(2005) Each year in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is a big celebration called White Nights that takes place in June when the days are so long, the sky is always light. This voyage will be, perhaps, more about the experience, than Art museums. As always, seeking the Art in everything.
St. Petersburg was and probably still is one of the most expensive places to visit in Europe, so we arranged to stay in an apartment on Vasilievsky Island for a reasonable amount. From the airport, we took a minibus to the Moskaya Metro station and on to Primorskaya station. It wasn’t until a little later that we learned how dangerous it is for the unwary in the St. Petersburg Metro. Since we didn’t know where on Nalichnaya Street to find our destination, we walked a long way, but eventually found the apartment: around back, past the trash, into the small, smelly elevator, to the top (6th) floor. There we were greeted by Tatania and her Pomeranian, Suzie, in her very nice home. Tatania didn’t speak English, but she went on and on in Russian and we managed to communicate. She was very sweet and made us a different breakfast each morning.
Found our first art shop while searching for warm clothes and bought an egg painted as a cat. We walked up the Moika Canal and found the Church of the Resurrection of the Savior on Spilt Blood. This was where Czar Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881, hence the colorful end of the name.
Walked through nearby Mikhaylovsky Garden, past the Engineers’ Palace, through the Field of Mars with the memorial to the revolting heroes – an eternal flame, saw some women on horses who didn’t harass anyone as the guidebook said they would, and through the Letny Sad (Summer Garden) next to the Summer Palace. The park was filled with statues and quiet places, surrounded by canals and the Neva. On Nevsky was the Kazan Cathedral with the great statue of Catherine the Great in front.
|contented fellow diner|
The next day we crossed over on the Leytenanta Bridge, passing by the Art Institute with its sphinxes at river’s edge. On the other side of the river was the Admiralty, on the left of the bridge, and several museums (none Art) on the right.
Poked our heads into the Chocolate Museum before heading off to Petrograd island for the last day of an international band festival. We had seen a few posters, but no one seemed to know anything about it so we just got some tickets and hoped for the best. The finale was held at an indoor sporting arena, packed with band fans.
The program opened with a grand parade of all the participants. Then the host Russian band played a few numbers while executing marching maneuvers around what would have been an ice hockey rink. This was followed by performances by marching bands from the Netherlands, Estonia, and France. Click here to see video.
The German group from Hanover featured female and male vocalists who sang an emotional Winds of Change hoping the world could be more open. They closed with a jazzy Beethoven’s 5th.
Then the Italian band raced into the arena. Known as “Bersagliere,” the instrumentation consisted of mostly trumpets and other brass horns. No drums. Not a large band either. The uniforms were green safari-style shirts and shorts with a hat featuring black feathers that drooped down the right side to the elbow. They always ran into each formation so the hats would bob up and down. The trumpets blared the same frenetic tune to accompany the racing about. Then the leader, who also played trumpet (or at least he carried one), with much theatrics, started the band on another song that was fast and featured lots of blaring trumpets. Then race off into another formation. I was exhausted watching them. Click here to see video.
There was a Russian youth band and the Finnish Conscription Band. The Finnish group was terrific. Most precise in their marching. I think the French and the Finns had the biggest bands.
One performance featured three women playing large string instruments on a stage accompanied by the band. (Click here to see video.) The program closed with the massed bands playing several songs including Ode to Joy. Click here to see video.
We got out bright and early the next day to get to l’Hermitage before the crowds. We were there an hour before opening, in the rain, and the tour buses were already there. We were at the head of the line at the gate, but as opening time approached, people pushed and jostled, then ran through the courtyard to get to the ticket booth first. It was clear this would be a different museum visit.
Unlike most museums, we found that the windows appeared untinted so the full force of the sun beat down on these masterpieces. Often windows were left open to let fresh air into the overheated rooms and I even found a maintenance man having a smoke at the bottom of a stairwell. And as long as I’m venting, the admission fee was quite high, plus the extra fees for taking photos and video. (Cameras flashes going were evident throughout the museum.) Groups often blocked a gallery. But as soon as the leader said her piece (usually said quite loudly) about a piece, she would immediately quick-step off to the next masterpiece where they would block the way for others. Group members were expected to follow close behind. Independent exploration of other paintings in the gallery did not appear to be encouraged.
As this was the Winter Palace, the official residence of the Tsars from 1732 to 1917, there were some beautiful palace rooms, as well, featuring lots of gold and jade. One room had a giant jade urn (I didn’t pay extra to take pictures), another had ancient mosaic. We didn’t stay as long as we thought we might, so had lunch at the Literary Café on Nevsky. Supposedly a favorite of Dostoyevsky and other writers, it was: overpriced, bad, cold, non-service, shouldn’t have done it.
Tuesday night we went to the opera at the Mussorgsky Theatre, which is near the Mikhaylovsky Palace. The price of tickets to the famous Marinsky (formerly known as the Kirov) Theatre were sky high, so this was a welcome alternative. The tickets were for the second row of the first balcony, and the opera was Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. It was fun that it took place in the Summer (Letny) Garden in St. Petersburg, which we had already visited. Beautiful sets and, to my undemanding eye, cleverly conceived so some elements remained in both outdoor and indoor settings. There was a seemingly enormous cast for the opening of each act, but most of the action was with two or three characters at a time. Of course, we had no idea what was going on, but it was fun to watch. None of the tunes, however, merited whistling on the way home. The theatre was very lovely in a not so flashy way, but had the old-style boxes and stalls, with narrow balconies. The Mussorgsky presented Traviata the night before and Giselle later in the week. This was a local audience, with everyone dressed quite well, including the children. Crowded cafés and bars on the second floor; elegant hallways. Of course it was still light out when we left the theatre.
We took a minibus to Vitebsk Station for the train to PUSHKIN. The ride took only half an hour, in what I presume were Soviet-era cars, with straight-backed wooden benches. The train was filled, but vendors were able to make their way through the cars selling beer or ice cream or what-have-you. We were also entertained by men playing accordions while they sang.
|the Gold Room|
Here's one I found online of the Amber Room:
Back in St. Pete, we walked up Liteny Prospekt to the Konstantin Tuchin Ballet Theatre where, through signs, grunts, and nods of the heads, learned we couldn’t buy tickets in advance. And though there was no evidence of a box office, we were told to come tomorrow for Giselle at 7:30.
Another day trip, this time to PETERHOF, summer residence of Peter the Great and home to some fabulous fountains. We got off the bus a little before the palace to see an interesting, large brick church we spied on the roadside. There was a funeral service going on inside, cutting our visit short. Nearby was a marketplace where we bought smoked salmon, fresh poppyseed rolls, and a bag of walnuts, then walked to the palace and ate in the gardens.
If you continue west on Nevsky, you will again come to the Neva River. This was where we found the Tikhvin Cemetery at Alexander Nevskaya Lavra. A monastery with two cemeteries, but Tikhvin was the final resting place of Russian giants in Art, Music, and Literature: Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimski-Korsakoff, Mussorgsky, Glinka, Borodin, and more. Click here for pictures.
|Pyotyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)|
Welcome to Tallinn, medieval city and capitol of Estonia. The first thing we did was search for breakfast and ended up eating ham omelets. There was an agency that places tourists in people’s homes and we were able to find a room close by.
We started the next day in the northern quarter and found lots of galleries, but being Sunday morning, we were limited to window viewing. The Festival markets opened at 10 and most everything else began at noon.
We were met at the pier by our B&B hostess, who also took us for drive around the city, pointing out the sites. Later she took us to an archery range to shoot bow and arrow. And even later loaned us a kayak to paddle out to Serpent Island in Helsinki Harbor.
view from Serpent IslandIt was one of the first sunny days of that summer in Helsinki, so everyone was outside soaking it in. A great time to walk around to enjoy the people watching and the sites. We walked down the boulevard to the esplanade and headed toward the waterfront market. Along the way, besides delighting in the beautiful flowers planted there, we found a band concert. It was a police band w/the leader playing solo trumpet. A nice program of Funiculi, Funicula old time stomp, Herb Alpert, and others. Band had full double reeds and sounded quite good in the glass-sided bandstand facing out to the esplanade, but had a relaxed feel.
And then it was off for a nearby flea, and another market on Bulevarden. Bought glass ornaments at the harbor marketplace from a young father whose pregnant wife made the molten drops from Iittala glass and German colors out on Suomenlinna Island.
Average taxes are 30-40%, and Finns get free healthcare and college tuition. Heat for all of Helsinki is provided from one geothermal source.
Walked through the Eire and the embassy area. Then crosstown to the Cathedral at Senate Square. We proceeded east from there to Tervasaarenkannas Island park.
Next door is the Helsinki Central Train Station designed by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919.
interior of depot
Ateneum Museum of Art was across the street from the train station. The National Gallery of Finland, the museum offered interesting displays of Finnish artists; many women artists. Subjects included saunas, and women breastfeeding, with not too many winter scenes, except one by Akseli Gallen-Kallela – who did some nice Nouveau paintings. In Finland it is called Kansallisromantiikka, or Jugend or National Romanticism. There was also a fine display of international art, featuring works by such masters as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Fernand Léger and Marc Chagall. It was a lovely ornate building from 1887.
two by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Took a boat to Suomenlinna Island. Although primarily an historic fort and a pretty place to go, there was a community of artists and craftsmen living and working there.
|No, not this boat.|
And there was still time to see the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Located in the former home of the famous brewer (still making Koff Beer), the second floor contained interesting and ornate rooms of furnishings and European art: two Cranachs, Breugel, old stuff. Free admission on Thursdays.
|Portrait of Young Woman by Cranach the Elder|
Can't leave Helsinki yet, click here for a few more scenes.
Originally TURKU was selected as a destination because there was a wonderful bicycle route that went from island to island in the Finnish archipelago. The weather, however, was not conducive to this (in our opinion). But we certainly wanted to see more of Finland than Helsinki, so we took the bus-ride north to Turku. Or Abu for the Swedes. It is an old college town and former capitol of Finland. I had reserved a room in the conveniently-located Brigittine Sisters convent.
We began by walking along the Aurajoki or Aura River to its mouth, where the ferry terminal was located, and took a bus back into town. The riverfront was dotted with old fishing boats converted to pizza and beer joints, as well as historic ships, and artwork.
Back in the center, we walked up the hill to the Turku Art Museum, which was reopened in April following major renovations. The biggest change was the addition to one side that provided additional galleries as well as elevators. The building was formerly the home/mansion of a tobacco tycoon and called Retig Palace. All Finnish artists were featured, sometimes combining pop, contemporary, and landscapes in the same room.
The Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art (contemporary) was closed by the time we found it on the other side of the river, but there was an Elvis-ish show going on in front of it. The blond female Elvis really worked the crowd. We spent just the one night in Turku, taking the ferry to Stockholm via Mariehamm and the Aland Islands in the morning.
"Flying Finn" - Paavo Nurmi
And we didn’t stay in Stockholm long, as we got right on the overnight bus to COPENHAGEN. Since the Oresund Bridge was opened in 2000, land travel to Denmark was possible. It was eight o’clock when we arrived on Sunday morning. Naturally, nothing was open. We found a room at the St. Thomas on Frederickesberg Alle in Fredericksberg. There were numbered prints on the walls of our room, with originals in the bathroom and art throughout the hotel. Not a terrible walk from the center, but a long one.
As we started walking, it started raining. But as I always say, bad weather cuts down on the tourists. Through the gloom we saw Tivoli Gardens, the Rathaus, and many other lovely and, sometimes, important buildings. The city abounds with Hans Christian Anderson sites.
Found Christiania, which was several blocks square, so the buildings on the street surround the counterculture world of Christiania within. Almost park-like, dotted with small buildings. A few cafés and shops, galleries and spontaneous Art all around. Run down, painted up. Very wild. Roadways unmarked except for “Pusher Alley”. Though illegal, grass and hash were available. A kid furtively took something out of a Coke can. A group of tourists seemed to be looking (but you wouldn’t have thought it to look at ‘em). Before you know it, the deal was done. Smoking paraphernalia was available from nearby pushcarts. It wasn’t like it used to be when there were numerous dealers on the street and you could see their wares, so I heard.
Near Christiania, we found an interesting church with a spiraled steeple. The Holy Ghost Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke – L’eglise de Notre Sauveur) was holding a service, but a gentleman slipped us in the back. Very artistic effects. Pictures later.
While many of the Art venues were closed, we were in town just in time for the Copenhagen Cup races at Travbane. We took the super-modern, clean Metro to the orange line S-train to Charlottenlund station, where there was a flea market in the parking lot. It would have to wait, however. Directions were required for us to find the way down a forest path strewn with gigantic, black and orange slugs. Soon we saw the old wooden grandstands and on the other side, we found the sulkies running the first race of the day.
We were hungry so got on line for a couple of sausages. Here the sausage was dipped into condiment of choice, with the bun on the side.
There was rhythmic clapping, cheering and whistles from the crowd saluting some of the horses (or drivers) as they passed during the post parade. The drivers nodded (their hands full of reins) in acknowledgment. The music on loudspeaker was Sousa’s Washington Post. Don’t know if they liked the song, or the play on “post.” Then the interminable wait for the horses to approach the starting gate, which was mounted on a Range Rover. When they reached the place for the start and the gate was pulling away, some of the horses had not yet reached the line.
This was not just any ordinary day of racing. This was the Royal Copenhagen Open at the 5th race, and the Copenhagen Cup in the 8th race. Marie had been doing pretty well picking out winners (though not actually betting), most finished in the top three. The rain, however, was fairly constant and, at times, heavy. The track was mud and the drivers were covered in gray spray.
After a race, the winning driver would drive the length of the stands carrying his 1st place flowers, acknowledging the cheers from the crowd. Click here for the video.
Since most of the museums and Carling brewery tour were closed on Mondays, we planned to hike across the city to the Little Mermaid sculpture (from the HCA story). The rain soon forced a change of plan, so we headed east, past the train station, Tivoli, and Rat House on Vesterbrogade to an old shopping street called Strøget. This was the longest pedestrian zone in Europe, it turned out. Lots of shoppers with umbrellas, some with none, just getting wet. We went to the Sweater Market and bought a wool sweater/jacket from the Faro Islands for Marie. We also bought a small piece of art glass called Batzebah by Mats Jonasson.
While drying out, Marie studied a flyer she picked up, and put together an historic route for our next attempt at reaching The Little Mermaid. I drank local dark beer. The sun came out, so we tried again.
It wasn’t long before it started to rain again, but not hard enough to make us retreat. We took a parallel route north of Vesterbrogade. After going through a large park we entered the Latin Quarter called such because of the student and faculty living there. One of the 17th century buildings was still used as a dormitory. We went through the old university area, stopped into the library (1856) and took pictures of the ceiling painting.
Saw the Trinitatis Church and Round Tower with observatory on top, built by Christian IV in 1642. Went past Rosenborg castle and walked through the King’s Gardens which were very nice. Beautiful trees. We walked through Nyboder - a very large section of very long yellow buildings. They were apartments or barracks for navel officers and personnel that was also built by King Christian IV. We followed a group of tourists who seemed to know where they were going. They did and there she was. Not the most impressive sight, at just over four feet tall, but she had nice background with the river.
Commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg brewery, he asked the primaballerina of the Royal Theatre to pose for the sculpture. Edvard Eriksen used only her head as the model for the statue, as the dancer refused to pose nude. The sculptor’s wife, Eline, substituted for the rest.
Nyhavn Canal was an old waterway, lined with old buildings, many of which housed H.C. Anderson at one time or another. Anderson was Copenhagen’s answer to George Washington sleeping around. There was even a signed (in English) tour of HCA throughout the city with yellow footprints on the sidewalks. Most of these old commercial buildings on one side of the canal were restaurants with tables and umbrellas out front.
We found that the Glyptoteket, one of the major art museums we had planned to visit the next day, was being renovated. We were, however, able to visit the recently renovated Statens Museum for Kunst, the National Art Museum, which originally opened in 1896. It wasn’t really completely open, as there was only a “highlights” show in the new addition. What was there was respectable. A nice wall of Cranachs including a couple of his more unusual and interesting paintings, especially one of Venus with a wicked smirk. This was the largest collection outside of a German-speaking country. A wall of Matisse, a couple of Munch, drawings by Rembrandt and Monet, an occasional El Greco, some Picassos, and Rubens, including some unusual portraits. Oh, and lots of Danish artists, such as Oluf Høst, C.W. Eckersberg, Edward Weihe, Olaf Rude, Haral Giersing and sculptor Carl Bonnesen.
We went back to Christiania to take pics inside the Holy Ghost Church. We could then see the enormous carved wood organ on the back wall (words could never describe it). There was also a baptismal font held up and surrounded by little sculptures of children, and featuring a great gold crown-like object handing above.
We enjoyed the Christiansborg palace and gardens before boarding the bus back to STOCKHOLM, and were greeted by a beautiful brilliant Swedish sunrise at about 3:30 am.
We stayed at a b&b in the suburban village of Atun, but quickly took the T-bana (metro) into Stockholm’s old town: Gamla Stan. Narrow, winding alleyways with all sorts of shops to look into.
They changed the guard in front of the Royal Palace at noon. One regiment turned over responsibility to another regiment with a different style of uniform. The navy band was playing. The crowd of tourists encircled the two regiments with band and other officers for the almost one hour program of speechifying, drilling, and music.
Back in town, we stopped in a secondhand shop and bought an old Russian peasant lady doll and a piece of flat clay artwork with information that said the artist’s wife had given this piece to a friend. The sales clerk translated the info on the back of the piece:
Sculptor, handcraft B. Kalmer; studied in Germany and Italy. Most notable: torsos & limbs. Awarded commission for fountain in Helmsted, but it wasn’t built. Wife gave this piece to someone, with note “Thanks for your help and kindness, Mrs. E.” (neighbor)
Took the ferry to Djurgårdsstaden island, home of Gröna Lunds, the Tivoli of Stockholm, an amusement park on the waterfront. It was closed at that hour, so we walked instead to Waldermarsudde, the home of Prince Eugens, son of Oscar II. It was a nice walk and a beautiful home. The prince was a well-known and talented painter of landscapes, and collector of contemporary works. So beside the prince’s work, which was displayed in a few of his beautifully furnished rooms, there was a show by Albert Edelfelt on the second level and Alf Lindberg in the Prince’s third floor studio. Delighted with Edelfelt, doubtful of Lindberg, but the house and display were perfect. We ate in the cafeteria, which was situated in the old house kitchens as evidenced by the ancient white tiles covering the floors and walls.
|landscape by Prince Eugen|
Next up was the Thielska Galleriet, on the other side the island. This museum was the residence of banker and collector Ernest Thiel (1859-1957). He acquired art by Scandinavian artists, such as Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, Bruno Liljefors, August Strindberg, Eugène Jansson, and Edvard Munch. By 1922, Thiel had lost his fortune, and the gallery was acquired by the state in 1924 and opened to the public in 1926.
We took the 69 bus back downtown and the Kungsgarden where we found the Mayo Boules Festival just getting rolling. (rim shot) The park was filled with a lace of boules courts defined by string boundaries, arranged in a configuration to fit the most courts into the area. And after an opening ceremony, they all started playing at once. Many of the teams were in uniforms, from specially made t-shirts to complete hi-tech/style matching everything. Teams were mixed; mostly male and mostly young. They tossed larger shiny metal balls at the little ball, trying to get closest to it and/or knock an opponent’s ball away. There was one team of almost all girls. They wore red berets and some dressed in sexy black and red dresses, with black fishnet hose and spiked heels. A fun diversion.
Then we visited another island called Långholmens and found a beach.
Began the next day at City Hall, home of the Nobel Prize, which was designed by Ragnar Östberg (pronounced oostburry) and built from 1919-23, with the talents of several others of the National Romantic movement. They used native materials (one million of the eight million bricks used were made nearby) and local historic themes. Artist Carl Larsson’s full-size likeness with his palette is carved into one of the columns of the waterfront colonnade. His death prevented him from fulfilling his commission to design what became the Gold Hall. A young artist, Einar Forseth, was chosen to create a magnificent banquet hall for up to 700 and it took more than eighteen million mosaic pieces made of glass and real gold to complete his vision. I repeat: 18,000,000 pieces of glass. The hall was dominated by the ‘Queen of the Lake Mälaren’, which was representative of Stockholm being honored by East and West.
There was, perhaps, a little too much democracy in this project as the masons who laid the stone floor got some say in the placement of the stones. And there is a large portrait of the man who brought the beer for the workers each day hanging prominently. You are only allowed to visit City Hall on a tour since it is an active government building.
Initially guests to the Nobel Prize festivities dined in the Blue Room, but now they use the covered courtyard. The staircase features a low rise and is called “Elsa’s Staircase” because Elsa, the architect’s wife, had to climb up and down the stairs many times to test them. (She left him soon after.) The architect wanted the courtyard to be open illustrating the openness of the government within, but climate dictated otherwise so he included a row of continuous windows along the top of the high wall. Dancing is now in the Gold Room. Other rooms include an oval “French” room designed around a set of old French tapestries, which are still hung there.
There was a banquet hall with pairs of mismatched columns dividing the length of the room. While seated at the long dining room table, people on one side could look out the window and across the river, so Östberg and Prince Eugens agreed that the Prince would paint large murals duplicating (in the Prince’s style) the view on the opposing wall. There was a hall of 100 vaults representing the 100 representatives that used to make up Stockholm’s governing body. It’s more now (and over half are women). In the hall we could see the characters from Sweden’s past parade under the clock on the hour while the carillon plays. One showed a naked princess astride a horse. There were lots of oddities because Östberg was old fashioned and didn’t believe in anything. Instead of using radiators, he heated the building with a system of large air holes which brought warm air. He didn’t trust electricity, so on some of the chandeliers, every other light can be lit with gas. The City Council room had a central worktable, which had a decorative canopy above, occupied by the Executive Committee with an almost throne-like chair for the President. There was some controversy regarding this. Faux skylights with sunny skies were painted on the ceilings, again, to symbolize open government. The ceiling in one large room was left undone when the architect saw how interesting the wooden infrastructure looked, he had the workmen paint the wood with traditional motifs.
A brass band from St. Petersburg, played at noon in the central plaza of the commercial district, so we hurried over, and sure enough, there they were. Only it was just a brass quintet competently playing quintet standards and selling cds for more than $20. We dropped a few kroner in the box and moved along.
Visited the NK Department store’s 4th plan (floor) restaurant. Cold salmon w/dill sauce, warm new potatoes, salad bar, lingonberry juice (and later coffee and chocolate), and bread for 69 k. A local man translated the menu for us and recommended the lingonberry juice. He later checked to make sure we enjoyed our lunch.
The National Museum was located at the end of a small peninsula near the Kungsgarten and was free on Fridays! Amongst the Swedish and other Scandinavian artworks were a couple of Cranachs, a few Rembrandts, Breugel, an El Greco, Gainesborough, a good-sized Rubens, Van Dyke, Munch, and Carl Larsson. Most impressed with Larsson who also did two large murals on either side of the main staircase.
Hurried across the bridge leading to Skeppsholmen island, home of Moderna Museet. Not such a short walk, but filled with waterfront, boats, and trees. The museum was free and the collection included some nice Matisse, Picasso, Kadinsky, Warhol, Dali, Miro, and Modigliani. The special exhibitions were all weird. One had large parts like a giant green & yellow ribbed thing that was cool. There were some interesting pieces out in front that merged naked women with moving farm-like mechanical contraptions.
We spent our last evening at Herman’s Vegetarian restaurant, located high on a cliff across the harbor from downtown and old town Stockholm. They even had free water.