Side trip - Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoye Selo) and the palaces (Email #10)

Dear friends and family,

This is (gasp) Email #10 from this trip. I keep feeling that I haven't written enough, but I guess I've been fairly diligent.

We (or I should say Inez and her friend Linda Predovsky) had planned this side-trip excursion for us. Tsarskoye Selo (now also known as Pushkin) is the former name of the town outside St. Petersburg where the Romanoffs had many palaces and parks. Catherine the Great lived and died at Ekaterina, her palace here, and had many of her escapades here.

The photo below is not Ekaterina, but a manor house near the little Russian church below.

We stopped at a lovely little Russian Orthodox church along the way. This is in a rural area not far from St. Petersburg.

Andrew posing with a memorial to his great uncle, Nicholas the II.

The little church from the back and the imposing Russian sky.

Inside there was a service going on. Worshippers, who seemed to be constantly crossing themselves, and even getting down on their knees; to the side a priest healing people, and choral music which was so sweet it opened my heart and brought, if not tears, moisture to my eyes. 

These people are waiting to receive a blessing from the black-robed, long-bearded priest. I imagine Rasputin might have presided or at least passed through this church in his time.

Downstairs, which I did not see, another area for prayer, and also the kitchens where food was being prepared for everyone.

The cook came out with tears of joy to see Andrew.

Driving a little further we came to Ekaterina, Catherine the Great's palace. Below: Era, Paula, Sammy, Inez, Andrew and Olga, the director of Ekaterina. The guest houses, now a hotel, are in the background. We stayed there overnight in the little monk-like beds.

In the second photo down the Catherine palace is in the background. More crazy Russian sky. This program will not allow me to place my descriptions where I would like, at times. 

Special treatment: Tea (or coffee) at Ekaterina and incredibly sweet cookies and candies. We were told that this is where the Reagans were served tea (not terribly impressive to us, not being Reagan fans). L to R: Andrew, Inez, Nikolai (our guide), Paula, Sammy, Era, Don

Olga, the director of the Ekaterina, her assistant, Iraida (Ira or Era for short!) and Andrew, chattering away in Russian.

I'm laughing at the absurdity of the situation. We were let in and out of a very special door, which is only used for visiting dignitaries, such as the Bushes, etc. (Why are they always Republicans?)

However, we would not think of turning down this offer or honor, as it avoids having to wait in line with the crowds.

The waiting hordes. This line stretched out for at least a block. Everytime we had to mingle with the crowds the curators were very apologetic and concerned. Cooties?

Beautiful, but a little excessive. Later it got way excessive.

A little gold (real gold) and a few paintings.

I'm pretty certain this is meant to be Catherine herself in one of her gowns. The beautiful blue and white oven/stove/fireplace is constructed of ceramic tiles made in Russia in the time of Catherine the Great and also replacement tiles were made more recently. The Russian craftsmanship in these palaces is quite outstanding. Many of these buildings were totally demolished during WWII and sections had to be rebuilt from the ground up. It is difficult to discern what is the reconstruction and what the original. 

These stoves are scattered throughout Ekaterina Palace and were used for heating the rooms during the cold Russian winters.

The mirror room. The gold color is real gold. Nikolai said when sunny, the whole room glows.

More mirror room. Everyone is wearing brown booties to protect the floor. This kind of excess is seen in many of the palaces and gives us a sense of conditions for the aristocracy before the revolution and what undoubtedly contributed to the dissatisfaction amongst the rebels.

Then at around 3:00 pm, which was the usual hour when we were allowed to break for lunch on these guided tours, we were taken in a horse and carriage to a restaurant on the Ekaterina grounds. Don with guide/curator. A lake on the grounds and a folly in the background.

The curator sees something of interest. I forget what now.

We were taken to a totally deserted restaurant. In fairness, it was about 3:30 by this time. There was one other large table set up. The restaurant staff told us we mustn't sit there, as it was reserved. It turned out to be another Romanoff party; some second cousins of Andrew. Their grandmothers were sisters. It was probably the worst food and the most expensive food we had in Russia. If their only clientele are Romanoffs, I can see that they may have to charge a lot to stay in business.

Andrew's second cousin was virtually indistinguishable from a jovial American businessman whom you might meet at a fundraiser or a golf course. My impression, anyway.

The drive back, Chinese inspired bridges. Probably the most exotic style which could be imagined at that time.

Later that evening, Don, Sammy and I took a walk thru the beautiful grounds. These are what the Russians call the "White Nights," when it stays light until very late at night. We began to really enjoy this, as the White Nights give you a super long day. Of course, it's all reversed in the winter.

Sammy, getting a choice shot.

What we guessed was an old caretaker's cottage.

From Russia with Love,

Era and Don