Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Лебединое озеро, or, Swan Lake

Dave Meshkov was perfect for the role of the White Swan in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.  But as he began to explore the role of the Black Swan, he also began his inexorable descent into madness.

Unfortunately for Dave (but fortunately for the rest of us), the Swan Lake performance at the Hermitage was not Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, but a more traditional performance that we were lucky to catch during our time in St. Petersburg.

The Hermitage Theatre - beautiful yet intimate
Two of these people are excited to see the ballet

None of us remembered to brush up on the plot before the show, so we only had the vaguest idea of what was going on, but those of us who stayed awake enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Post! Guest Post! St Petersburg Palaces

This post brought to you by Lynda Meshkov, gracious co-sponsor of our time in St. Petersburg.
We visited 4 palaces in St Petersburg, each more spectacular than the previous one. We did not do all of them in one day but progressed to the various palaces throughout the week. 

We started with Emperor Paul's palace, a small palace, 19 miles outside of St. Petersburg, where this royal family actually lived the majority of their lives.  It was down the road from his mother's (Catherine the Great) summer palace. This palace was a gift from his mother on the birth of his first son.  I told Dave and Jesse not to expect anything like that from us upon the birth of their first child.  [DSM: I told my mom not to expect us to move down the road from her upon the birth of our first child.]

[JLM: Oops. No pictures of Emperor Paul's palace, sorry. It was nice. Take our word for it.]
The second palace was Catherine the Great's Summer Palace. The exterior is painted a beautiful blue and white, with the crowns of the chapel gilded in gold. It is very impressive looking.  It was enormous.  
Waiting for the gates to open
Outside (one wing of) the Summer Palace
A little live musica to greet us
It was quite obvious that this woman LOVED gold.  She covered everything in 18k gold leaf, door knobs, sconces, chandeliers, furniture, mirrors...you name it, she gilded it. The dining rooms (there were many) were all set up as if there was going to be a (BIG) dinner party that night.  It was cool to see the various china patterns, which frequently matched the designs painted on the walls. Who doesn't want matching walls and china patterns? [JLM: Can you even image the registry process?  Especially in the pre-scanner-gun days.] 
Gilded walls and gorgeous inlaid floors

That's gilded all right!
Think they carry this line of china at Bloomingdales?
This must be the casual breakfast room

The pièce de résistance of this palace was the amber room.  It is covered in small amber pieces (think jigsaw puzzle) many of which have been treated to create different hues and then placed on the walls in panels and designs backed with mirrors and gold leaf.  
A photo of the amber room that JLM illegally sniped.
(To our KGB agent readers, I'm totally kidding, ha ha).
A photo of the amber room that Lynda illegally downloaded.
It's a miracle that neither of us ended up in a gulag.
The grounds were extensive, like a beautiful park.
"Yeah, nice park."
A bride and groom on the go
Beautiful manicured gardens
Our third palace was Peterhof.  This was built in 1712 by Peter the Great.  He was very interested in Western European culture and frequently traveled to Paris.  He saw Versailles and said "I like that and would like one like that at home...only bigger" and he got it. It is a spectacular building with each room grander than the previous one.  
The entrance to Peterhoff by canal
And the opposite view
The most impressive thing about Peterhof is the 150 fountains that surround the palace and are all over the extensive grounds.  The palace is outside of St Petersburg and is on the Gulf of Finland.  There is a canal that is lined with fountains from the back of the palace to the Gulf.  The fountains and waterfalls (called cascades in Russia) that are directly behind the palace are lined with life sized statues of Greek and Roman heroes and gods all covered in...(you guessed it) gold leaf. It is unbelievably impressive.
Giant golden statue, tiny golden modesty fig leaf
Yeah, there are a LOT of statues

The fourth and final palace was the Winter Palace, which is in St Petersburg. It is enormous, impressive and overwhelming.  When Catherine the Great lived there, she and the previous Royals who had lived there collected so many gifts and "stuff" that she had to build the Hermitage to hold all of her goods. [JLM: What I wouldn't give to see her on an episode of Hoarders.]  The palace is connected to the Hermitage, which is one of the largest museums in the world. It covers 3 city blocks. 
Hermitage by day
Hermitage by night
Sculpture above the entrance to the Hermitage
It houses painting, sculptures, silver and gold serving pieces, coins, medieval art, antiques, jewels, all things Egyptian, including mummies, furs, royal carriages and the list just goes on and on. These were all personal belongs of the Royals. As in all the other palaces, there was much gold, jewels, and incredibly beautiful inlaid wood in the furniture, floors and beautifully painted ceilings.
Photo shoot on the interior front steps of the Hermitage
Another photo shoot.  Clearly we were wearing way too much clothing.
Inlaid floor example/inspiration for pimping my parquet
Meh. Looks like my entrance hall.
A horde of tourists surrounds a Da Vinci.
People - just buy the damn postcard from the gift shop.  I guarantee it will be a better shot.
Bacchus?  I think I saw him on Khao San Road a few months ago...
Fancy schmancy
Having seen all these magnificent palaces, we concluded "it is good to be king" but also wondered why it took the peasants such a long time to revolt. The Royals certainly had it coming.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Moscow in Color

Western Russia was not at all what we had expected.  What had we expected?  Grey, mostly.  Uninspired architecture.  Drabness.  But instead we got spectacular churches, imposing monuments, crazy fashion and more.  Here are some of our favorite photos from Moscow.

St. Basil's Cathedral
St. Basils, another angle
The Kremlin
Kremlin by night
St Basil's by night
Hungry hungry hippo fountain
Entrance to a club, obvi
Entrance to a coffeeshop, obvi
Some of you lucky readers may recognize this photo from the wall of our apartment!
Just walkin around, bein artsy
The State Department Store in Red Square.
During the Soviet era, lines of shoppers snaked all the way through Red Square.

Today it's full of luxury shops...
... and lush greenery and fountains
Frolicking around inside the Kremlin
Cannon.  Big balls.
Now that's a crack! Puts the Liberty Bell to shame.
The Assumption Cathedral (I think)
"history history history, blah blah blah blah"
A couple fancy crosses
Our time in Moscow was spent in a whirlwind of sightseeing (well, actually, our 3 days with Lynda and Steve were spent that way.  Our two days by ourselves were passed in our typical wandering around, drinking coffee McCafe fashion) and before long it was time to head off to St Petersburg!