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Last day in Saint P, a sub zero sunny day and a hidden jewel

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Friday 30th October
A slightly more leisurely start to the day with nothing vital to do and the prospect of a long day ahead. As we opened the curtains we saw a truly glorious sunny day outside. After breakfast, we packed our bags and took them downstairs to be stored until our taxi at 3:30. One of the visits we had low on our list was the Stieglitz museum; taking its name from Baron Aleksandr Stieglitz, a wealthy industrialist who started an art collection to aid the education of local students in 1876, the museum contains an eclectic display of glassware, ceramics, masonry and metalwork, including locks and keys from the Middle Ages. According to the guidebook, this is one of St Petersburg's hidden treasures, off the usual tourist beat, so we had to visit it. As this was the first sunny day since our arrival, we wanted to be able to see the Hermitage in the sunshine, so we plotted a route that would take us past the palace, up to the Church on spilled blood and across a couple of lovely canal bridges (one of which has a little statue of a bird half way down the side) to the Stieglitz.

The guide book said it would be difficult to find. Well the building isn't – it is huge, but its primary function now is teaching art and design and after WWII, it became a training centre for craftsmen, providing the gilders, carvers, masons etc needed for the restoration of the churches, palaces and museums. Finding the entrance to the museum is rather different as it is not signposted and the directions in the guidebook were useless as it has obviously been changed. We went into no 13 to ask about the entrance and were guided to a locked gate which was unlocked just for us. We were met by a lady who took us to the cash desk and given our tickets for entry and for photography. Our tour started on the ground floor; never mind the collection, the building itself was very richly decorated – stunningly so. Parts of it are in need of restoration and undoubtedly, this will be part of the training of the artisans to be. On the ground floor are the collections of ceramics, glass, metalwork, furniture and so on. On completion of this we were guided to the route to the first floor. The grand exhibition hall is a wonderful space under a glass roof. The great marble staircase is great although it too is in need of a little tlc. The hall is surrounded by monumental masonry, presumably from buildings all over Europe and is a reminder that even hard stone is not impervious to the effects of age. While we were wandering around the upper floor, it was clear that this was very much a part of the school, with young students going about their tasks and a professor with the obligatory long white locks swept back from his forehead holding forth to a student about the way in which some statuary emphasised the form and majesty of the gods. It was a fitting end to our visit to St Petersburg and as described, quite a treasure.

Leaving the museum, we went to have our sandwiches in the park by the church on spilled blood. Despite - or probably because - it was a sunny day with no cloud cover, it was bitterly cold. We were well wrapped up but 5 minutes without our gloves on while we ate our sandwiches was enough to freeze the fingertips uncomfortably. Refreshed we went around the open market that has stalls every day outside the church for some last-minute bargains. Then back to the hotel to wait for the taxi to the airport and to warm through again.

At the airport, there is a strange security system in place, with an x-ray of all baggage and body scan at the entrance, before you even check in. Then the normal process of checking in and handbaggage x-rays and body scan before reaching the departure lounge. I managed to leave a case at the initial check and after frantic counting of the baggage managed to ask to be allowed to go back and collect it, put it through the system and pick it up at the other end. Going through the second machine after check in, I set off the alarm and it was only on the third attempt, after removing my watch, that I was cleared. This is the first time the watch has caused problems and the scanner didn't pick up Sue's, so obviously it has something against the Japanese. Anyway, once through, the security guard wanted to do a full body search and patted me all over before letting me go. Flying today is certainly not a stress-free experience. The trip back was largely uneventful and after a bit of a layover in Amsterdam, arrived back in Manchester on time. We got home at about 11:30 but our body clocks were telling us it was 2:30 in the morning and time for bed!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on November 5, 2009 from Saint Petersburg, Russia
from the travel blog: Venice of the North - St Petersburg
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