We spent very little time in St. Petersburg proper on the second day of our tour. Instead we took to the country to enjoy some Russian royal hospitality. Our first stop was Catherine's Palace, the summer residence of the Romanov tsars. Located about 30 minutes drive from downtown St. Petersburg, it was first built in 1717 by Catherine I (NOT Catherine the Great, but the wife of Peter the Great who took over Russia after he died without designating an heir). It was later expanded by Empress Anna and it's current appearance was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the same architect who designed the Winter Palace and Peterhof Palace and was a favorite of Empress Elizabeth (the expansion was completed in 1756).
Exterior of a small part of Catherine's palace (seriously the thing must be half a mile long from tip to tip) as seen from the back park.
It was known for its lavish interiors and trust me, this place does not disappoint. Unfortunately, almost everything inside the palace is a reproduction as it was occupied by the Nazis during WWII (1941-1944) and used as a soldier barracks. They ripped everything out and left the place a hollow shell. Damn, Nazis. God, they sucked. Fortunately, many of the most valuable contents were evacuated and archivists were able to document most of the interior. A large portion of the palace was reconstructed for St. Petersburg's tercentenary in 2003, but there were still many rooms in the huge palace that haven't been tackled yet. Hopefully one day the entire place will be restored to its former glory.
The Great Hall (or Light Gallery) was designed in the Russian baroque style and was used for balls, formal dinners, and masquerades. If you've seen the movie Anastasia , this is where the opening ball takes place. All the gilding would have originally been solid gold, but as it's a reproduction, it's wood covered with gold leaf. Still, not too shabby.
Detail of one of the walls in one of the courtiers-in-attendance dining room. The large blue porcelain columns are actually fireplaces, they have small openings at the front where the wood inside would be lit.
The rooms in the palace are layed out in a long line so you can look through one doorway all the way to the end of the palace (or you could if you could see that far down). But it's gold gilding as far as the eye can see...
After spending the morning at Catherine's Palace, we went to a local restaurant called The Red Restaurant (after the red facade) for another traditional Russian lunch. This time it was beef stroganoff which was delicious, and served with fingerling potatoes rather than noodles. And of course, vodka. All in all, yum.
We got back on the road and headed to another Romanov residence, Peterhof Palace. It was built in 1714 by Peter the Great who wanted a palace to rival those of the French and a place to glorify Russia's recent naval victories over Sweden. It was the summer residence of Peter and the grounds contain over 150 fountains. The palace was called the Versailles of the Russia, and after walking through the grounds it is easy to see why.
The "palace" is actually comprised of many different buildings and a chain of parks facing the sea. The water for the fountains is pumped through a unique hydraulics system that uses no machinery or pumps. Don't ask me how they do it, I'm just a tourist. Enjoy the pics!
The Lion Fountain (the temple portion is flanked by two lions, you can see one in the background on the left).
In this fountain, ducks circle as they are chased by a small dog. The fountain actually makes quacking and barking noises. Popular with the kiddies.