Following Peter the Great: Day Four in St Petersburg

Saturday was our day to be Peter-centric in Peter’s city. We took the metro out to Peter and Paul Fortress, the original fortifications built as St Petersburg became a city. You get a great view of the other side of the river from the fortress.

It is much like other fortresses with ramparts and such. Near the center is the cathedral. Sadly, the outside was undergoing renovations, but the inside was pretty and interesting. Aasa and I spent awhile deciphering the ornate Cyrillic lettering to try to figure out whose Romanov grave is whose. (We didn’t, at least for most of them.) The effort made us hungry, so we walked over to a restaurant by Peter the Great’s cabin. I enjoyed duck risotto and great conversation.

As the ticket office for the cabin was momentarily closed, we walked a few blocks over to see the cruiser Aurora, which is quite impressive. I can see where it made a good piece of Soviet propaganda. We didn’t bother to wait in line to board it, however, as we were anxious to see the Peter’s Cabin Museum.

This is one of the most interesting historical site museums I’ve seen. It is actually the entire furnished cabin that Peter the Great lived in (for all of three weeks) as the Peter and Paul Fortress was being built, and is therefore the first building in St Petersburg. Peter declared it a museum about 15 or 20 years later, which is either a comment on how he viewed himself or how he viewed St Petersburg – I’m guessing the former. And then they built a building around it to preserve it, which is a little odd and quite clever.

Sightseeing, as always, taking longer than expected, we had to postpone visiting the Museum of Political History to the following day so we could run some errands before the ballet. Alas, my conversation was not sufficient to prevent all toothache, so we headed to Stockman’s on Nevsky Prospect to buy a home remedy (cloves) and some bread, cheese and salami for dinner. Then it was a mad rush back to the hotel to eat and change and head to the Mariinski Theater.

We saw La Bayadere, with some updates to the original Petipa choreography. The third act was especially amazing with one of those huge scenes of the corps de ballet in white classical tutus taking up the whole stage like in Swan Lake. We also saw a male soloist in the second act whose leaps to my non-connoisseur but mildly knowledgeable eye seemed to have the same grace and “ballon” as the principal dancer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he rises to become a principal.

The theater itself is gorgeous. Interestingly, it doesn’t have seats, but actual chairs, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a theater before. We were in the third row of the first circle (essentially a third floor seat) and since there is no incline to the balconies, this last row was raised on specially built boxes with little indentations for the chair legs. They also let you rent opera glasses at the coat check, which meant I could see the expressions on the dancers’ faces.

One cost of the charming gold angels and embellishments on the walls of the theater is that part of one obstructed a small part of the view from one of our seats. I was pretty upset as I had tried really hard to get good seats. The good news was that we had a great view other than that – the theater is not so big that you’re far away from the stage in the circle boxes where we were. It was a lovely end to the evening.

Picture: view of St Nicholas with the Mariinski in the background seen on our walk home from the metro

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