My first entry for my time in Russia is Pushkin; a town more or less 25 km south of Saint Petersburg and it’s main draw; The Catherine Palace. Prior to 1937 the town was named as Tsarskoye Selo, but it was renamed ‘Pushkin’ after arguably the most famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin.
Thanks to Russian history lessons at secondary school, I’ve been aware of the fact that Russia in general, but more specifically Saint Petersburg and it’s surrounding areas have many stunning palaces that result from Russia’s intriguing, compelling dynasties and imperial history. After a little reading, I decided on visiting The Catherine Palace and plotted my visit via train.
The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I of Russia engaged the German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace for her pleasure – alright for some eh? ‘I’ll have a palace please. Thanks.’
Ultimately though, it’s best known for being an official residence for the Tsars of Russia.
Unfortunately, due to mass crowds during the day, I was unable to visit the interior of the palace. Nevermind. Plenty more fish in the sea was my thinking – plus, in and around Saint Petersburg, that was a fact. It’s Palace galore in these necks of the woods.
This however meant that I would miss out on seeing the famous ‘Amber Room‘ – regarded as “one of the great treasures of Russia—culture, Russian history, and Russian heritage”. The room is a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors which was raided and looted by the Nazi’s (think Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Final Crusade) during WWII. Despite the Soviet government initiating and completing a project (which took 24 years) in reconstructing the Amber Room based on black-and-white photos, the original treasures from the room and their current whereabouts remain a mystery.
To put it simply, If discovered, expect it to make the news.
A stroll around the palace grounds was more than enough for me anyway as the exterior of the palace was truly stunning – an elegant baby-blue, just a touch lighter than sky blue on a perfect sunny day. The palace blossomed amidst the crowds of people going about their business within the palace grounds. The occasional sound of whinging children mingled with the crunchy sounds of footsteps on gravel. Sunlight was shy but when it appeared, the 100 kilograms of gold came to life as their shine emerged, enhanced. Apparently, it was the one of the dying wishes of Empress Elizabeth to have so much gold affixed to the palace.
The gardens too were immaculate. Everything was prim and proper and well looked after. Imagine a prestigious golf course, but with a palace replacing a clubhouse. The only thing lacking in charm came via security staff. The perimeters were guarded by the stereotypical guards who looked miserable with their groans and mutters. Some things are just universal I suppose.
After hours of walking, I rounded the day off tucking into a delicious, traditional Beef Stroganoff whilst pondering and coming to the conclusion that the Catherine Palace looked like a nice place to live.