Saturday, June 24, 2006

Man, it's been awhile...

Since my last post, I mean. This week has been so very busy. And every day was awesome! On Tuesday we had a couple of tours - one of the Summer Palace of Peter I, and one of the Menshikov Palace (he was the first major of St. Petersburg and one of Peter's best buddies). It was interesting to see the difference between the two places. Peter's palace was very subdued - not nearly as grandiose as Menshikov's. I guess someone had something to prove. Anyway, they were both pretty cool.
Wednesday we had a bus trip to the palaces of Peterhoff and Oranienbaum. It's amazing how much they have done to restore Peterhoff. There are pictures on display of what it looked like after all the bombing in WWII. There was nothing left. Luckily a lot of the items inside were evacuated to Siberia during the war, so many of the paintings and furnishings survived. There were so many people there, though. It was almost as bad as Versailles - nothing but tourists fighting each other to see pretty things. But the gardens were great - and the shade felt really good. It's been so hot here lately that I've felt like I am back in the south :-D.
Oranienbaum was a bit different. They are just beginning to restore the palaces there. There were hardly any tourists - mostly students getting in to see what is being done to bring the palace back to it's original state. The outside of the palace was completely enveloped in scaffolding. But once we were inside, it was just as awesome as any of the other palaces. And it was cool to see restorations as they are happening. I felt special again (not nearly as special as I felt yesterday, but I'll get to that in a second).
On Thursday we had a great tour of the Russian Museum (the first of three - it's really huge). One of the curators took us through the collections of Russian art, from early icons to the early 20th century artists. It's always nice to have someone who knows what they're talking about AND speaks English to teach our class :-D. One of the paintings we saw was "Christ and the Adultress" by Vasily Polenov. It was huge and had an awesome optical illusion - if you look at it from one side and then the other, it looks think the guy on the donkey is heading in two different directions. Too cool. I want to go back there and hang out with that piece some more. And it was only one of a lot of really cool paintings. I'm looking forward to our next two tours there.
Yesterday was really one of the highlights. We went to the restoration and storage facility for the Hermitage. It's a new facility - they only have one of the planned buildings completed. We got to see the first painting that they have "doubled" on their new equipment (doubling is when they replace the canvas on a painting - very difficult and risky procedure), as well as a lot of other works currently in the restoration workshop. Then we were taken through a bunch of the storage areas, and got to see a lot of pieces that are completely awesome but for various reasons are not on display. One was a sultan's tent from the middle east that was given as a diplomatic gift to Catherine the Great. Too cool. It was definitely one of the best days so far. In the afternoon we had a tour of the Scythian gold collection. The Hermitage own the largest collection of Scythian gold. It was really cool. They also have a lot of other really rare gold and jewels. For example, there are only 14 known pairs of Greek gold earrings in the world that have examples of microgranulation - the Hermitage owns 7 of those pairs.
The only thing that really was bothering me this week was the fact that we had a few leeches in our group. This group of four older Americans joined us for the week, and went on all our tours with us. They were the stereotypical American tourists - from the stupid questions and comments down to the gum. A lot of us felt like they were making the rest of the group look bad. But I didn't let them ruin the week. And they are on their way home on Monday, so we don't have to put up with them any more. Woohoo.
Today we had a masterclass in Russian wood painting. It was so much fun. And I felt like I was really good at it too. The teacher kept on saying it looked really nice. I'll be sure to take a picture of it and post it.
Speaking of pictures, I really did post pictures this time. I PROMISE - they're there. I double checked. So check them out ... here.
Tonight is gonna be a big night I think. Lots of stuff planned with the group. Should have a few more stories to tell after this...

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