Tucked into poppy seed buns this a.m. en route to explore this beautiful city, doing a self-guided tour of Nevsky Prospekt and the shops and sights along it. Glorious summer weather with just a welcome tinge of marine air. Started shooting photos at the landmark Church on Spilled Blood (so named because it was built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated). Followed the Moika River to Nevsky Prospekt, a bustling street typical of any big city major street except the buildings along it are old and elegant, such as the Alexandrinsky and Stroganov Palaces. Stopped for lunch at an enticing food shop and cafe where they had the most beautiful cupcakes and macarons.
Found a fabulous shoe store and a yummy pair of Italian shoe/boots followed me home. Sochi gear is all the rage this year and Willie picked up some souvineers.
Carried on to the magnificent Kazan Cathedral where pilgrims lined up to kiss and bless icons of their namesake saints. The Cathedral has a long history dating back to Empress Elizabeth and her successor Catherine the Great.
Today I had in mind a description of the celebration of Catherine the Great’s marriage to Peter III (the marriage was disastrous but ultimely led to Catherine’s succession):
“A blare of trumpets and the thunder of drums signaled the start of the wedding procession. Twenty-four elegant carriages rolled down the Nevsky Prospect from the Winter Palace to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. The bridal pair sat with Elizabeth in the empress’s state coach, ‘truly a little castle,’ drawn by eight white horses, their harness adorned by silver buckles, the huge wheels of the coach shining with gilt, the side panels and doors covered with paintings and mythological scenes. ‘The procession infinitely surpasses anything I have ever seen,’ reported the English ambassador. Inside the cathedral, Catherine was surrounded by a sea of jeweled icons, lighted candles, clouds of incense and rows of faces. The [Russian Orthodox] service, conducted by the bishop of Novgorod, lasted three hours.”
[from Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie]
Along with beautiful canals and rivers winding through the city with mansions and palaces along their banks, the downtown is dotted with lovely parks and monuments. Past the Admiralty building we caught our first glimpse of the Winter Palace, Palace Square and the Alexander Monument, the largest free-standing monument in the world.
Wound our way back to our hotel for a brief stopoff before heading out for dinner. Willie had scouted a restaurant around the corner from our hotel where we dined on authentic Georgian cuisine (unusual but wonderful flavours with a strong Mediterranean influence). We asked the waiter to make up a platter of starters which were cheese-stuffed bread wtih a fabulous sauce, and various dill- and pomegranate-based bites. I ordered veal and it came sizzling in a pan with onions, sweet peppers, and crispy potatoes. A taxi was hastily ordered and we arrived at the Hermitage Theatre just in time for a performance of Swan Lake. It was incredible to sit in this marble-lined theatre thinking that Catherine and her “favourites” were entertained here. To see Swan Lake in this setting and in this city left me with goosebumps.
Wandered home on a balmy evening and finished this wonderful day with a visit to our roof deck for a final look at our Church of Spilled Blood.
Tomorrow – the Hermitage Museum, inside the Winter Palace. If every day is as good as today, I just don’t know what I’ll do.