I only have two regrets about Peterhof — and they are slight. Regret #1 is that they don’t allow photography inside the palace. Remarkably, the Hermitage and the other palaces at Tsarskoe Selo are gracious about non-flash photography, which I wouldn’t have expected. #2 is that the Samson fountain was being set up for some sort of concert so all the water jets weren’t functioning. Needless to say, I didn’t get the opportunity to shoot a National Geographic cover shot of the triumphant fountain at the entrance to Peter the Great’s Russian Versaille.
Opened in August 1723, Peterhof was Peter the Great’s triumphant monument to Russia’s long struggle for an outlet to the Baltic Sea. Built near the Gulf of Finland, Peterhof was to symbolize Russia’s beginning as a great European power. The entire complex covers 500 hectares and includes my favorite of all the Petersburg Imperial structures: Monplaisir (“my pleasure”), a smaller residence where Peter the Great spent much of his time.
The palace and park were occupied by the Germans in World War II (which Russians refer to as The Great War of 1941-45). As they were retreating in 1944, the Nazis virtually destroyed the palace and grounds. To this day the process of restoration continues.
Best fun fact: The fountains at Peterhof (which is known as “the capital of fountains”) all operate without pumps. I can’t explain how that happens but it’s pretty impressive.
photo gallery continued in next post
There isn’t a lot of information (in English, at least) about the custom of the marriage locks in Klaipeda, Lithuania, but it’s a charming idea. Couples engrave their names on a lock with the date of their union and then, affix the locks onto the heavy chains of a short bridge in town, symbolizing the unbreakable bonds of their love. Isn’t that a sweet custom?
Located on the Nogat River in Malbork (Marienburg) Poland, the Castle of the Teutonic Order encompasses 52 walled acres, making it the largest castle in the world , the largest brick building in Europe and a magnificent example of Gothic architecture. Completed in 1406, the castle once housed 3,000 “brothers in arms”. The military monks built the fortress to suppress the pagan Baltic tribes in the Prussian uprising. It later served as the royal residence for several Polish kings from 1466-1772 before falling into disrepair.
A symbol of Polish national pride, the castle was meticulously restored in the 18th- and 19th-centuries, even to the start of World War II. After the invasion of Poland, the Nazis seized the fortress and used it as a retreat for Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. More than half the structure was damaged during combat in the war. The main cathedral, which had been restored just prior to the war, was heavily damaged and remains in ruins today to remind visitors of the destruction of battle.
Do you have as much trouble with Russian names in those Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky novels as I do? If so, you’ll understand why, when I was busy shooting a zillion pictures (not thinking about how much time it would take to categorize and PhotoShop them) that I became completely disoriented about what was Puskin and what was Tsarskoe Selo (one in the same….the village’s name was changed to Pushkin by the Communists since the other meant something like Tsar’s Village or Tsar’s High Ground).
Then, I remain baffled by Pavlovsk Palace versus Alexander Palace, although I do know that Nicholas and Alexandra and their children were imprisoned in Alexander Palace. It is still being renovated after some hard times as a Soviet orphanage, headquarters of the Soviet Navy and occupation by the Germans but maybe it’s connected to Pavlovsk? Alexander Palace is by far the most personal of the Imperial palaces (If you’re not Russian, do you have to capitalize “Imperial”?).
Furnishings are modest and the spirit of the
tragedy that befell the last of the Romanovs lingers in the air like a cautionary tale.
So these are the images of modern-day Russian commerce: the stalls of traditional Russian tchotkes, the restaurant that our tour guide assured us was “Putin’s favorite in Pushkin.” I’m assuming Putin prefers it because of all the foreign exchange the establishment brings in.
The rural village of Pushkin reminds one of many similar places in Europe, with the addition, of course, of the over-the-top palaces. Driving to Pushkin on a bright September day is not so very different from driving to the outskirts of Frankfurt or Vienna. There are neat little houses ringed with vegetable gardens of cabbages and potatoes and apple trees. Flowers dot the small parks along the way.
Capitalism is the order of the day. Whether it’s amber, nesting dolls or brand-new, cheaply-built apartments…or simply tips for singing melancholy Russian love songs, everyone is in it for the ruble.
And maybe, that’s a good thing.
I must say, it was pretty joyful when the “Pride” sailed into Klaipeda, Lithuania. Not that I knew anything about the city or the country but, after the storm at sea, it was terra firma. Emphasis on the “firma.” But in no time, I was happy to be in Lithuania on its own merits. Klaipeda is charming and the Hill of Witches, near Juodkrante on the Curonian Spit, was….dare I say?….bewitching.
Not real witches nor really a hill, the Hill of Witches (Raganų Kalnas in Lithuanian) is a collection of 80 outdoor sculptures that populate a forested sand dune in the seaside resort of Juodkrante. The sculptures, which have been crafted by native artists, depict Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions. Hiking up the dune (really a sandy hill) is not for the infirm but those who are even modestly fit will find the slowly ascending walk an interesting way to pass an afternoon, like visiting a gallery in a forest while doing mild aerobics.
Should you find yourself in Juodkrante, by all means visit the Hill of Witches. When you’re done, cross the street to the excellent Weathercock Museum and shop, where you can find beautiful amber jewelry (a Baltic specialty) and lovely, handcrafted scarves. Not to mention weathervanes. These are no ordinary weathervanes but colorful, highly decorative creations that originally were meant to aid fishermen in the Curonian Lagoon.
Then, purchases in tow, move smartly onward to one of the local restaurants where you can sample the world-famous “ŠVYTURYS” beer.
I’m not going to tell you the stories behind each of the sculptures I’ve pictured below….mainly because I was too busy tramping around with my camera to hear what the guide said. Just know that each of these amusing, grotesque and/or frightening wooden creatures has a story to tell, and whatever you make up to go along with each of them has as much chance of accuracy as my guess would.
Åland, a Finnish archipelago, is stunning in its simplicity. I’ve written a post about our tour of Åland and the little town of Mariehamn but this one is devoted to the images which I found so appealing. I hope you will too.
All photos are by Morgan Thomas with all rights reserved. Taken September 2012.