Saturday, 30 June 2012

!ndigo Bookstore tribute to Canada

!ndigo has made this video showing famous Canadian authors and Canada. A tribute to Canada and our Canadian literature.

WE NEED MORE CANADA! Happy Canada Day!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Author Vincent Lam on Tommy Douglas great Canadian Hero

Vincent Lam is a medical doctor in the Emergency Room at Toronto General Hospital, he is also a world famous author and Giller Book Prize winner. Here he speaks on Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian Socialize Medicine. Thanks to Tommy Douglas, we celebrate in July 50 years of accessible and free quality medical care for all Canadians, no matter what walk of life you may come from. This is one achievement which defines us as Canadians. The interview was given on TV Ontario (TVO).

Canada Day, 1534-1867-2012

This is our 145th Canada Day since the unification of the Nation, however Canada goes back to 1534 when Jacques Cartier arrived from France. We have a couple of anniversary this year, the Canadian dollar coin, the Loonie is 25 years old and Health Care for all Canadians is 50 years old, imagine you get sick, don't worry, you will get care. This is what makes Canada a great country.

August 18, 1665 my family ancestor joined in Quebec City, his regiment who were arriving on a French War ship called L'Aigle d'Or de Brouage. He was 18 years old, he was what was called an ''engagé'' meaning he was hiring himself, not uncommon at the time for single men who had to fend for themselves. He had been living and working as a footman in Quebec City in the French Governor's castle since 1662, meaning that he was 15 years old when he first arrived on his own in Canada, of course in those days of the Age of Princes there was no such thing as teenagers, you were a man then and made your way. A milestone 350 years in Canada, for my family. He must have been feisty because there are Court records showing his acquittal for a ''bagarre'' street fight.

I was at Parliament Hill today to see the set up and the different bands doing their sound checks. Also this weekend on Sunday, Italy plays against Spain and Preston Street will be very busy, if Italy wins the soccer match there will be quite a party to accompany the one on Canada day.

We are doing a steak bar-b-q and will probably watch the fireworks from the roof of our building, I am not going to the Hill, too many people. We are close and will be able to see it all in comfort. Now is time to go hang the flag, the same flag I have used since 1976 on every Canada Day, a flag that has travelled with me around the world.

the words to the Anthem composed as a poem with lyrics in French by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier and music by Calixa Lavallée in 1880. It only became by an Act of Parliament in 1980, the Official National Anthem of Canada, thank you to our then Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau. The words of this anthem have a strange religious (Roman Catholic) sound to them and the Canadiens are what is called since 1980 the Quebecois. It was originally composed as a National Anthem to the Ancient Canadiens, people who settled in French Canada from 1534 to 1763. How strange that it would become the National Anthem of all Canadians.
It will be adapted in English much later and the text in translation is different but all the same powerful.

Ô Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
Sous l'œil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant,
Le Canadien grandit en espérant.
Il est né d'une race fière,
Béni fut son berceau.
Le ciel a marqué sa carrière
Dans ce monde nouveau.
Toujours guidé par sa lumière,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau.
(This last part is rarely if ever sung and is not part of the official anthem anymore)
De son patron, précurseur du vrai Dieu,
Il porte au front l'auréole de feu.
Ennemi de la tyrannie
Mais plein de loyauté,
Il veut garder dans l'harmonie,
Sa fière liberté;
Et par l'effort de son génie,
Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité,
Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité.
The english lyrics are as follows:
O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Only 686 views short of 40,000

I am only 686 views of my blog short of the 40,000 visits to my blog. I started this blog in 2007 but really it was only in 2008 that I took it up on a daily basis. This is 7862 visits to my site per year. It is only in the last 3 years that visits to the site have really picked up. I am gratified for all these visits. This remains a very personal blog, it is as I say about my life. Though I would continue even if there was no interest, simply because for me it is also a journal and kept for future memories. I also enjoy writing these entries with my own photos taken on my Sony CyberShot camera, maybe the best little camera I have ever owned. Most of my readers are from the USA, Canada, UK, Italy, Germany, Russia. I also get readers from India and the Philippines. I am gratified that people would think my postings interesting, this is why I bring a lot of attention to details and accuracy when describing something. Thank you for reading. 

Calcio and traffic in Rome

Piazza Venezia is the centre of Rome. So there is always traffic through this piazza. However last night was the quarter final calcio (soccer) match between Italy and England and the traffic was, for some reason re-routed so every one trying to get home after the match was directed to Piazza Venezia to get to another point in the city. Italy won of course.
Luckily this match was not a semi-final or a final for the championship, the traffic would have been much worse. I miss things like that about Rome, belleza eterna!


We ended our cruise on AZAMARA in Stockholm. What a lovely city, the way in from the sea passes by numerous islands reminding me of The Muskokas in Ontario. The city itself on lake Malaren a little like Toronto on lake Ontario, is very green, clean and well organized with excellent public transport both on the ground and around the waterways. What also impressed us and this is often remarked upon by many Canadians who travel to Europe, in Sweden WI FI is fast, cheap and available free almost everywhere you might be. While Canada where the telephone was invented, we lag behind because of crazy monopoly rules in the hands of just a few select companies.
In Stockholm, a city built on several islands, we easily walked from one to the other. We went to the old town where the Royal Palace and the Council of State or Parliament, the Cathedral and many other beautiful buildings are located. What is nice is that there are very few cars and you can wander around at leisure. But this being the end of our trip it was time to say goodbye. We took the train from Stockholm Central Station to Copenhagen a journey of about 5 hours on a high speed train of the Swedish Train Company SJ in all comfort and yes equipped with free WI FI, the meal served on board was very good, fresh, first class quality. We cross the waters at Malmö over this spectacular bridge to Denmark. In a few minutes we were at Copenhagen airport Kastrup and then into town.

Meal service on Swedish train.

Copenhagen Central Train Station with bicycle parking lot.

We stayed in Copenhagen for a day and chose an hotel right across from Tivoli Garden. We returned to Tivoli to have dinner in the park at one of the many nice restaurants and looked in at the Chinese Peacock Theatre on the Pantomime, always fun. Tivoli has quite a few Peacocks walking around, the white peacock with no long green feathery tails are the females and the male walks amongst people in a slow walk eyeing imperiously every one. On one of the sidewalks I came face to beek with Mr. Peacock, he was not moving so I moved aside and he walked right by me.  It is a big bird and very impressive, even little kids know to step aside.

The next day we flew to Canada, Copenhagen airport Kastrup is modern with dark wood floors, airy modern design. A very nice flight, the food was good. A good vacation all around, we saw many beautiful things and had a pleasant change of scenery.
Sidd and his visiting cousin Jööhann from Stockholm. He is one of those green environmentalist type.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

a little music by Rameau

On our flight home from Copenhagen I watched this movie called Les Choristes, (the choir) in it there is this piece by Jean-Philippe Rameau from 1683 entitled Ô Nuit, (oh night), it is taken from the opéra Hippolyte et Aricie in it a duet by two priestess of Diana sing Rendons un éternel hommage.

Today is 24 June, Summer Solstice and this is an annual Feast since time immemorial my ancestors the Gauls celebrated by lighting a huge bonfire to the Gods so that the Sun would return quickly in the morning. I think this piece is appropriate to this day. It is also a National Holiday in Québec.

The words are really poetic and beautiful in a very 17th century French.  Speaking of the night and its great qualities.

Ô nuit ! Qu'il est profond ton silence
Quand les étoiles d'or scintillent dans les cieux
J'aime ton manteau radieux
Ton calme est infini
Ta splendeur est immense

Ô nuit ! toi qui fait naître les songes
Calme le malheureux qui souffre en son réduit
Sois compatissante pour lui
Prolonge son sommeil, prend pitié de sa peine
Dissipe la douleur, nuit limpide et sereine.

Ô Nuit ! Viens apporter à la terre
Le calme enchantement de ton mystère.
L'ombre qui t'escorte est si douce,
Si doux est le concert de tes voix
chantant l'espérance,
Si grand est ton pouvoir transformant tout
en rêve heureux.

Ô Nuit ! Ô laisse encore à la terre
Le calme enchantement de ton mystère.
L'ombre qui t'escorte est si douce,
Est-il une beauté aussi belle que le rêve ?
Est-il de vérité plus douce que l'espérance ?

an encore

Our recent visit to Peterhof, the summer palace of Peter the Great, founder of the City of St-Petersburg, the sight of the great fountain of Samson and the lion accompanied to music presented as the Anthem of St-Petersburg is truly breathtaking. Samson is Russia and the Lion is the enemy Sweden defeated.

This is what it sounds and looks like at 11 am in the morning when the great fountains are all turned on at the same time.  Peterhof is outside the city on the Sea and the palace, like all the statues face the sea because Tsar Peter wanted to display his outward vision for his country.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Stockholm Vasa Museum

On day two we had again wonderful sunny weather. So we walked out of our hotel and started visiting the city. First we went to the famous Vasa Ship Museum. The Vasa is a 17th century war ship built at great expense which sank in 1628, minutes after being launch in the Port of Stockholm as stock holders and other backers watch in horror. The ship was top heavy, a mistake was made during its construction and a squall in the harbor capsized the ship, killing 50 of the crew.

a mock-up showing the moment of the accident.
The sailor whose body was found on board, he was 35 years old, measured 5.5 feet tall and was wearing what all sailors wore then.

It rested at the bottom of the harbor for 333 years preserved intact in its watery grave. When it was brought up in 1961, the ship was in such perfect state of preservation 95% intact that it was decided to build a museum to show what such a war ship looked like. What you see today is not only the ship itself but its sails and ropes, clothing and boxes of personal effects, money, glassware and all the objects which went down with it on that day, including one crushed body of a sailor who was pinned under a great cannon when the ship capsized. The museum has a wealth of information on life in Sweden at the time. It is well worth a visit, I can see why it is so popular.
The Vasa as is today in its museum.
very impressive to see such an old ship on display.

Through the cannon holes you can see right inside the ship. Sailors slept on the deck, ate and drank together. The admiral, the captain and all the officers lived in the great cabin at the back, slept together in murphy beds accommodating 8 men, took meals together and worked all in the same room. The toilets for all where at the head of the ship. A spartan life style you could say. The big difference was that the Officers ate fresh food while the men ate pickled and salted rations, no vegetables or fruits, thus much disease on board.

Stockholm, Sweden

The Captain of our ship told us that we if got up early around 6 am we could experience sailing into Stockholm. From the open sea it took us 2 hours at a speed of 16 knots to reach the port of the City.
All along the way I thought it all looked a lot like the Muskokas in Ontario. Rocky islands, pine trees, inlets here and there, very scenic.  There are hundreds of islands as you make your way to the city port.

The one problem we encountered here was the ATM machines at various banks, they do not appear to work with the CIRRUS system, we checked with the banks and our bank but there was no problem with our cards. We did notice that in general people do not appear to use much cash here, debit and credit cards are use for all purchases small and large. So in the end it worked out fine. Funny thing, you get a receipt for everything in Sweden, it does not matter what you purchase, even for the smallest items.
dining room aboard the little steam ship where we had lunch on our way to Drottningholm
steamship MS Carl Philip built in 1901.

I also did not find Stockholm all that expensive, many items are the same price as Ottawa. We bought a bouquet of flowers and for the quantity and quality of the flowers it was somewhat cheaper than Ottawa. Coffee, sandwiches, desserts, all the same price. Taxi rides about the same for the distance, no surprises there. Hotels are definitely more expensive by about 50% but again we are here at the height of a major 4 day holiday and all hotels are booked solid in town. Lunch and dinner in restaurants about the same as Ottawa. So all in all, I cannot say it is more expensive, it may just appear that way. I checked hotel room prices for off season and it runs around 140$ CDN for a couple with breakfast, compared to Canada its very good value.  Our hotel Kung Carl is very central in a fashionable sector of Stockholm, we walked everywhere. The Hotel breakfast was generous and good, the coffee was excellent. 
City Hall of Stockholm with the monument to the founder of the City Birger Jarl.

We did walk a lot and Stockholm is a city for walkers and bikers, excellent public transport, very clean civilized city. Almost everyone speaks English, you are not expected to speak Swedish. I also heard German and French. The people we encountered are pleasant, lots of smiles and easy going. But this was also true in Finland, Denmark and Holland.
You can also take boats to all the islands forming the city, there are about 20 in all. You have the Hop on and Hop off bus and also the boat. There are lots of old steamers which offer a nice ride into lake Maleren with a beautiful lunch on board, linen, porcelain and all.
The Summer Palace of the Royal Family of Sweden at Drottningholm.

 The Court theatre of 1764 on the Palace grounds.

We took one steamer to go to Drottningholm Palace about one hour away from the city centre, it was a beautiful ride up the lake and we had a very good lunch on board. Will finally got to see the famous Court Theatre built in 1764 it remains the only authentic 18th century theatre in Europe with all the original machinery, never modernized. What happened was that in 1809 the theatre was closed after the assassination of King Gustav III and then forgotten, since it was on the grounds of a Royal Palace no one had access and like sleeping beauty it just slept. In 1926 by accident someone came to visit the little theatre while doing research work on a famous painting which was supposedly hanging in the theatre. It was at this moment that this researcher found all the machinery and scenery, decor stored away as it was in 1809, preserved in time. It is truly a gem, visiting this theatre is stepping back in time, everything is exactly as it was. It is a marvel to look at, you cannot believe your eyes. All the original wallpaper is hanging on the walls still, hand painted and as was then the fashion nailed to the walls. The original furniture, even musical instruments are there. The masterpiece is the machinery to operate the changes in decor which still works perfectly today and the painted scenery which can be changed in a matter of seconds thanks to the machines all operated by hand. You need 46 persons to make it all work. Our guide told us that the workers lived, slept and ate in the theatre with their wifes and kids, everyone was housed in a communal fashion. The kids often worked as stage hands, and the King provided lunch as part of your salary. The great stars lived on stage, not only they performed on stage but also slept and had their change rooms etc all on stage. Not much privacy but again it was a different time and concepts such as privacy and space were not what they are today. Beds were folded and a privacy screen was your wall to separate you from others.

The auditorium is small and nothing is as it appears. The walls are wood covered with plaster and painted to look like marble, the boxes are made of papier mache. There are two boxes for single men who are at the front of the auditorium so they could be seen by the audience and maybe find a party. Two royal boxes in the middle and two privacy box for people who wanted to attend a show but not be seen. The lighting is all candle with a metal reflector to amplify the light. The public sat on plain wood benches and tables were provided so that you could have something to eat and drink during performances. Going to the theatre back then was part socializing and part looking at the show. Ladies used their fans to send signals to the available men or to flirt and it was not unheard of that maybe they would have a meeting in a dark corner or in a box.

If the King attended, he and his wife were provided with special chairs to indicate rank. The theatre is still used today in the summer, capacity is about 134 persons. The acoustics are great and modern artists have to moderate their voices otherwise they will sound to loud. This summer they are presenting Handel's, Orlando and Cavalli's, Jason and Medea.

The great thing about this visit was the Will got to see the theatre and operate the wind machine backstage, a privilege really granted by our guide who was impressed that he had waited 60 years to see the Court Theatre. Will was so happy, it made his day and I was happy for him that finally he had realized this dream and I could be with him on that day.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tallinn, Estonia

From St-Petersburg we sailed overnight to Tallinn. The moment we arrived in Tallinn it reminded me of Quebec City, old stone houses, fortifications, cobble stone streets, many fine restaurants. Tallinn has a population mix of Russians and Estonians. Prior to the Second World War, few Russians lived in Tallinn but Staline deported many ethnic Estonian children and women to Siberia to make room for Russian or so called Soviet families.

Tallinn is a beautiful small city and well worth the visit, it is also forward looking and modern like any European city. There was some confusion on our ship about the currency in use in Estonia but we quickly discovered the EURO is the new official currency. Many beautiful shops, quality goods, many nice Estonian products. We would have liked to spend more time in Tallinn to discover more of the old city. For many centuries Eastern Prussian,German and Swedish Noble families ruled in Estonia, many worked for the Tsarist government until independence in 1918 only to loose it again to the communist and Stalinist forces in 1941. Several interesting old Lutheran churches and one Russian Orthodox Church dot the old city. You do need good walking shoes because the street grade can be steep at times.

We sailed too soon for Stockholm.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Peterhof and the Winter Palace, Russia

On this trip to Northern Europe to 59.58 degrees North, the sun never sets before 22.58 in the evening which is very late by our standard living on the 49 parallel to the South where the Sun in June sets around 20.00 It never becomes fully dark up here, there is always on the horizon this white light. During our stay in St-Petersburg and last night has we sailed out of the harbour and up the channel to the open sea, there were dark clouds and some rain and strong winds, so the sky was much darker but still this light in the background allowing you to see, when normally in the South you would see nothing but pitch darkness.
Former headquarters of Carl Faberge, just 2 blocks from the Winter Palace, the name is still on the building in gold letters.

Our second day in St-Petersburg started with menacing clouds and a hint that the rain was not far off. We drove out of the City first by going around the major streets around the Winter Palace and the Admiralty, passing in front of several well known buildings, like the old Faberge building where Carl Faberge for years supplied jewellery to the Tsar and his family and designed those famous Easter Eggs, until the revolution when he was forced out of Russia and his company and contents were confiscated. We also drove past the Yussoupof Palace where Rasputin was killed by a group of conspirators who were trying to protect the Imperial family from his nefarious influence. Prince Yussoupof went into exile at the time of the revolution, becoming famous in Paris after writing of that fateful night. After the revolution many Russian aristocrats we were able to flee established in France, it was common to hear of Russian Officers who had become taxi drivers, the more prominent members of the Imperial family found refuge in England, Denmark and Spain where the Royal families of those countries offered them refuge. The palace rooms and cellar where the events of that night unfolded can be visited today, it is a big draw.
 Prince Felix Youssoupoff (1887-1967) Palace in St-Petersburg, it is so big I could not fit it in my camera lense. The canal in front is where Rasputin body was dumped on 30 December 1916.
We also passed in front of other churches like the Church of Our Lady of Kazan which resembles St-Peter in Rome.

The trip to Peterhof, the summer residence of Peter the Great is about one hour by car, it very much depends on the traffic. On the way to the Palace we saw another palace called by the locals Putinhof, it is the former summer palace of Grand Duke Constantine. The Palace was badly damaged during the second world war and then abandoned, until one day when Vladimir Putin wanted to establish an official Presidential Palace in St-Petersburg and he ordered the complete rehabilitation and reconstruction of this palace which now stands in an immense park on the sea outside of the city. It is used mainly by the Russian President when he is holding official functions or when important guests of the State are visiting Russia. Amazing what political will can do.
The front of Peterhof Palace as you arrive. Partial view. 
The great cascade at the rear of the palace facing the sea with all the gold statues.

another area of the garden in Peterhof with more fountains.
the rotating sun dial fountain and pool at Peterhof used in later years by Catherine II the Great as a pool for herself of course.
Peterhof was both a Palace for the Tsar Peter and his wife Catherine I, a simple peasant girl who did good. Paintings of her shows a rather plain looking woman with intelligent eyes who was much loved by Peter and who apparently knew how to handle him when he fell into one of his darker moments.

Peter also had other smaller pavilions built in the park of the palace and a manor by the seashore copied from a Dutch manor he had seen in The Netherlands. It is known that Tsar Peter worked on the design and interior decoration which is very faithful to what you would see in Holland.
The Dutch mansion designed by Peter the Great on the seashore when he wanted to get away.
However the most spectacular aspect of Peterhof is not the buildings but the great fountains. There are four such fountains. One is the famous baroque fountain of Samson and the lion which is set like a giant staircase cascading down from the main Palace to the canal below. All the many statues at different levels of this staircase are double gilded with gold, important to remember this is not gold paint but real gold, the giant statue of Samson represents Russia and the Lion is defeated Sweden. This fountain group is a celebration of the victory of the Russian army against Sweden at Poltava a war that lasted almost 20 years and established Russia as a world power.
At 11 O'clock every day in summer only, the fountains are turned on with great fanfare majestic music. It is interesting to note that only gravity activates the fountains there are no mechanical devices, as water comes from a giant cistern situated above the site, water rushes through ever narrowing pipes and then burst forth. All the water then cascades down into canals and streams in the forested park creating a idyllic setting.

Another feature of the park is the many tricked water traps, a park bench will suddenly gush with water jets drenching anyone sitting down. Or a park pathway will suddenly spurt water on passers by from every direction or a stone path outside one of the pavilions will become a shower of water. All this was built so that Peter could have a good laugh at his unsuspecting guests. These water traps are activated by a simple lever which can be activated by a simple twist of the wrist.
Peterhof is a real delight and again the Russian government worked hard at rebuilding it after the devastation of the Second World War. All the gold statues were stored in a secret hideaway during the war, except for the giant statue of Samson which disappeared and what you see today is a copy.
We had a very nice meal in the Orangerie of the Palace and the rain did not dampen our enthusiasm for the place. One other spectacular fountain is a giant pool with a rotaring copper Sun spurting rays of water as it rotates, again activated by the force of the water and gravity. This pool is said to have been a favorite of Catherine II the Great who use to come to Peterhof to swim.

On our return to the City our next stop was the Winter Palace and the Hermitage museum. Many people confused the Winter Palace and the Hermitage not understanding that the complex is several buildings. You have the Winter Palace which was the Official City Residence of the Tsar and his family and the Hermitage which was a private museum for the Tsar dedicated to his private enjoyment, meaning not open to the public. The Hermitage as the word implies is a retreat, a secluded place for the Sovereign to enjoy quietly this vast art collection. I have difficulty imagining one person going from one vast room to another alone admiring in complete silence these numerous master pieces.
Catherine II the Great would say that only her and the mice enjoyed the Hermitage and this was literally true.
The Hermitage was a private museum to house the collections of the Tsar and Tsarina. Imagine being the ruler and wandering alone in those great rooms.

The museum contains 3 million pieces of art. The best time to visit the Hermitage is January and February when next to no one comes to St-Petersburg. Unfortunately for us we arrived at the museum with 6 buses of Chinese tourists, it felt like the entire Chinese nation had descended on the museum. A very unpleasant experience. We opted for a visit to the gallery of Flemish painters and then the private and State Rooms of the Winter Palace so to avoid the worst of the hordes of tourists. It is interesting to note that no room is like any other room, all are lavishly decorated with the most extravagant materials. The art collection is very impressive and extensive an addition to the imposing decor. We can thank Peter the Great and Catherine II the Great for most of the collection we see today, both were avid collectors and it is said they were also shrewd business people, never paying the full price.
every room in the Hermitage is more splendid than the other.

The private apartments of Tsar Nicholas and his wife Empress Alexandra where the only ones damaged and looted during the storming of the Winter Palace in February 1917. Apparently the leadership of the revolution did not want the Winter Palace damaged nor the Hermitage collection vandalized so those parts of the palace where closed off. We did see the private library of Tsar Nicholas a beautiful wood panelled room in Gothic style very similar to the style used in Ottawa in the Parliament buildings. His library was used by the Provisional Government and preserved as is. As for the other rooms used by the family today they are empty or furniture from other palaces are on display. Strangely enough a long gallery with the life sized oil portraits of all the Romanov Tsars of Russia and Grand Dukes was preserved as was another gallery containing 350 oil portraits of all the great Czarist generals, the reason in this case, they were war heroes who had liberated mother Russia from the evil invaders.
The throne room in the Winter Palace an immense room all in white marble and gold.
The detail of the room housing the giant gold peacock clock, it still keeps time to this day.
The grand staircase of the Ambassadors reserved for persons coming to meet the Tsar.
one of the many reception rooms in the Winter Palace.
I would love to return to St-Petersburg to visit the Hermitage in January without the crowds.

Finally the last stop of our visit was the Church of the Resurrection also known as the Church of the Spilled blood, this refers to the assassination on 1 March 1881 of Tsar Alexander II by a group of terrorists. The church is a monument to the life of the Tsar Liberator as Alexander II is known. Historians now believe that had the Tsar not died on that day, the revolution might have been averted in 1917 as his reforms would have led to a Constitution. It is ironic in a way that this man was assassinated given all his many important reforms and good deeds during his life.

It is often thought in mainstream history that the Tsars were awful people or tyrants, however this is not so, the entire society in Russia was failing around the 1855 Crimean War. The bureaucracy was all powerful and as a whole Russia was still a feudal system. If anything went wrong the Tsar was blamed since he was an autocrat. A case in point, Nicholas II was seen as a tyrant when in fact he was a kind affectionate man, a Russophile and well educated. However he made one tragic mistake at the beginning of the First World War, seeing how badly his troops were doing, instead of replacing inept generals who were often family members or aristocratic families who had served faithfully the Romanov dynasty, he took personal charge of the command of the war and responsibility for what was happening, despite the fact the government tried to warn him of the dangers of such a move. He soon became the target of all the criticism and this in the end caused his downfall.
the walls are covered with mosaics not paintings, the floors are intricate coloured marble designs.

The Church of the Spilled blood is remarkable, the most lavish materials were used in its building, inside the walls are covered with giant mosaics representing the life of Christ, numerous great artists worked on this project. The spot where the Tsar died in the street is preserved with the original pavement covered by a granite and marble large canopy. The day we visited someone had placed a large flower bouquet, this area in the church is a shrine and cordoned off. The Tsar gate in front of the Altar is made of gold, silver and precious stones and the floor is inlaid marble. A large amount of rhodonite was also used, the red blood colour of this stone adds to the dramatic effect. On the outside the walls of the church are covered with several large tablets in granite and gold inlaid text describing the many accomplishments of Tsar Alexander II. During the Soviet period the church was nearly blown up by the communists because of what it symbolized and the inside was use as a warehouse. Today the church has been fully restored and cleaned and it is a jewel to see. Many Russians see it as a shrine to the Motherland.
the iconostasis wall in an orthodox church is in front of the Altar separating the priest from the participants. The Tsar Gate is made of precious metals and stones. The gate is open at the moment of consecration in the mass.
The shrine inside the church marking the spot where Tsar Alexander II died on the street.

Unfortunately we only had 2 full days in St-Petersburg and this is clearly not enough, there is so much more to see and appreciate. But we are happy with our first visit and with the many beautiful things we saw. It is also to the credit of the Russian Government who since 2000 has restored faithfully many important historical buildings employing hundreds of artisans in the process. We were also impressed with how clean the city was, Russians are respectful of the sites and even at Peterhof with the large crowds, we did not see one paper on the ground or discarded item anywhere.

We did go to the University Embankment to pet the heads of the bronze Griffons below the Egyptian sphinx, it is said that if you do this you will return to St-Petersburg.

Monday, 18 June 2012

St-Petersburg, Russia

No its not St-Petersburg, Florida, this is the city on the Neva River which is criss-crossed by canals and 60 other rivers, founded in May 1703 by Czar Peter the Great who was not a nice man, apparently. It was the capital of the Russian Empire until 1918 when Lenin and other assorted criminals and terrorists decided to return to Moscow, thank God they all are now on the thrash heap of history.

St-Petersburg is an important port on the eastern gulf of Finland, with a population of 5 million people.
We are taking a guided visit on recommendation from M.K. We are scheduled to visit the highlights of St-Petersburg over two days. Unfortunately there is so much on offer in this museum city and we will only have the opportunity to see a fraction of it, but we will make the most of it.

Our ship is docked on the English Embankment on the spot where the cruiser Aurora fired its guns to signal the uprising against the government of Russia in 1917. A very historical spot, from the deck I can see the Admiralty and the Winter Palace just 3 blocks away. The Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir and Kiril. There are many Grand Ducal Palaces near the Winter Palace. The Peter and Paul Fortress and the St-Isaac Cathedral, in the distance the cupola of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ or also known as the Spilled blood in memory of assassinated Czar Alexander II, the church marks the spot of his murder by terrorists. The University Embankment is on the other side of the river with the Museum and Faculty of Fine Arts, the Palace of the first governor of St-Petersburg.

So you can say that we are truly in the centre of old St-Petersburg.
Alexander Palace in Tsarkoye Selo

We spent two days visiting the old Imperial Capital. On the first day our guide Julia came and got us. We drove to Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar Village) it is also known as Pushkin because it was in this village that the author Pushkin lived. Tsarkoye Selo is a village of grand imperial palaces and churches. Empress Catherine I wife of Peter the Great built her famous Catherine Palace, Empress Elizabeth later decided to change it and make it more splendid, the Great Catherine not liking the Russian baroque palace of her predecessor hired and Englishman, Cameron to build her a palace, very different and very English looking. In the meantime other palaces where built for other members of the Romanov Family. All set in beautiful immense parks with lakes and ponds, parks dotted with statues and pavilions and small hermitage, a word meaning a place of seclusion, where the ruler could be on his or her own away from the Court.
Catherine I Palace

Tsarkoye Selo is about 23 km from St-Petersburg and we took the old road or the only road set out by Peter the Great to get there. It is marked with marble stone markers at each kilometre. When you arrive at the village entrance a grand Egyptian portico greets you. The first palace is Alexander Palace which became the last home of the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family, it was also their prison for a few months until they were deported by Prime Minister Kerensky to Siberia before being murdered with their servants on the orders of Lenin.
All the gold you see in the Palaces is real gold.

The palace has been restored and so have the grounds, only 15 years ago it was a ruin. Tsarkoye Selo was occupied by the German and Spanish army during World War II and greatly damaged, the palaces were ruined. Alexander Palace is beautiful and full of sadness because of the events of 1917.
Gold trimmings with chinese silk embroidered on the walls, picture of Tsar Alexander I

We then proceeded down the street to the Catherine Palace, it is a marvel of gold and blue and white confection. It looks more like a marzipan fantasy cake than a palace. Photos show you what happened once the Nazi occupied the palace and the destruction they brought upon it. Including the disappearance of the famous Amber room, totally recreated today, it is a gem, a marvel to see. We spent several minutes looking at it and examining the room. It is forbidden to take any photos inside the Amber room.

We then went on to visit the small chapel of the Imperial Lyceum which was a school for boys of the Aristocracy, Pushkin was a student at that school.
Palace of the great Catherine II in English style.

Catherine II the Great, who was a German Princess from Stettin near Berlin, had very different taste and knew what she wanted, you could say she was imperious. We visited her office in a pavilion in the park of the palace. A group of Russian singers were there and performed a beautiful song for us, called Evening bells.
Vladimir Putin favorite restaurant, excellent food.

After all this walking we had lunch near by at the favourite restaurant of President V. Putin, they feature many dishes he likes and also complete menus of his birthday party. The cuisine is Russian and the food was wonderful. They also have a Russian orchestra with singers to entertain diners.

We returned to St-Petersburg and went to visit the St-Isaac Cathedral but on the way there we made a little detour to see a very special church in the garden of another palace of Catherine the Great, much ruined today however the small church of St-John the Forerunner survives intact.
This church stands on the exact spot, while she walked in her English garden, of the news of the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish fleet at the naval battle of Chesmen or Chesmenskaya. Again this building is pure fantasy all pink and white, looks very much like a big cake.
Chesmen Church 

Then on we went to St-Isaac Cathedral with its pure gold dome some 100 kg of it. The church is fronted by the bronze horseman figure of Peter the Great and at the plaza at the back the mounted statue of Tsar Nicholas I facing the city hall of St-Petersburg which is housed in the former palace of Princess Maria daughter of Tsar Nicholas I. On the side of the cathedral we saw the preparation of the opening of a new luxury hotel of the Four Seasons group which will is in the former grand palace of a noble family.
Tsar gate in St-Isaac Cathedral with lapis lazuli columns

The cathedral commemorates the victory and peace in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. The huge red granite columns of the entrance of the church weigh 200 tons each. The church itself is all faced inside with intricate coloured marble and the Tsar gate in front of the Altar is aligned with malachite and lapis lazuli columns, the contrast of green and blue stone is striking. The architect a Frenchmen Auguste Montferrand. In fact this is one feature of St-Petersburg, the number of foreign architects, mostly Italians.
Malachite and lapis lazuli columns inside St-Isaac Cathedral

We also visited on the other side of the Neva river the Peter Paul Fortress and church where all the Romanov Tsars and family members are buried. This church also has a side chapel for the tombs of all the grand dukes. Recent burials have been those of the remains of Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra, their children and servants, the Dowager Empress Maria, who died in Denmark, she was the mother of Tsar Nicholas and had escaped with several other family members with the help of the British Navy. The church is the history of the last 400 years of Russia. Peter the Great is buried there and so his Alexander II the Tsar Liberator who has a beautiful jasper coffin and his wife who has a rhodonite stone coffin. People bring flowers and many of the tombs had flowers including a 7 foot royal palm tree. At the back of the church several small tombs, those of the various governors of the Fortress who as a special honour are buried close to the Tsars they served. All recent funerals of the last 19 years of Romanov family members, have been Russian State Funerals. St-Petersburg is celebrating 400 years of the Romanov dynasty in 2013.

Peter and Paul Fortress Church where all the Romanov Imperial Family are buried

Jasper and rhodonite stone coffins of Tsar Alexander II and his wife
Burial chamber of the entire family of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and their children

It was a beautiful first day but also a tiring one, this city is full of treasures and our two day stop is simply not long enough, so we have to pace ourselves.