Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Wee Quilt and St. Petersburg, Pt 3

I really am a quilter.  really.  sometimes.  Not often enough this year, but I think about it, a lot.  Over the weekend, I put together the first of a number of wee little quilts, that I think might begin to replace the 5 x 7" quiltlet cards that I usually make.  We'll see.  It depends on how my time management goes.

Enough.  Here is the quilt:
My working title of this was "Through the Storm."  The greyed water and sails look stormy to me.  The binding is printed with Bible verses, that hopefully will keep my friend close as she deals with the months to come.

St. Petersburg, Day 2

We spent our second morning in St. Petersburg at the Faberge Museum.  I have to say it was the highlight of our visit to Russia, at least in my book.  Then again, I love enamel work, I love semi-precious stones, I love gems and jewelry and, well, if it sparkles, it has my attention.
 The Faberge Museum is housed in one of the palaces across the canal and down a bit from the Hermitage.  The man behind it thought that the work of Faberge deserved a showplace in Russia, where Carl Faberge spent his working life.  (His family was from France.)  Faberge made the famous eggs for the tsars, but he also did all kinds of things.  The first room we entered was filled with silver.  Punch bowls, vodka shot glasses, all kinds of things for tables and desks.  Here is an example of the silverwork.  If it looks like silver, it is.  If it looks like gold, it is.  If it looks like a jewel, it is.  If it looks like glass, it's crystal.  How would you like this pencil cup to sit on your desk top?
 The next room contained the 9 Romanov eggs owned by the museum.  This white enamel on gold, with a gold  yolk and gold and enamel chicken was the first of the many made for the tsars and their families.
 The yellow egg, that opens to reveal a carriage (with all moving parts), is one of the more famous.
I took hundreds of photos in the museum, so it's difficult to decide which to share.  But because this is a primarily quilting blog, I'll show you the ones that reminded me of fiber art - even though the "fiber" is silver, and the "beads" are real pearls, etc.
 Look at the way that silver drapes!
 And the pearls!  Fabulous!
I also thought these were worthy of sharing.  Again, if it looks like a jewel or semi-precious stone, it is.  Like that tray?  It is carved from a single piece of jade.  seriously.  jade.

 How about these?  Be sure to click on the photo to see how precious they are.  Number 3 has (enamel?) Johnny Jump-ups in a carved crystal vase.  Number 5 is pearl and jade lilies of the valley, in a little gold basket.
 And finally, how would you like to have a yellow enamel Faberge holder for your...crochet hooks?  oh my.  The lives of the rich and famous.  Stunning.
So.  That was the beginning of Day 2 in St. Petersburg.  The morning was spent at the Faberge Museum, the evening at the ballet.  Stay tuned.  More to come.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

St. Petersburg, Pt. 2

The evening of our first day in St. Petersburg was an absolute treat.  We signed up for an excursion to the countryside, to the town of Pushkin, where Catherine the Great had her summer palace.  I should probably say Summer Palace.  Everything about that place should be in caps.  It SCREAMS wealth and royalty, and the phrase that went repeatedly through my mind was, "Opulence. I has it."
Our first stop was the Carriage House, which was filled with carriage upon carriage.  Each Romanov had their own carriage.  I mean, who would want to share, right?  I suspect I know where the Disney artists got their inspiration for Cinderella's pumpkin coach!

When we left the Carriage House, we got our first glimpse of the Summer Palace chapel domes.  I think my jaw dropped when I saw that it acts as a perch for crows.  Crows!  I couldn't believe it!!
 I should probably stop right here and remind you that we were told that, "Everything that looks like gold IS gold.  Everything."  oh my.  When we approached the palace gate, it slowly opened and a band began playing.  They turned and marched to the entrance, with us following like rats and the Pied Piper.
 This is one of the best photos I have of the palace.  If you add 1.5 times to both sides, you get an idea of how large the front of the palace is.  It also has wings on either side, and the chapel seems like an afterthought, tucked back into the corner.  Like I said.  Opulence.
On the left of this photo is the front of the palace.  Can you see how it stretches further, and then the wings swing around?  I captured about half of a wing in this frame.
 The interior was a bit sparse.  You have to remember that the Nazis camped here during WWII, and then the Communists used it as a headquarters as well.  Much of the art was missing.  The past 26 years have been spent trying to restore it to its original splendor.

I think this is my favorite photo.  We were leaving the public rooms, and moving into the personal rooms.  Remember what I said about gold?  "If it looks like gold, it IS gold?"  We moved from plaster to gold, when we walked through this doorway.  Can you see all of the doorways inside doorways?  That is not done with mirrors.  It was golden doorways, as far as the eye could see.
 And then there was the Amber Room.  I did not know what to expect, but I did know that it was famous.  I should probably stop here and tell you that amber is fossilized tree sap.  It is a semi-precious material, very lightweight, and comes in a variety of colors.  Catherine the Great loved the stuff, and had a room filled with it.  Every inch of the room was covered with amber.  Even the picture frames were made from it.  And then, of course, it was accented with gold.  When the Nazis left after WWII, the Amber Room was "missing."  All of the amber had been stripped and removed.  What we saw was a replica.  No one has seen the original since the war.
 We walked through all of those golden doorways, and at the end was this incredible ballroom.  The walls were covered with gold.  The floor was parquet.  There was a string quartet playing as they handed us champagne and invited us to take a seat.
 We weren't sure what was to happen next, but after several selections, Catherine entered the room and welcomed us in Russian.  She invited us to watch the dancers, and the couple on the right danced several waltzes.
We then moved outside, where night had fallen.  The palace was lit up and a sense of magic was in the air.  Gates opened, and one of the carriages came through.  Two more dancers stepped out, and treated us to another dancing interlude. 

The marching band, who originally led us to the front steps, now escorted us back to the gate.  The royal portion of the evening was at an end.

I don't have any focused pictures, but we were whisked into one of the wings, where we were treated to a "traditional Russian feast."  caviar, vodka, fish...lots of things that I don't consume.  But the music was boisterous, and reminded me of the dancing scene from Fiddler on the Roof.  Or maybe Greek partiers.  It was lively and fun, and wow.  That ended Day 1 in St. Petersburg.  We were there for three days.  oh, the memories!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

St. Petersburg, part 1

 My first impression of St. Petersburg, Russia, was anything but grand.  As we slowly moved up the Neva River, everything smelled like decay and diesel, and the scenery was anything but scenic.
 Our dock was reassigned from a usual cruise ship spot to something much closer to town.  We didn't know this at the time, but wow.  It may not look beautiful, but we were minutes away from the old city's charm...I mean opulence.
 This was the view from the Terrace Cafe, from the stern of the ship.  All cranes, everywhere.
 But then, there in the distance?  What is that catching the sun?  I zoomed in with my camera, and wow!  This is the dome of a church that survived the Soviets.  How did it survive, when most churches were torn down?  It was used as an ice skating rink.  seriously.  An ice skating rink.
We signed up for a "Highlights of St. Petersburg" tour.  But first, we had to go through immigration.  We can now verify that Russian officials have a stereotype for a reason.  One cute little blonde female did NOT like me, and at one point (I came across her 3 times!) I thought she would have slapped me, had there not been a protective glass between us.  She did rise up out of her seat to bark at me.
 The first stop on our bus tour was a park across from The Hermitage.  Can you say, "Photo op?"  They say that St. Petersburg has 305 days of rain or snow, and only 60 days without.  We were very lucky to see some blue skies during our three days.
Hubby was big on selfies for this trip, though his choices I found to be a bit curious.  In this one, I convinced him to let me shift, because originally that communist lighthouse was coming out of the top of my head.  Then again, I do have some sort of antenna protruding - his tuft is just hair.
Our next stop was St. Isaac's Cathedral, which is flanked by The Astoria (where US Presidents stay when visiting St. Petersburg) and The Lotte (where the US purchased Alaska from Russia).
 There was also a statue, in the middle of the plaza.  Directly in back of me was bus parking for dozens of buses.  DOZENS.  I stopped to take this picture of costumed players - they were everywhere in St Petersburg - and when I did, hubby disappeared.  poof!
 He's done that to me before, in England.  And elsewhere.  But this time?  Instead of staying put, I hightailed it back to the bus.  I knew we had just minutes to board, and I hoped he would do the same thing.  Turned out he'd gone back to the bus without me - and then returned to look for me, but by a different route.  Long story.  Pretty scary.

The next stop was the Church of the Spilled Blood.  This is probably the most famous of the Russian churches, and it reminded me of Disneyland.  It was built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated.  To me one of the saddest things about Russian history is that this church was built and named after the spilled blood of Christ.  But when the communists came to power, they erased religion, and it became common knowledge that it was named for the spilled blood of the tsar.
 It is beautiful from every angle, a monument to Russian church architecture.  If I understood our guide correctly, they have never held a church service inside.
There was a street mall behind the church, and I really wanted to shop, but we'd been repeatedly warned not to purchase anything from street vendors.  "Don't pull out your wallet, don't show that you have money, be very careful, pick pockets are EVERYWHERE."  The only other country that gave us such warnings was Denmark.

We did not purchase, but I did take a picture:
 Our last stop of the bus tour was to St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.  Of course we took another selfie.  We were not looking our best.  While we were waiting in line, there was a quartet of musicians playing from the arched window you can see above the entrance.  When it hit the top of the hour, they stopped playing and the glockenspiel began.  It was lovely.  Apparently they have free outdoor concerts here all summer long.
 St Peter and Paul Cathedral is where all of the tsars are buried.  The interior was completely unexpected.  We were told, "If it looks like gold, it is gold."  There was a LOT of gold inside this structure.
 Interestingly enough, the pillars are painted to look like marble.  That's how they got the green and pink.  Apparently when the cathedral was built, it was more expensive to paint something to look like marble, than to actually build with the real thing. 
 Our morning tour came to a close, and it was time to return to the ship to prepare for our evening tour.  I don't know if you can tell, but the immigration/customs building is floating alongside our ship.  Apparently it is portable.  Quite clever, actually.  Then again, maybe this is a common occurrence?  I haven't done much cruising, so I do not know.
I hope I am not boring you with my pictures.  I took literally thousands, so it's a challenge to pick the highlights.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Estonia

Have you ever heard of Estonia?  Do you know where it is?  Could you find it on a map?  I'll give you a hint.  It has been part of Sweden, Denmark and Russia, among others. In 1917, when Russian Tsar Nicolas II stepped down from power, Estonia became a free country for the first time in who knows how long.  Their freedom was short-lived, as when WWII came to an end, they were awarded to Stalin...a horrific illustration of that trite phrase, "To the victor goes the spoils."  In 1991, when the USSR disbanded, Estonia once again became a free country.  And they LOVE their freedom.  We were there the day before the 26th anniversary of their declaration of independence from Russia.  There was a party brewing, and flags were flying EVERYWHERE.
 The shoreline emerged from the fog, and as we moved to dock, the view of sailboats and seagulls could have been taken anywhere.   I guess somethings are universal.
 We took a bus ride to the old town center, driving past this museum.  They will not forget.
 I don't remember the name of this church, but I do remember that the domes were not called onion domes.  Our guide referred to them as "holy flames." 
The streets were beautiful, lined with buildings painted in bright cheery colors.
 Even the shortcuts, through areas not yet renovated, were quite colorful.  Apparently when Peter the Great saw Tallin, the town we toured, he wished he'd chosen this spot to build his city, rather than St. Petersburg.  We heard that he vacationed here a lot.
 There were a lot of turrets in Tallin, something I did not notice in any other ports of call.
The view of the city was breathtaking.  If you click on the photo, you might be able to see our ship (middle one of three) in the center background.
 We left the town and headed to the country.  There, we saw a restored manor house, that has been under restoration for the past 22 years.  The owners live in the home, and give tours to help finance their restoration.  I was thrilled when we were led upstairs to tour the Lady of the manor's craft studio.
 She had quilt tops hung everywhere, in preparation for the next day's festivities.
 Her studio was so large, the full-size loom had plenty of space.  It is not for display, she weaves regularly.
They also do wool work in her studio.  I believe they said she teaches classes.
 We left the manor house, to tour a dairy farm and cheese factory in a neighboring community.  Estonian cows keep their horns, and eat clover.
 Hubby, the cow vet, was in his element.
 Look at that grin!  Seeing the cows helped ease the homesickness of missing too many days of work.
And finally, I'll leave you with this street musician.  He was singing American songs.  I think he was belting out Bob Dylan when I took this picture.  Everyone speaks English, so he probably knew what he was singing about.  He was certainly enjoying himself, no doubt about it.
That evening, we pulled out and headed to St. Petersburg, Russia.  I was sad to leave Estonia behind, but so very glad that I had a chance to visit this remarkable country. I hope for their sakes, that hope and freedom will continue to reign in their land.