A Rebuilt Palace, the Mall & the Museum

Apr 23, 2014

Catherine's Palace during WWII
Catherine's Palace during WWII
Catherine's Palace today
Catherine's Palace today
Credit Helen Ward

We have hit a streak of  perfect spring weather which looks like it will last until we depart for Lithuania. We took advantage of summer weather to head 20 minutes out of the city to the summer residence of the Tsars, Catherine's Palace. One could yawn at this point from over exposure to gilt encrusted, lapis and onyx inlaid and pilastered rooms. Faberge and Sevres adorned furnishings appear mundanely in room after room and we have only visited three of the dozens of palaces. It would have been a shame to miss this one, however. The palace, on the same scale as Versailles and part of an entire village of beautiful gardens and out buildings is a more light filled and feminine feeling version of its European rivals. But the most astounding part of the visit was the monumental effort it has taken to resurrect it after it was destroyed by the Nazis during the 900 day seige of Leningrad. In fact every bit of the history of this city is a miracle when you consider the horror of those 900 days. We have been sharing excerpts from "City of Thieves" by David Benioff a novel set during the seige which, written like a good spy novel, gives a harrowing sense of what the  people went through to survive and how most did not. One and a half million people perished, mostly from starvation. Today it is hard to imagine and we felt lucky to experience it's beauty and light. 

We then visited the modern day version of the Romanov's homage to luxury and over indulgence and strolled through a very busy shopping mall that absolutely could be mistaken for Cherry Creek - same stores, same happy shoppers toting bags from Nike to Sonia Rykiel. We stopped in a supermarket which once again reminded me of how things have changed since the late 70's. We visited the biggest supermarket in Moscow at that time where there was no variety, one type of butter, one type of rice etc. no marketing needed, everything packaged white with big black letters and a separate queue for every item. Not so today, the store had all the variety, colors and marketing gimmicks of city market. Despite the apparent success we saw today our guide Marina did mention that bread had doubled in price over the last year and so had most of the other food items so if this continues it won't be long before people's buying habits are significantly curtailed. 

The Mall
The Mall
Credit Helen Ward

It appears to us that there is a very vital middle and upper middle class at least in St.P. There are incredibly chic coffee houses and restaurants everywhere, and more being built. They are all full ---- and full of locals, not tourists. Tonight we ate at Terrasssa where if we were not staring straight at the onion domes of Church of the Spilled blood, I would swear I was in SoHo. Blue jean and leather jacketed men, a few in suits coming from work, impossibly slim and stylish women laughing, gossiping and flirting and no smoking except in certain lounge locations.

I can't forget to mention the Russian Museum. I went on my own as Wally and Kyra were saturated. For anyone who appreciates paintings, it can't be missed. It is 100% Russian artists, everyone from Repin to Kandinsky. It's big but manageable. For me a definite highlight and three steps from our hotel.

Lenin in bare feet by Ilya_Repin at the Russian Museum
Lenin in bare feet by Ilya_Repin at the Russian Museum
Credit Helen Ward

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Helen Ward Obermeyer

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

I share a love of travel with my husband Wally and daughters Kyra and Catherine. I believe It is only through meeting people and sharing common interests that we can break down barriers and prevent fascism. I grew up in New York in the country and the city,  have lived in London and currently embrace Colorado as home. There is nothing more important than learning both through formal education and experiences. When I can't be on the road I travel through books and journalism which is why I am such a big supporter of public radio. Through its unbiased reporting and global reach it reminds us everyday to look beyond our small self interests and be aware of all the world has to offer.