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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

7 Oct 2006: Moscow, Russia

 
I will always remember the excitement when I first learnt that Singapore Airlines has began its direct flight connections to Moscow. Russia was a destination that I had always longed  to visit and my prayer was finally answered in Oct 2006. To my ecstasy, I am also going to St Petersburg!
 
Tverskaya Street

At 8 am, I arrived at Moscow’s Domodenovo International Airport. My connecting flight to St Petersburg would not happen until 8 am on the next day. This meant I had exactly 24 hours in Moscow. Moscow is an extremely expensive place but I was very fortunate to get an affordable room rate at Sheraton Palace Hotel Moscow. It is located on Moscow’s main avenue, Tverskaya Street and just a 30-minute walk from the Kremlin, the Red Square, and other historical places of interest.

Triumfalnaya Square

Triumfalnaya Square

Tverskaya Street

Tverskaya Street

 Lenin’s Mausoleum

Outside the Red Square, I witnessed a beeline at the Resurrection Gates, waiting to visit Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum on the west side of the square. The queue was long but definitely lasted a life-time worth. Security was very strict, no camera or video-cam were allowed. 

 Red Square - Lenin Mausoleum1

Lenin's body in the Mausoleum.

Red Square

You can imagine my sheer disappointment when the brightly-colored, onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral was closed for a VIP visit. Following the rest of the tourists, we enrouted for a close-up view. Here was as close as I could get:

Red Square (12)2  

On the west side of the Red Square is the GUM department store or Russian “trading centers” . GUM, which stands for State Department Store, is an ornate shopping centre with a full array of international luxury brands.

collage

On the southern side is the State Historical Museum. This location seemed like a melting pot with all walks of life, including street buskers

Historical Museum (1)

Moscow (6)

Disappointment seemed to come in pairs, here’s my second’s – Kremlin was also closed today!  Kremlin is Moscow’s heart and nearly its geographical center, from which the rest of the city has expanded in roughly concentric circles: the Boulevard Ring, the Garden Ring, the Third Ring and lastly the Moscow Ring Road. This landscaping is very similar to Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Kremlin1Kremlin (5)

Kremlin (6)1Kremlin (9)

The consolation was being at the right time to witness the change of guards outside the Kremlin.

Kremlin - change of guards (2)

Kremlin - change of guards (4)2

The Kremlin is ringed by red brick walls and towers, taking the seat of Russian power for most of the past millennium. Along the fortress’s north wall is a belt of greenery called the Alexander Gardens.I bought an ice-cream lunch and rested on the bench. It was here where two Russian policemen approached me and asked for my identity. I was lucky to bring along my passport (which I usually do not), following an advice from Frommer guide book.

Alexandra Garden

Alexandra Garden (3)

In mid-afternoon, I left Red Square and headed down along Okhotny Ryad, passing by the famous Bolshoi Theater (which was closed for renovation). Here, I saw  a statue of Karl Marx, etched with the phrase PROLETARIAT OF THE WORLD UNITE.

Moscow - Karl Marx1

Arbat

The Moscow Metro is an attraction by itself and is worth a visit just to view a few stations. It is clean and efficient, with trains running every 90 seconds or so during the day. Station entrances are marked with a letter M. A word of caution, the name of the station are printed in Cyrillic alphabet and most Russian don’t speak English! Still, it was relatively easy for me to find the way to Arbat (Arbatskaya station).

Metro Station1

Metro Station(5)1

Arbat is a pedestrian street packed with shops, cafes, bars, buskers, and street vendors. You can find all sorts of souvenirs here. I met a helpful lady who spoke little English but took time to explain her Russian dolls collections to me.

Arbat (3) Arbat

Arbat (5)Moscow (8)

I had dinner at KFC before heading back to Red Square. The restaurant looked slightly different as it assumed the name of the local joint venture group, Rostik.

Moscow - KFC

St Basil’s Cathedral

Undaunted by the disappointments, I wanted to see the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral under the stars. That perseverance must have touched heaven and my wish was granted.  The cathedral (built from 1555 – 1561) was commissioned by Ivan IV (also known as Ivan the Terrible)  to commemorate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan. It was said that the onion-dome design was to prevent snow from accumulating at its roof.  This 16th-century church looked so goregous at night.

St Basil Cathedral (2)1

St Basil Cathedral (5)1

This was the grand finale for my Russia’s side trip. Loaded with fulfilment but dead-tired at 11 pm, I headed back to the hotel. For tomorrow, I will continue my journey to St Petersburg.

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Saint Petersburg

8 Oct 2006: St Petersburg, Russia

It was a cold and wet morning when I landed at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport. I stayed at a relatively unheard hotel called Nashotel (which means “our hotel”) located at Vasilievsky Ostrov, a 5 minutes walk from the “Vasileostrovskaya” metro station. Vasilievsky Ostrov is better known as a center of business and cultural life of the city.

St Petersburg Airport1

Palace Square

As anticipated, today would be another action-packed day. One of my greatest wish was to see the world famed Hermitage Museum. Palace Square was naturally my first stop.  When I arrived at the Palace Square, I was amazed the majestic vastness of this historical ground. So, this was where it all started! Right before my eyes was the green and white Winter Palace, the official residence of the Russian Tsars who ruled from 1732 to 1917, ended when the commoners stormed into the palace during the Russian Revolution.

Palace Sq - Hermitage Museum1

Palace Sq - Hermitage Museum (2)1

The best way to enter into the Palace Square is through the Triumphal Arch from Nevsky Prospekt. This grand arch was the first Russian monument,commissioned by Alexandra I in 1819, to the war against Napoleon. At the roof of the arch stood a bronze sculpture of Victory in her six-horsed chariot.

Palace Sq - Triumphal Arch (1)1

In the centre of the square is the Alexandra Column. This 600-ton monolith, topped by a cross-carrying angel, was erected in 1833 under Czar Alexander II to celebrate Russian victory over Napoleon. The Alexander column is positioned so it is aligned perfectly with the entrance to the Winter Palace and the triumphal arch that serves as the opposite entry to the General Staff Building.

Palace Square (1)1

Palace Sq - Alexander Column1

After entering through the tranquil courtyard, you would see the entrance to the Hermitage. My God! There was a two-hours queue into this museum with a collection second in size only to that of the Louvre Museum in Paris. It was said that its collection is so large that it would take yaers to view the 3 million works on exihibit in its entirety! I finally entered into the museum at 3.20 pm, which means I had only less than 90 minutes. It was such an adventure that I would need to share it separately.

 Palace Sq - Hermitage Museum (1)1

The Admiralty & along Neva River

Overlooking Palace Square from a distance to the west is the Admiralty. Once a fortified shipyard, it  is now a naval academy that sadly is not open to the public. It forms a crucial part of St. Petersburg monument and definitely worth spending a couple of minutes admiring the 70m-high spire, topped by a weathervane in the shape of a ship.

Admiralty Building (1)1

Following the shore of the Neva River, you will see the Bronze Horseman (Medny Vsadnik), St. Petersburg’s most famous rider. This monument immortalized by Alexandra Puskin in his masterful poem, The Bronze Horseman; and was commissioned by Catherine the Great. It depicts Peter the Great commanding his city in a fierce and somewhat autocratic way.

Bronze Horseman by Pushkin1

On the Dvortsovity Bridge over the Neva River, you could catch sight of the Peter & Paul Fortess, a defense area started by Peter the Great. The main attraction inside the fortess is the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Unfortuately, I had to give it a miss since it was already late afternoon.

Peter & Paul Fortress1

Neva River - Dvortsovity Bridge(1)1

Cathedrals and Architectures of St. Petersburg

This city is littered with beautiful cathedrals and architectures. One of them is the St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Its gilded dome, covered with 100 kg of pure gold, is more than 100 meters high. The cathedral was commissioned by Alexander I in 1818 and took more than three decades to complete and costed more than twenty million rubles.

Sir Isaac Cathedral (1)1

There is a Central Naval Museum

Central Naval Museum1

And St Catherine’s Church

St Catherine's Church (1)1

The unique Singer Building housing bookstore giant, Dom Knigi…

Dom Knigi1

And lastly, the Kazan Cathedral along Nevsky Propekt. Inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, the cathedral (built between 1801 -1811) has an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain.

Kazan Square (1)1

Kazan Square (5)1

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8 Oct 2006: St Petersburg, Russia

Today is an exciting day for me. Even though I am standing in a two-hours queue, waiting patiently in the beeline to go into the Hermitage! The Hermitage Museum has a art and culture collection second in size only to that of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The collections occupy the six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palance (a former residence of Russian emperors), the Menshikov Palace (the Museum of Porcelain) and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building. It was said that its collection is so large that it would take years to view the 3 million works on exhibits in its entirety!

At 3.20 pm, I finally entered into the museum, which means I had only less than 90 minutes to explore the treasures. Here was what I cherry-picked:

Hermitage Museum (1)1Hermitage Museum (41)1

In the rooms on the first floor of the Old Hermitage featured the works of the Italian Renaissance artists, including Leonardo da Vinci (1452-159) or his school. Among da Vinci’s most famous works, you can find:

Da Vinci - Madonna & Child 01

Madonna Litta (c. 1490); Oil on canvas (transferred from panel), 42 × 33 cm

Da Vinci - Madonna & Child 03

Benois Madonna (1478); Oil on canvas, 49.5 × 33 cm

The theme of “Madonna & Child” is so pervasive throughout the Renaissance era, I saw this Italian sculpture named “Madonna & Child”

Italian - Madonna  & Child

Giampietrino (1508 — 1521) was a north Italian painter of the Lombard School and the Leonardo circle. This talented painter had several contributions substantially in the late style of Leonardo da Vinci. My favourite was “The Repentent Magdalene”

Giampetrino - repentent Magdalene

Repentant Mary Magdalene; Oil painting, 49x39 cm

Giulio Romano (c. 1499 – 1546) was an Italian painter and architect and notably a prominent pupil of Raphael. His stylistic deviations from Renaissance’s Classicism help define the 16th-century style known as Mannerism.

Giulio Romano - Love Scene

Due Amanti "Two Lovers" (1524)

 
The rooms and galleries along the southern facade and in the western wing of the New Hermitage are now entirely devoted to Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque paintings of the 17th century. Here, you can find a large collections of van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was a Dutch painter and was generally considered one of the greatest painters in European art history in era called the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt’s greatest triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bibles. I was very fortunate to see Rembrandt’s 400th anniversary exihibition in Budapest. To add to my collections was his “Return of the Prodigal Son”.
Rembrandt - Return of Prodigal Son 01

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669)

 Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640) was a prolific 17th-century Flemish Baroque painter with an exuberant style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well-known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history painting of mythological and allegorical subjects.  My personal favourite is Roman Charity (or Carità Romana), based on a story of a daughter, Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her father, Cimon, after he is incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. She is found out by a jailer, but her act of selflessness impresses officials and wins her father’s release.

Pieter Paul Rubens - Roman Charity

Carità Romana "Roman Charity" (1630)

The second floor of the Winter Palace was only partially open to the public and featured French Neoclassical, Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. Guillaume Guillon Lethière (1760 – 1832) was one of the distinctive French Neoclassical painter, who painted in Rome for several years.

Guillaume Guillon Lethiere - Death of Carlo  

 The Death of Cato of Utica (1795)

 The works byRenoir, Monet, van Gogh and Gauguin were displayed in the southeastern corner.  Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) was a founder of French Impressionist painting and in fact, the term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise.

Monet - Lady in the Garden

Woman in a Garden (1867)

Of course, I could not afford to miss out any of my favourite artist’s work.  Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. He started his works with most painting in sombre colours until he encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris. After incorporating their brighter colours and style of painting, he developed his unique recognizable style during the time he spent at Arles, France. In his decade of career, he produced more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. Most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years of his life, during which time he suffered recurrent bouts of mental illness, which led to his suicide.  Here, I saw several originals of his relatively unknown works:

Van Gogh - Bush

Lillac Bush (1889); oil on canvas, 72 x 92 cm

Van Gogh - Thatched Cottage

Thatched Cottages (1890); oil on canvas, 60 X73 cm

At the southern side of the second floor housed the Modern Art, displayed, featuring Matisse, Derain, Picasso and Kandinsky. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) was a  Spanish painter and sculptor. He is best known for co-founding the Cubist movement and for the wide variety of styles embodied in his work.

Picasso (9)1

Woman with a Fan (1907)

Picasso Ceramic

Ceramic

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was a French artist, well known for his use of colour and his fluid, brilliant and original draughtsmanship. He was initially labeled as a “Fauve” (wild beast) but started classical, French painting in the later of his years. His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in Modern Art.

Henri Matisse - Conversation

The Conversation (1911)

Henri Matisse - The Red Room

The Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908)

The museum visit would not be complete without appreciating the great works of Rodin.  Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917) was a French artist and most famous as a sculptor. This french sculptor remains as one of the few sculptors widely recognized outside the visual arts community.

Rodin

The Age of Bronze (1877)

Rodin - Eternal Spring

The Eternal Spring

Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838 – 1902) was a French sculptor and widely recognized as one of the most brilliant virtuosos of 19th-century France, admired for his perceptiveness, execution, and unpretentious realism. Dalou had a strong influence on Rodin’s works.

Jules Dalou

Peasant Woman with her Child (1873)

After covering the “essentials”, I turned my attention to the other great works. Here were some works which caught my attention, I slowed down, stopped and took time to admire the mastery.

Hermitage Museum (5)1

Hermitage Museum (33)1

Hermitage Museum (35)1

Hermitage Museum (40)1

I ended the tour at Pavilion Hall, admiring James Cox’s Peacock Clock.  The Peacock Clock was a present from Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin to Catherine the Great. It is the only large 18th-century automaton in the world to still be functioning in its original unaltered condition. 

Hermitage Museum (61)1

Peacock Clock (1762-1772)

My tour ended here as my clock ticked at 5 pm. Feeling I had left with many stones unturned, I wondered this would be a “trip of my life” or maybe someday I will be back to discover more.

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11 Oct 2006: St Petersburg, Russia

I had a new friend, Wolfgang, joining me on this work assignment in St. Petersburg. As his name suggests, it is not difficult to guess that he is an Austrian (Mozart’s homeland). Wolfgang always brings an umbrella wherever he travels. He told me that he was once caught in the rain and fell very sick; and from that incident, he always remember to carry an umbrella. We had also a young Russian lady, Elena, helping us with local language and interpretation. 

Having spent the last 5 days in St Petersburg, I had grew to like this city. One day, Wolfgang told me that he was looking for some “Red October” chocolates.  Named in spirit of the Bolshevik revolution, “Red October” is the name given to the former chocolate factory. We found them in a local supermarket “Paterson” near to our hotel. The taste is quite ordinary but the wrapper is so “cool”

red-october-candy-bar2

I learnt from Elena that Russian loves pancakes and she brought us to a Russian chain of tea and pancake house called Teaspoon. There are about 70 Teaspoon outlets and they are based mainly in St Petersburg and Moscow region. The Teaspoon offer a wide range of speciality teas, along with savoury and sweet pancakes with hot and cold fillings; and a small range of side orders, such as soup and salads. Each pancake is made to order and so they are freshly made. YUM! YUM!

Teaspoon Pancake

After the pancakes, we settled into Ideal Cup Coffeehouse. Ideal Cup is the first coffee chain in St Petersburg and is the Russian version of  “Starbuck Coffee”. They offer more than 30 coffee blend and some are really unique…errr..Garlic coffee! The interior is very cozy and the price is very reasonable (probably half of what it would cost in Moscow).

Wolfgang & ElenaIdeal Cup

On our last evening in St Petersburg, Elena pleasantly arranged for a special dinner at a Russian Pectopah (the Russian Cyrillic “restaurant”) – Troika. Known as the  “Moulin Rouge on the Neva”, this 30-years old has an outstanding show on every evening. Here, I had my first taste of the Russian Bosch (Beetroot) Soup. After a long hard day work, this was really a relaxing and enjoyable evening. Elena seemed to know the restaurant manager very well. Later, she told us that she was going to hold her wedding in this restaurant!

Russian Bosch (Beetroot) Soup

Russian Trad Dance 02

Truly, after a few months, I received an email from Elena with her gorgeous wedding photos. Elena, our blessings to you for a lifetime of blissfulness.

Elena Kurchanova (EY) WeddingElena Kurchanova (EY) Wedding2

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