of "pancakes" were passed around upon which one was supposed to spread the caviar and or smoked salmon and a smear of something white (cream cheese?  sour cream?  yogurt?).  I passed on these and just ate a piece of smoked salmon.  Oh so good.  I was not really ready for caviar first thing in the morning.

Riza and new sister-in-law, with his
mom and dad on either side.

And all the sweet baked goods were delicious!  I have forgotten all the things we sampled but every one of them was delicious.  And that Russian style tea is amazing.  Really enjoyed that every time at every place during our stay.

After stuffing ourselves yet again with great foods, we wandered through the gift shop nearby.  It was filled almost entirely with religious items but I did manage to find a small glass cube with skyline of St. Petersburg etched inside.  That will go to our granddaughter as a Russian souvenir.

Church at the monastery
Monastery grounds and buildings
Then the whole group walked through the grounds of the monastery and into the church. As we walked in I noticed that Riza's mom crossed herself like a Catholic.  Later I asked Riza why she did this, as I knew she is not a Christian.  He said she does it when entering a church because she adores the Virgin Mary and shows her respect and veneration.  Now, wouldn't that surprise some of the vocal Christian folks back home who understand and know nothing about Muslims and their faith.  

One of hundreds of garden paths
at Catherine Palace
One end of Catherine Palace

This church and other buildings at this monastery were beautiful.  Wish we had at least learned the name of it.

Riza walked the group out to the main road and arranged a taxi van to take 6 of us out to Pushkin and then back to our hotel.  It was a long drive out there.  In the cold rain.  At least no ice yet this day.

One of many buildings at
Catherine Palace
In the Great Hall of Catherine Palace

Pushkin is the current name of the small town of Tsarskoy Selo.  And the site of the famous Catherine Palace and its many gardens and fountains and stables.  

Did I mention that there is a LOT of gold gilt
More gold rooms in palace

On these grounds are also situated the Alexander Palace and the White Tower and the Imperial Farm.  In total, there were 30 places to see, many of these huge structures.  The largest of which was the Catherine Palace.

And yet more gold
A more sedate use of the gold

The Catherine Palace was mostly constructed under direction of Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.  

In heaven. In a place I never thought
possible to personally visit.
Bill among the tourists, admiring the gold.

Note the elaborate wooden marquetry floor.
A very fancy desk.
I want it!
But it was occupied primarily by Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great.  It was the most ostentatious display of wealth we had ever seen.  All Bill and I could think about as we walked through the restored rooms was the same as when we wandered through the Hermitage -- how many people starved to death so that this could be built for the royalty.  It is appallingly lavish.
Fireplaces or sources of heating were
camouflaged by beautiful tiles.

I would buy this chair today.
Amazing how classic styles
do not change.  Of course, I
would not have that gold.

The most famous room is the Amber Room.  Today it is all reconstructed and renovated after a fire after being occupied by the Nazis in WWII for 3 years during the siege of St. Petersburg.  Photos were not allowed in the reconstructed Amber Room, but it looked just like the images in this YouTube video of the original room, pre-Nazi looting.

YouTube Video of Catherine Palace and info

Another classic style chair
Since I forgot our camera and all the photos we took were with the crappy phone, I have included a couple of links that show some of the sights at Catherine Palace and provide a bit of information. 

Info about the palace on this site

Nice photos on this palace tour site

Another link about grounds at Catherine Palace

Classic dining side chair
Because Bill worked in the furniture manufacturing business for decades, we each took special notice of the furniture in the palace.  Numerous chairs attracted our special attention.  

Each of the 3 chairs in these photos are such classic style that these would be big sellers in a high-quality furniture store even today.  

We would buy any of these today -- without all that gilded gold, of course! 

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