An added bonus
When we boarded the ship, we sought advice from Lizzie, of the Destinations team to see if there was anything we could squeeze into our already packed programme. Well, when all excursions are included, it makes sense to take advantage, n’est-ce pas? Our “bonus” tour was scheduled for more or less the same time as we arrived back from Peterhof, so rather than return to the ship and go through the whole passport process once again, we made arrangements to meet our guide on the pier.
We were going to the Faberge Museum.
Our guide was somewhat older than the previous women who had taken charge and this lady had a voice which set my teeth on edge. She was efficient in that she wanted to impart every piece of information to us “dear guests” and nothing, but nothing, was going to stop her. OK, so as we know, we have to toe the line and fall into place, but this afternoon was going to be hard.
We put on our shoe covers as instructed, and waited. After waiting some more, we sat back and realised that there was still more waiting to be done. Eventually, having started out as the last group of the first departure, we became the last group of the last departure. What was holding us up? We didn’t know, but “please, dear guests, sit down and be waiting until we can go”.
Actually, I don’t suppose we did wait that long, but it seemed as though we’d never get to see the things we were most hoping to see. We were eager to get going, but as we were shown up the stairs of this former palace, now a privately owned museum, we stood and listened to the history of what seemed like every square inch of the entrance hall. Grand? Oh yes. But we hadn’t come to see another palace, had we?
That old style Rrru-sss-ian voice continued and we dear guests were feeling anything like. Come on! Of course, we were tired too, we’d been up since 5.30am and been taking things at quite a pace for several days.
Eventually, we made it into the first room: Russian silverware. This was spectacular and the room itself was pretty amazing. Did we want a commentary on every single thing in each case? Not really. But we were going to get one anyway. Of course Carl Faberge was head of a jewellery company and although we are familiar with his name, we know only one small aspect of his work. Here was the wider picture and so much more.
There were so many interesting things in that first room, we were quite happy.
And of course, you’ve already noticed, we could take photographs!
Maybe the treasures were in this next room? Certainly, the ceiling was elegant and finely painted – well, you know, we’re becoming quite the experts on such things
More Russian silver in here, including some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen.
The colours in this paperback book sized box took my breath away.
And how exquisite is this small box beside it? Maybe meant for cigarettes?
In this room too, were some large sets of silverware, all beautifully polished and lit to show every detail. I wonder how they manage to keep it all so brilliant? Perhaps some special atmosphere in those cases, do you think?
What I really liked was the space and freedom to look closely at everything. For sure, we’d muttered about the pace of the tour, the time our guide was taking to go into every detail of every object, but of course, this gave us the advantage of being able to take our own time to take photographs, to admire and to notice some aspects which we might otherwise have overlooked.
I know that I can zoom in on high resolution images later, but it’s even better if I can do so at the time.
As we turned the corner into the next room, the mood lightened: here were those things we’d come to see. The Easter Eggs; formerly the collection of Malcolm Forbes. In the first case were the first examples, the simplest ones of all.
But subsequent cases showed the more elaborate ones we’d seen on TV, in books and magazines – but never at such close quarters. We were told that as each egg was completed, in time for Easter, the work would begin on the next one, which would take a whole year to be made.
It had been my intention to make notes of the details of each egg, but it was virtually impossible. Instead, I picked up the catalogue and worked my way around. I especially loved the little bay tree egg, complete with the tiny key which activated the little bird mechanism.
No wonder these beauties took so long to create! The detail was unbelievable, especially in the small objects designed to be contained in the eggs, such as this little carriage, no more than a couple of inches long.
I especially liked those eggs with a personal, family touch to the design, such as this next one.
The lily of the valley egg was so pretty and those little portraits added a touch of sentimentality and made it so personal.
Here’s the catalogue entry for it.
and the detail of the three little family photographs which pop up from inside the egg.
There was the rosebud egg, which opens to produce an opening flower. Not only were these a fine example of jewellers’ art, there were some considerable engineering skills involved too.
There was the Order of St George egg, a gift from Tsar Nicholas to his Mother, for Easter 1916.
This pink enamelled clock was possibly the most practical of all.
This anniversary egg was possibly the most sentimental, with family photographs and scenes from courtly occasions.
Finally, in the corner, in case we had any trouble recognising the distinctions between the cheap souvenir charms on sale here and there and the real thing, here were the finest examples of the kind. Delicately crafted, no larger than an inch or so, every one of these would look stunning worn on a neckchain or attached to a bracelet. We could dream.
And surprisingly, that was it for the eggs. I realised that I have no idea how many eggs there are in exisitence, so couldn’t really have imagined how many I’d see in here. But no matter, for what we had seen were so exquisite, I was happy to move on.
Especially since in the next room were equally lovely things – just not egg shaped!
I mean, how pretty is this tiny (4 inches or so tall) enamelled pansy?
and how cute are these small bears, sitting on the edge of a stone ashtray?
But that was it for the truly spectacular. The next room had the merely gorgeous, like these sets of buttons, created to match the silk of a lovely dress, perhaps.
For as well as the one off creations for the Royal household, the House of Faberge also created finely manufactured lines, each with a distinctive texture in the enamel.
Fashionable buckles and clasps, clocks and boxes for everything from stamps to smelling salts, all arranged in colour themes.
These items had been commissioned by the Baron Rothschild, to be given as gifts. They are enamelled in his racing colours!
This room was the last of the “real” Faberge collection, then, because the remainder of the museum was devoted to the finest examples of work from other Russian master craftsmen of the time. Equally pretty, equally lovely but without the cachet of that Faberge name.
Here we could see examples of Russian cloisonne work, different in style from that we’d seen in the far east.
And although there were pretty eggs here too, quite clearly they were not in the same class as those we’d seen earlier.
Though who wouldn’t be thrilled to own such a lovely thing?
Finally, we found ourselves in the Gothic Room, where a large collection of icons were displayed.
These too demonstrated the considerable skills of the jeweller’s art and craftsmanship.
Then one of those serendipitous moments occurred. My eyes fell on this particular icon – nothing special, you might think, considering the rich silver decoration of some of the others around. I consulted my catalogue to find more information and discovered that it was a copy of none other than the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, the precious icon in the corner of the cathedral of the same name we’d visited a couple of days ago.
There in the same vitrine was one of Alexander Nevsky, too.
It seemed a fitting way to end our visit, so we made our way downstairs, removed our shoe covers and waited for our group to reassemble. You can guess how we spent our time.
Our route back to the ship took us past Our Lady of Kazan too, though the afternoon sunshine made it difficult to see!
One last time through the passport control. Another opportunity to gaze at the Cathedral of the Assumption and feel thankful for the wonderful time we’ve had here.
At 5.30 or thereabouts, we watched the activity on the pier and in particular the two serious looking gentlemen standing by. After a few minutes, the gangplank was pulled in, they waved goodbye and we were off, bound for Tallinn, Estonia.
I couldn’t resist one last photograph.
We went straight inside and did a quick change. The crew show was starting in the theatre and it’s always a must-see. The only problem is, when the crew show is on the programme, it means our cruise is coming to an end.
Not yet, though. We still have Tallinn!