Now, we are walking around as if in a daze, totally saturated with information. Along with our brains, our feet are tired! It's time to go home. I'm always amazed at how our tours in the past have ended just as we are beginning to feel the strain. How do they know??
I still think we had a little steam left as we took the hydrofoil to the Hermitage Museum, the former residence of Elizabeth the first, daughter of Peter the Great. This winter palace was actually built for her mother, Catherine I, but unfortunately she died before she could enjoy it's beauty. It was meant to entertain dignitaries, and, as usually happens with royal families, also housed numerous masterpieces from around the world.
Elizabeth I (remember her 15,000 dresses?) is pictured below. Judging by the few dresses we viewed that remained of her collection, she had a extremely small waist as a young woman. She is older here, but I think you can tell she was slender at the waist even then.
As the others, it was built in baroque style, but when Elizabeth moved in, she had her private quarters redone to reflect the renaissance style.
The first exhibit was an incredibly intricate peacock clock, which was found in pieces. In 1970, a self-made man was able to assemble this creation. It's wound only once a week, and keeps good time. At the chime, her eyes open, she nods, calls and then her feathers spread open. A squirrel and dragonfly nearby move in unison.
Elizabeth had her own private collection, which included medieval and renaissance art.
Here is a beautifully painted ceramic dish:
And a sculpture of a faun by the artist Baccio (must have been one of Dan's relatives):
Catherine had sent an artist to the Vatican to copy the great artist Rafael's "Loggia" or hallway of art (I guess they had no copyright laws in those days):
And here is a close up of Noah from one of the ceiling paintings:
Then we moved to the masters gallery with works from DaVinci and Fra Angelica and others. . .
This one is called "The Lute Player" by Caravaggio, which depicts the swiftness and brevity of love. At one point, years ago, the museum staff place vases of oils which held scents of the flowers nearby, and played a recording of the music written on the score sheet.
Russians love malachite, so it's no surprise to see this enormous vase in the collection. Since the mineral is so fragile, the artist had to piece it together by hand. They had done the impossible because, of course "This is Russia!"
Look at this painting of Valazquez called "The Luncheon". How many men do you see here?
The Hermitage has the largest collection of Dutch paintings next to Amsterdam itself, which is no surprise, since Peter the Great was enamered with all things Dutch!
Here is one by Rembrandt, which is a portrait of his first wife, who died in childbirth:
The painting of his second wife was damaged by acid which a man threw on it. You could barely tell, but it took 30 years to restore!
Here is one of Rembrandt's true masterpieces called (I believe), the Prodigal. I took a close up of the father who is depicted as blind, embracing his long-lost son. Just like God our Father, he is blind to our faults when our hearts are in the right place.
At the end we had some free time, so we sought out the Royal costume collection which was fabulous! Unfortunately, I couldn't take photos, but Olivia especially, enjoy it immensely.
Here is a parting shot . . . look closely at this photo. I giggled when I saw this. It's the Asian version of a "selfie"!
Then we broke off from the large group, and walked with another three couples to the Astoria, and had an excellent meal of traditional Russian favorites.
Here I was able to enjoy the last dish on my list mentioned in the book, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" . . . Olivier Salad!
The Yusopov Family was not royal, but extremely wealthy. They were formerly Muslim, but converted to Russian Orthodoxy. Elizabeth the first loved to visit this palace, and was friends of the family. The Romanovs were as well, many years down the road, two generations later. This building now a teacher's club. It was bought in 1830, and restored in 1860.
Here are a few shots of the interior. I had to pay a photography fee of 150руъ or around $4, so I better put them to good use!
Below is what looks like a tapestry, but they are actually hand painted on the walls!
Here is a gorgeous blue bedroom:
With a secret door to the prince's room:
This ceiling was designed to remind them of their Muslim roots:
A red room,
A blue room,
And now, the intrigue. Rasputin was a peasant priest who had the powers of healing. Since the last Tzar's son Alexi had hemophilia, the Tzarina dearly wanted her son to be healthy. The doctors didn't know much about the disease, so there was no cure.
Tzarina Alexandra discovered Rasputin through a friend, and employed him to help her son. He became a favorite of the children, and supposedly, many fond letters where written between them. The doctor claimed that he did indeed help Alexi. But, there came a time when the Tzarina's close affiliation with Rasputin was under suspicion, and Felix Yusopov, who was friends with the Romanovs decided enough was enough, and planned to stop the rumors forever.
He got a group of his friends together and brought Rasputin to the palace under some false pretense, and, in the basement of the building, provided a feast for him laced with cyanide. He at it all, but with no result (some think the pharmacist replace it with a harmless substance because he suspected it would be used for harm, but there is no proof).
Frustrated, they returned and shot him twice, but he didn't die. So, they wrapped him in a curtian, and threw him in the river nearby, and he finally drowned. Many thought he had mystical powers which made it difficult for him to be harmed.
Strange story for a strange man . . .
And now, we head for home very early tomorrow morning. We are so thankful for this tremendous opportunity to visit Mario and Olivia's birthplace. Finding Olivia's half-sister was icing on the cake! The cruise was a delight, the staff was attentive and friendly, and our tours and tour guides, enlightening. To top it off, we have had three consecutive days of sunshine in a city that has a total of 65 a year. Nadia, our tour guide called us the "green angels" because of it!
We have a mighty God who has done great things, and for that, we are greatful!