Turns out that Putin was having a meeting with an Austrian official in one of the rooms inside. The Hermitage’s loss was Faberge Musuem’s gain. We quick footed our way to the Fontanka river where the former Neoclassical Shuvalov Palace (formerly owned by aristocratic families – Countess Maria Naryshkina was lady-in-waiting to Catherine the Great) – is now the site of a large collection of Faberge eggs and other such articles favored by the very wealthy. It served as the House of Peace and Friendship in Soviet times and in 2006, the palace was restored and the museum was opened to the public in 2013.
The House of Fabergé is a jewellery firm found in 1842 in St. Petersburg by Gustav Faberge. At its height, the firm employed 700 people across many factories and in four shops in Russia and one in London. His descendants followed him in running the business till it was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The master jeweler Carl Fabergé, designed elaborate jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs for the tsar family. The tradition of tsars giving their wives jeweled Easter eggs began in 1885 when Alexander III commissioned the 37-year-old Peter Carl Fabergé to create a present for his Danish wife Maria Feodorovna. Their son, the last tsar Nicholas II, continued making eggs for his mother, now the dowager empress, and his own wife Alexandra Feodorovna. Apart from the intricate miniature work, the eggs featured “surprises” effected through clever mechanisms that revealed even smaller treasures within the eggs. The highlight of the museum is the room with 14 of these eggs (including 9 Easter eggs) displayed in glass containers that can be viewed 360 degrees. Even if one is put off by the lavishness of how the moneyed lived in Imperial times, the quality of the workmanship does merit admiration.
The Blue Room has the 14 Fabergé eggs, displayed in chronological order. The first egg (commissioned by Alexander III in 1885) held a golden yolk, which enclosed a golden hen concealing a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a ruby egg. Later eggs contain increasingly complex mechanisms. A miniature Jesus emerges from a tomb made of agates, a rose-colored egg contains a bud whose petals spring open with the press of a button to reveal a diamond crown. The coronation of Nicholas II is celebrated by an egg that reveals an astonishingly detailed miniature coronation carriage – complete with working wheels and suspension.
After this come the other rooms where there is more to see: snuff boxes, watches, belt buckles, paintings and icons.
There are only so many museums one can visit in day and as we emerged outdoors to streets drying out the morning rain, we opted to walk through unexplored streets for the afternoon. We had run out of veggie-café chains, but we were well fed at Teremok – not a veggie-café chain but a chain with plenty of veggie friendly options without anything lost in translation. They served crepes and borscht – a must eat soup that is quintessentially Russian (and Eastern European) with its distinctive beetroot color caused by its main ingredient.
Other City sights
Ostrovsky Square (Ploschad Ostrovskogo), created by the architect Carlo Rossi (1775-1849) is anchored by a huge statue of Catherine the Great on top of her many trusted advisers – Prince Grigory Potemkin is the one to her right.
Behind the square is the Alexandrinsky Theater, a Neoclassical yellow building erected by Rossi in 1828. The portico of six Corinthian columns is crowned by a chariot of Apollo, patron of the arts.
Sennaya Ploschad (a busy square and the only one with 3 metro lines running underneath) is one of St. Petersburg's oldest squares. Its name (“Haymarket”) derives from the original market where livestock, fodder and firewood were sold when it opened in the 1730s.
Not sure what to expect, we covered the short distance from Nevsky to a busy square with people quite different from those on Nevsky and other areas frequented by tourists. A Peruvian group was entertaining a small crowd on the square. Shops with a middle-eastern flavor with languages and people from that region could be seen and heard.
Back on Nevsky as we exited Gostiny Dvor, we kept good on our mental note to visit Yelisevey’s Emporium two days ago. It is housed in a strikingly decorated Art Noveau building on Nevsky Prospekt. Once the purveyor of fine food to the Russian aristocracy, it was demoted during the Soviet era into a grocery store. Today it is a boutique deli with astoundingly colorful displays of cheese and chocolates. V was very taken with the massive pineapple that stood at the centre of the café.
Ironically, the last location we visited in the city was among the first we saw when we arrived Sunday morning. The distinctive oxidized-copper tower of the Art Nouveau building on the corner of Griboyedov Canal and Nevsky Prospekt is the Singer House (Russian HQ of the sewing machine company) which houses Dom Knigi (“House of Books”). After browsing through the bookstore we quickly headed upstairs to the café where we sampled some kvass – traditional Russian fermented beverage made from rye bread while watching busy Nevsky below and majestic Kazan cathedral across as the evening yielded to darkness and brought an end to our 4 day St. Petersburg visit. As the night came on, we walked back to Art Rachmaninov to collect our bags and caught a bus back to Moskovsky Vokzal to catch our train to Moscow.