Sunday, 11 August 2013

Underground and undercover (5)

Our second day in St Petersburg was wet and I felt rather sorry for our walking tour guide, Maria, who was to lead a wedding party tour in the afternoon when the main deluge fell. Nevertheless, it was an informative walk and though we had covered some of the same ground the previous day, it helped us understand the place and the people a little better. Russians still don't smile. In fact many of them consider strangers who smile at them to be silly - I thought they were missing out.

Following our walking tour we headed for the Metro, finding ourselves at the newest and deepest station - Admiralteyskaya. Taking about seven minutes on the escalators to descend to the platform - the first escalator was 410 feet (125 metres) long - we planned to visit a number of station recommended for their particularly artistic decor. On reaching the platform, I was really quite amazed by the sight. There was a central platform area with what looked like a polished marble floor under a lit arched canopy ceiling. At the far end was a huge mosaic mural of an 18th century admiral. Either side were marble colonnades leading onto the main platform areas. Impressive, I thought, but better was to come.
Avtovo Metro station
The train was not the newest bit of kit and the ferocity with which one was thrown around likely gave the impression of a greater speed than was actually being accomplished. It is a very inexpensive system with one standard fare payable by tokens that are bought beforehand, and once through the first ticket barrier one can travel on as many trains as one's heart desires.

Our first stop was Narvskaya where we got off the train to simply look around. Wow! The platforms were each lit by ornate chandeliers that would not have look out of place in a palatial dining room. Sculptures of miners, engineers, sailors sculptures, teachers and children adorned the platform columns. At Kirovskiy Zavod I was surprised to see a huge bust of Lenin - most were dismantled or destroyed following the fall of Communism. And at Avtovo were the most ornate, Babylonian style marble and cut-glass columns, plaster panelled ceilings and more decorative chandeliers. I imagine that many of the locals think nothing of it, seeing this day in and day out, but even though we were some distance underground it did all seem rather over the top.

Looking up at the ceiling at the Church of the Spilled Blood
Such a subterranean expedition was well-suited for such a rainy day, but back on top of the world it was time for another internal adventure - this time inside the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (a.k.a. the Church of the Resurrection of Christ). Built in 24 years, it took 27 years to restore and was reopened in 1997 - but well worth the wait, and well worth the entrance fee. I have never seen so much mosaic art in one place - 7,000 square metres of it covering every internal square inch of walls, columns and ceiling! No longer a 'working' church, this is an spectacular museum of religious art, both mosaics and painted icons, depicting many Biblical scenes and other events. It's hard to believe that for a time during Soviet rule the place was used to store potatoes and other vegetables, and it is understood that its thick walls and crypt made it an ideal place to shoot political prisoners and store their bodies. Charming.

On our way to find a bite to eat we passed a chap playing a rather unusual looking wooden instrument and singing in an equally unusual, but pleasantly serene voice. The instrument had a crank for winding, presumably for pumping air, and was played by plucking strings and pressing wooden keys. Fascinating. Deciding to avoid 'Killfish Burgers' we settled on pizza, a most traditional Russian dish, at restaurant called 'Italy', an equally Russian sounding name. Passing by 'Teaspoon', the pancake place at which we lunched yesterday, it was difficult not to stop and enjoy a pancake with berries before turning in for the night. So we didn't - not stop that is.

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