and then the sun came out again
Having driven through all those dreary Soviet style suburbs, we arrived at our destination right on time. Just as the sun came out.
Somewhere, at the end of that long gravel pathway was the place which had left such a strong impression on us all those years ago: Petrodvorets, as was, or Peterhof as it’s known now.
Would it be as we remembered? Had we conflated several places together in those intervening thirty or so years?
We’d remembered it for the fountains, though none were working right now.
And reaching the entrance way too early to go in, our guide Mel suggested we wander around a take a few photos whilst she kept our (second) place in the queue. So we did.
We found an exhibit of photographs taken when the place was in pieces, just after the war. We’ve found the Russians to be more open about such things now than they were. I think they can feel proud of the splendid restoration work they have done on such places.
We practised our transliteration of the Russian spellings. We can do E and T ok and we know that P is an R from our old favourite “PECTOPAH” (restaurant). But it’s a slow job!
So we admired the onion domes of the small chapel until it was time to meet Mel again.
Oh my, were we pleased she’d saved our places?!
We went inside, covered our shoes with shoe-shaped J cloth shower cap things, used the facilities (as suggested), hung our coats in the cloakroom and checked our bags in if needed. Mel was waiting for us, ready to go in.
And you guessed, didn’t you? No photos inside.
So, can you imagine (from my notes): a gold and white staircase into the gold ballroom, decorated in the style during Peter the Great’s daughter, Tsarina Elizabeth’s reign with gold mirrors, a polished wood floor and the most amazing painted ceiling ever (modern reproduction of course) and restored since we were here last. Next into a room full of paintings of naval battles in the Mediterranean, one of which was painted when Catherine the Great paid for a ship to be loaded with explosives and blown up, so the artist could paint from reality. Hmm. Then into the Blue Secretary Room where visitors could be registered and on into the throne room where the green and white walls had family cameos high up there.
I drew a small sketch of the arrangements of the portraits high above the throne, including those of Catherine the Great, Peter himself and Elizabeth their 2nd daughter …and of course, I’m immediately wondering what happened to their first daughter? It’s what travelling does for us – it provokes all kinds of questions that widen our knowledge and in these days of the internet, it’s easy to find out the answers. I’ll do that (and maybe you will, too)
There followed a succession of rooms, each described in my book with exclamation marks. The word “GOLD!” occurs frequently, as do mentions of a variety of silk wall coverings. I made special mention of the Wedgewood plates on the dining table, each set upon a matching plate warmer into which hot water would be poured. Well, yes, I imagine in winter, food would go cold very quickly indeed. In fact, we could sometimes do with those on board the ship – or maybe I just talk too much and let my food go cold before I eat it!
So, the partridge boudoir (with silk decorated with partridges on the walls), the flowery room decorated with roses and an elegant grey silk (misread as “elephant grey silk”!) In one room, there was a sweet portrait of Alexandra, daughter of Nicholas 1, who died in childbirth aged just 19, an event which caused the whole family to stay away from the world for the next five or six months, so distressed were they.
You’ll gather, we were overwhelmed with the wealth of treasures inside, but were also amused by the strict Russian matriarch who was sitting keeping a firm eye on the goings on until her phone rang, with a “Sex in the City” ringtone!! Hah. We’ve got her measure
You need another photo, ok? Well, having seen these rooms in quick succession and having scribbled copious notes so I’d recall them all, we made it outside for 10.45am. Phew! why the hurry? Well, at 11am, the big event of the day was going to happen.
The fountains were going to be switched on.
Now, you may recall that one of the principal things we remembered about Petrodvorets was the fountains. They are gravity fed and the water flows down the canal to the Gulf of Finland there in the distance and when Peter the Great was in residence, he’d arrive by boat from this direction (to the rear of where we’d arrived this morning).
We made our way to a good vantage point, asserting ourselves (politely, of course) to secure a place by the fence, where a number of Chinese people were taking photographs, pushing and shoving to do so.
By 11am, there was quite a crowd, standing, waiting…
…for the man to turn the lever.
As we all watched and waited, he wandered around a bit, but on the point of 11am, he turned the lever and,
Woohoo! Suddenly water was spouting from all over the place, gradually building up and soaring higher into the sky. There was music too – a solemn march from Gliere’s ballet “the Red Poppy” played as the fountains reached their maximum power.
I must say, it was all very thrilling and exactly as we’d remembered it. OK, we recalled some dancers putting on a performance on those platforms at the foot of the cascades, but I’ll need to look out our old photo albums to be sure of that.
We were happy to be here again, pleased to be reminded of the spectacle and of course, couldn’t stop taking photos!
Neither could others. Oh my.
With everything flowing as it should, we gathered together again and taking Mel’s lead, went for a walk in the park.
We passed by more pictures of how everything had been cleared up and restored after the war.
It really had been quite a task.
In the park, we came across more fountains, all powered by the same gravity feed. Peter the Great had been quite an engineer and had taken huge delight in creating such an extravagant show.
Just as I was beginning to imagine I’d dreamed up the “tricky fountains” which were made to look like trees to fool unsuspecting guests, I spotted some in the park, behind the lady sweeping leaves. Imagine, arriving as a guest of the royal family in all your finery and being invited to walk into the park, only to get soaked by the practical joker of a host. I don’t think I’d have been too pleased, though I very much doubt that I’d have let on!
There was another cascade here too, with a kind of checkerboard pattern on the surface. It creates a kind of wall of water at the foot of it.
Behind that wall of water is a grotto, where one might get up to all kinds of mischief too. We’d heard there was a secret entrance to the palace through such a grotto – maybe this was the one?
Walking through the gardens, we came across more fountains, this one in the middle of the family garden, where each child would be given a plot to cultivate. The winner would be given the choice of an emerald bracelet perhaps, if it was one of the Princesses, or a gemstone-studded sword for one of the Princes. Life was pretty good for them at that point.
The park was busy, for sure, but the size meant it was easy to get away from those large, pushy groups, thank goodness and our early start meant we had seen what there was to see before they arrived.
With a last glance of the main cascade in front of the palace, now in full flow and looking spectacular, we made our way to the car park to wait for our driver who had been summoned. Meanwhile, a trio of brass players entertained us with a few familiar tunes and someone was trying to sell us copies of the same guidebook as we’d seen for $10 in the shop for a $ apiece.
We took the motorway back to St Petersburg. A good job I wasn’t driving!
I thought we’d got quite good at transliteration, too!
Thankfully, someone knew which way he was going and we were soon home, just about in time for our afternoon tour.
No rest for the wicked!