Wed, Jun 2 (Day 9): From St. Petersburg to Novgorod

This afternoon our drive takes us across the vast Russian plains to ancient Novgorod. On our arrival an orientation tour shows us the Kremlin Fort and grounds, Millennium Monument and the St. Sophia Cathedral. Dinner is at our hotel tonight. (Buffet breakfast / Dinner)
Hotel: Beresta Palace

Today and tomorrow will be early departures from the hotels, as we travel toward Moscow. This is the morning breakfast run. The hotels seem to have similar menus for travel groups: scrambled or fried eggs, sausage, orange juice (watered down), bread, cold cereal, and some "special" russian things (e.g., Hercules Gruel) that we usually pass over.
It is raining today, which is a warm rain, because it is summer here and the weather has been remarkably clear since our arrival. Linda is sporting one of our "BYU Travel Study" umbrellas, which we obtained over 10 years ago. BYU no longer offers the travel programs (which were great), but the umbrellas they issued us on those trips are still going strong. They also attract attention: We were introduced to a missionary couple serving in the Russian institute program, because they noticed the umbrellas.
This is Peter and Paul's Cathedral (same name but different than the one in St. Petersburg). We arrived in time to watch a Russian Orthodox service. The congregation stands, kneels or prostrates on the floor, as there are no chairs or benches in the church. The services are very formal and full of ceremony.
Outside the church, we encountered this dog. Don't worry, he is not dead (as I supposed), but just prefers to lay in the rain rather than take nearby shelter. I guess the rain and cool surface are quite comfortable, as long as you don't mind getting wet.
We are visiting two palaces today. This one is called Peterhof, named for Peter the Great and a part-time residence for the aristocracy.
It is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. This is our group, looking through the trees into the water.
This is one of the fountaints at Peterhof, which has various designs throughout the grounds. Peter the Great liked creative fountain designs, as are described in the next two items.
Look close at this "tree" and you will see what is actually a fountain shaped as a tree. The water sprays from the branches.
This inviting bench is actually a fountain, as guests discover to their surprise. As you walk on the rock surface toward the bench, water sprays up from the sides. Click here to see a little video that shows how it works.
Peterhof was built several hundred years after Versailles, and was designed to rival the French. Peter pushed western culture into Russia and wanted to impress visitors. It's impressive, for sure. While Versailles is spectacular, there is much more liberal use of gold on these grounds to make the statue work stand out.
Here's a shot from below, showing the main fountain and several of the statues (remember, if it looks like gold, it IS gold.
This is the centerpiece of the main fountain, Samson defeating a lion.
Linda and Bill eating lunch: creps. There were some leaks in the lunch facility, so we had to find seats where the rain would not drip through.
This afternoon, we visited the Catherine the Great's summer palace. I've tried to show the length of the palace in this photo, but didn't get it all in. Believe me, it is a big place.
The Russian people ahve spent significant time and money restoring these palaces, more in recent years, but they started just a few years after WWII. Here you get a glimpse of what a column looked like before and after restoration.
For this palace, they have us wear special shoe coverings to protect the floors.
Here's what the main ballroom looks like. Catherine the Great loved to put on grand parties. There is an antichamber behind this room where the musicians played, seperated because they were not to "mix" with the royalty.
This tall blue thing is a heater. The large rooms have several of these, but the are more decoratvie than functional, because the palace was only occupied in the summer, when they didn't need the heat.
Sara (our daughter) is following our trip via this website, but is concerned that I'm not in many of the pictures (because I'm usually the one operating the camera). So, Sara, this one is for you ... me in a one of the palace mirrors. Glad the flash didn't go off.
This is a dining room. It's really surprising how much of this palace is shimmering in gold.
Catherine the Great in all her clothed glory. Hard to imagine moving around comfortably with this kind of substructure.
This picture may not do it justice, but the inlayed wood on this desk is real craftmanship.
We arrived at Novgorod this evening and took a little introductory tour of the town. It was found around 900 A.D., and is considered (by its residents) to be the birth place of ancient russia. They also claim it was the first russian democracy, as the first leader was elected by the settlers. However, power went to his head and the democracy was soon ended.
This, thte previous, and the next pictures pictures show the wall around the original township. It reminds us of several walled medieval cities we've seen in Europe. The walls are 16 feet thick.
This shows the walls from the inside. You can barely see the upper walkway from this angle.
At the center of the town is this large monument, with over 120 figures, celebrating the founding and major contributors to Russia.
These are various bells that have been used over the centuries to gather the people or sound significant events.
Two members of the Russian police or military; one male and one female.
This is the town's monument to those who fell during WWII. Overtaken by Germany, the town's defense and recapture cost 250,000 russian lives. (The town's population was about 40,000, so this figure includes many from other parts of Russia). Our local guide says they now march in a parade each year to celebrate the town's WWII liberation, and she made special note that they no longer celebrate the 1917 October communist revolution.
This evening, after dinner, we were treated to a special performance of russian dancing and singing from a local group. Several of us were pulled from the audience to participate. While the lighting was poor, you may be able to find me in the group. My russian dance skills were put to the test ... grade C.