1199-1204 : Sliding into Sardinia

 1199- Sardinia Here We Come

Monday 17th June 2019

Knowing that we would be back to wilding in Sardinia as of tomorrow night, we used campsite EHU and water to clean the inside of Jez and the outside of us.  We paid emptied and refilled, just before the office shut at 12.00, having to sit in their reception car park to tidy up inside before we set off.  We stopped at a supermarket, only to be greeted with Non, you can’t park here!!!!  But I want to do some shopping!  OK then, but park in the landing bay so I can see the car park, to catch anyone else who parks but doesn’t shop..  Whilst I was swinging my shopping trolley through the aisles, J had to ring me, he had a demand of EUR10 to park.  So I accosted the lady on the tills … no, you don’t need to pay as you are shopping.  But they were vigilant. As we drove around Bonifacio to the port, we could see the problem.  Two full car parks with height barriers and cars queuing to get in.  No motorhome parking.  At all.

We followed the signs for the port, that took us up towards the citadel (cripes!), then there was low tunnel.  A loud motorbike appeared fast at the passenger window … “don’t take the tunnel, you are too big” … thank you but we are going to the port, which was a right hadn’t turning.  Kind of him though, even if his sudden appearance did give us a minor heart attack.  At the port, we saw a load of cars parked up, queuing for the next ferry, we supposed.  So we squeezed onto the end.  After about 20 mins, a port official walk over, asks which ferry we were booked on and told us to come into the dock … we were only the second vehicle.  It soon filled up.

At embarking time, I was given a foot passenger boarding card and told to take the dogs with me.  J was left to reverse on … right to the back of the ship … with 3 Italians all barking contradictory orders at him in the semi haze having come from bright daylight.  Evidently he was not moving fast enough and one chappie even stuck his arm through the window and took over the steering wheel!!!

The crossing is only 12 km, and as you loose sight of the cliffs at Bonifacio, you see the land at Santa Teresa Gallura.  We struck up conversation with a British, but Venetian resident, tour guide.  She was in charge of 50 Brits on a week long holiday to Sardinia, with a day trip to Corsica.  I did ask what there itinerary was, so we could avoid them!  

On arrival in Sardinia, J took the dogs into the dog walking area, whilst I went to the Tourist Information.  Oscar watched me go and went into complete melt down … panic barking and scratching at the gate. We’ve been doing a new training programme with both dogs, but evidently need to do more on separation anxiety with Oscar!

The visit to the Tourist Information was one of those experiences that leaves a smile on your face.  A couple of super helpful ladies, whose remit was really only the local town, but were keen to share their knowledge and love of their island with me.  

We travelled up into the hills to Tempio Pausania to sleep in the carpark for and ancient site.  Back to wilding … peaceful and a sense of freedom.

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You can see how much of Corsica we’ve travelled … will have a few days to travel up the east coast on our return.  The loss of the van and spending a total of 13 nights in Calvi affected how much we saw.  It really is the most beautiful of islands.  Stunning mountains, coves and beaches.  BUT, it is very expensive and wild camping approaching the high tourist season is strictly enforced … we could have got away with it in a few places, but … risk adverse.

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Our harbour front port parking … lunch in Jez whilst watching all the pleasure craft.

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Just leaving Bonifacio, with its citadel.

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No pooping on the poop deck … only a 1 hr crossing.  They were much admired but the British tour group.

1200 – Pausing at Tempio Pausania and Wine Museum

Tuesday 18th June 

We both actually ran … first time again in ages.  We are both currently rubbish at exercise … ho hum… need to get up earlier when it is cooler.  Our run took us past the Mairi Nuraghe, a well preserved round tower; it didnt look as if it had been open officially to the public for some time, and the wire near the gate had been forced.  After break, we headed into Tempio proper. A walk up through a park and then down to the Rinaggiu Spring.  The health effects of the mineral water were recognised by the Romans as artefacts have been found nearby.  Back through the park in search of coffee.  Lots of Italians of all ages out walking, standing and chatting in the park.  We do like being in Italy … I might have asked for Cafe con leche (Spanish – duh)!, but it was all done with a giggle and a smile.  And ONLY EUR1 each.  And Stong proper Italian Coffee.  I am in COFFEE HEAVEN!!

Lunch and a nanny nap was by the stadium in Berschidda.  Since it so hot and everything shuts sown between 12 and 4ish, we are trying to siesta (well James is) after lunch and then do/ see something else from about 4.00.  Our body clocks are not quite into the rhythm of this and meal times seem to be a bit all over.  We then drove carefully around the outskirts and to the national wine museum.  Some of it was in English, but it was not that informative.  Although a good explanation of cork harvesting.  AND, our EUR3 pp entry fee gave us a wine tasting.  It would have been rude not to come away with a local bottle … very light and dry due to the granite.

Our overnight was a picture perfect spot.  OK, so we bumped down a track touching overgrown foliage, and slept on a bit of a slope …. but it was a stunning lake side spot.  The dogs roamed free and we soaked up the peace.

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Park walk in Tempio.

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Rinaggiu Spring, where a number of loads were collecting water.  We’ve some across this before where they use natural spring water for the important business of making coffee and cooking pasta.  We all had a sample, and of course, felt immediate health benefits.

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 It might have been small, but it packs a punch.

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Berschidda Wine Museum … there were fab views from the deck outside.

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Cork is harvested approx every 8 years with top and bottom cuts and then the vertical.  Only by the 3rd harvest is the cork of sufficient quality to be used for bottle cork.

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Pitch perfect, Laga Lerna near Pattada. 

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In the morning we were joined by a few fishermen, and cattle and sheep coming down to the water’s edge.

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 Corrie made herself a nest.

1201 – Budduso Coffee, Sacred Well and Nuoro

Wednesday 19th June 

We seem to have set a tradition in the Clune household now of stopping off somewhere for a coffee.  Today was no different.  Coffee stop was Budduso … nothing remarkable … granite stone streets, a little graffiti / wall art and a golden sacristy in the church.  Another good and inexpensive coffee :).

Near Orune is the Su Tempiesu, sacred well.  It was down a 5km single track road with the occasional overhang … fortunately we didn’t meet any traffic in either direction.  As is now our custom, we lunched, J napped and I did some admin sitting in the shade – the Aged Ps have just got back from a trip to Kosovo and emailed me scanned copies of a LOT of post.  I have rearranged the garage, so that we can get table and chairs out for picnics etc … normally this is not something we would do, but is soooo hot.  And what a fabulous lunch view we had.

After lunch we paid our EUR3 pp (every entrance seems to be EUR3) and took the botanical path a long way down to the sacred well.  Coming back up was the fauna path, with lots of welcome benches.  We were accompanied by the resident male and entire dog. – for the non doggy, this means he still had his bits, asides Oscar.  He and Corrie got on well, but we had to keep Oscar on the lead a lot, as the two were hackles up.  On the way back up, the resident dog decided to move in and assert his authority … it took both J and I’s combined efforts to get him off Oscar … although O was giving a good account of himself!  It has left oscar a bit more nervous and barky around other dogs … GRRR!  That’s put training back a bit.

We parked for our overnight stop in the mountain region’s capital Nuoro.  The town is pretty ordinary … but amazing views to white peaks on one side.  We headed up and up to find the Tourist Office shut and we couldn’t find a gelateria anywhere.  So we stopped for a drink in a lovely square … the waiter had worked in London for 13 years and was happy to practice his English and look after us.  We are finding this new daily routine is playing havoc with our digestion … we were starving … it was 7.00, after all.  The restaurant opened at 8.00 … Guiseppe brought us loads of pizza squares to keep us going.  I ate far too many and couldn’t manage all the amazing fresh tuna.  

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A bit of Buddoso graffiti.

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We passed these cork harvesters … they gave us a cheery wave.

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Lunch time view at Su Tempiesu.

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Start of the Botanical walk down.

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Su Tempiesu.  It was only discovered in 1953 by the land owner as he excavated to make terraces to take advantage of the spring.  The wells were to celebrate the importance of water and ceremonies took place here.  This is typical of the Sardinian wells in structure, but this is the best preserved.  A triangular entrance, with a steep roof leads to a chamber with seats on each side, stone steps down to the spring.

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And this was the little terror who took on our Oscar …quite a sweet dog so long as you are not another entire male!. 

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Nuoro:  Piazza Sebastiano Satta, poet.  The granite blocks have small bronzes representing Nuraghi statues on them.  Nuoro has a lot of Sardinian literary past residents – we’ve not heard of any of them.    

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 The most wonderful tender tuna ever, with a hazelnut crust.  I’ve made sofritto veggies before and had to have another go after this, but mine isn’t as tasty.

 

1202 – Orgosolo Murals

Thursday 20th June 

J walked up hill and into town to buy some more e cigarette supplies, go to the bank and pharmacy for rehydration salts … given how warm it is and how much we are ‘perspiring’, we cannot drink enough water, so half a daily sachet each of salts seems like a good idea.  

Although the Nuoro car park was quiet, it wasn’t pretty, so we headed up a mountain to a parking that was described as shady for lunch and siesta time.  There wasn’t much shade where we could drive a van of Jez’s size, but we lunched on a mound with shade and a breeze.  J napped and I took another layer of fur off Oscar … he does feel the heat.  When I walked around the woods with CO2, I was reminded by how Mussolini believed in ‘organised’ leisure.  This was a massive park with a huge tiled ball area, swings and slides everywhere, 3 natural springs and picnic benches.  All a bit tired now, but still serviceable.

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Lunch in search of shade.

We stopped late afternoon in Orgosolo.  This was bandit territory and a centre of independence; conflict from the local sheep farmers with the nearby crop farmers, conflict and vendettas between rival clans.  One feud over the rich cheiftan’sinheritance in 1903 resulted in the virtual extermination of two families.  Between 1901 and 1954, Orgosolo averaged one murder every two months!!!  From 1953 post war kidnappings started.  All this ‘feeling’ now manifests itself in graffiti all over the town.  The murals may be political (Sardinian independence and world affairs), village life and some are just comic.  We had planned to drive to another lakeside spot, but it was an hour away and 7.00 by now.  A quiet night in the cemetery car park, shared with a chatty French couple and the permanent residents, who were obviously not chatty!

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Happy are the people who don’t need heroes. 

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Love Sardinia, respect the beautiful nature.

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Wanted for the following offences:  attack on the right to education …


1203-1204 – Chilling in Arbatax

Friday 21st – Saturday 22nd June 

We’ve been so hot and sticky, we decided to have one night on an ACSI campsite … it turned into two.  Chores, more admin, the twin tub came out, a major garage reorganisation, winter clothes away etc.  A long sandy beach for dog walking.  And shade :).  Late Friday afternoon (after the siesta), we cycled to Arbatax, known for it’s red rocks.  We had been trying to find out about the Trenino Verde, small railways that go up into the hills … a resident Brit in one of the boat tour shops told us that ALL italian tourist trains are waiting for a political decision … in the meantime the weeds are growing on the tracks.  

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The small sandy beach on the S of Arbatax.  A lovely conversion with a family from the west of the island.

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In the Red Rocks car park … all wearing headphones for the music, even though we couldn’t hear the music, you could spot which were out of time / tone deaf.

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Due to fire risk there are communal BBQ areas on campsites.  Some interest in our Webber Kettle, especially when the lid went on.  But not as much interest as …

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… a half suckling pig.  An hour an half to roast … made our meat look paltry.

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Relaxed days.

Days 83 – 87: In search of warm and sun

83 – Friday in Frederikstad

More running, followed by packing up and using the emptying and refilling station on the campsite.  We are hammered on toll roads as we are over 3.5 tons … somewhere around 3 times a car toll, so we set Sally Sat Nav for toll free.  No idea how much she saved us, but the views were prettier than the main road and motorway, if slower and bendier.

We had been ‘collecting’ Norwegian beer and cider cans.  You pay a ‘Pant’ (deposit) on them and then post the empties into a machine that prints a credit note for use in the supermarket.  The machines cleverly spot fakes … it rejected a Finnish Fosters can.  K went in with two bags full and came out with the tinies value in milk and cheese spread.  We did well leaving Finland with only about 50p in local currency; K had looked for something for 6 NOK, but could not find anything that cheap!

We stopped off at Frederikstad.  K thinks it vaguely familiar .. Must ask Mutt if we visited this … she WILL know.  It is incredibly twee and pretty, but worth the stop.  It was a fort for over 300 years.  Cafes and craft shops now;  see the crochet bench below.  K had to explain to James that there is always room for an ice cream or cheese as they go into a different stomach.  He was eventually persuaded to have an ice cream so K could … too embarrassed to pay for only one using a card!

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And so to Sweden, once more.

We have parked up off the main roads in an archipelago overlooking the Tjorn bridge, which opened in 1960.  A disaster in the 1980s when it was destroyed by a ship in mist, who could not alert anyone for 45 mins that the bridge was down.  8 people died in cars that drove onto the bridge … and off.

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84 – Saturday: Another Archie Pelago

We decided to stay on the island and explore a bit.  The plan had been to go onto Gothenburg, which is the 2nd city of Sweden and had 4 pages in the guide book to denote its importance.  However, we were feeling a little citied out after our two days in Oslo.  And the weather looked fair … time to enjoy being outside.  We drove to the the tourist information in the main town on the island and picked up a cycling map and were told there was the annual harbour festival going on.  We had a wee dander down there and an ice cream (separate stomach, remember!).  What was really lovely to see was there was not a booze bar in sight.  Lots of coffee and cake, music (including the diesel engine for the country and western railroad sound), local produce and arts and crafts stalls, old wooden sailing ships with joyful bunting.  People were having a really good time without the need to get off their faces.

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The whole of the Swedish Ford Mustang Club had convened and James was finally towed away.

 

 

 

Lunch back in Chardonnay and call it a reaction to warm weather, but we both went for a nanny nap.  The bike ride became a distant non-reality.  We drove to the sculptures / ancient burial mounds and then decided not to go in as it was £8 each.  Just as well we had not cycled after all!!!

Back to our pitch of last night and the view of the Tjorn Bridge.  A BBQ at the picnic tables – lovely.

85 – Sunday: Driving to Denmark and Hamlet castle

Little to report … we drove, passing Gothenburg …. this will be another trip.  Arrived at the dock for the boat to Helsingor DK… paid £72 and boarded almost immediately.  Castle in view on arrival so we followed our noses and parked up between it and a marina.  We had a leg stretch around the very pretty town and fair gawped at what seemed really cheap prices.

Another motorhome had checked it out with locals… yes it was free.  The toilets were free.  The chemical toilet disposal was free.  And the water was free.  And yet, the castle car park next door was fee paying and packed!   We did laundry and both showered … it makes such a difference knowing you can replenish water supplies the next day really easily.

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86 – Monday: Ferry Unexpected Ferry

We wandered into the town to replace part of James’ e cigarette and by the time we had done this it was properly raining (again).  Our urge to visit the castle was washed away.  Something about the rain as we feel we should use the day as a driving day … so we did.  Replenished water and set the sat nav for fastest route to Bordeaux, near our destination for 12 days time to meet up with K’s family.

It was not until the symbol of a ferry came up, that we became aware that Sally Sat Nav was taking us down to Rodby for the ferry to Germany … we had expected to go across the Storbaelt and Little Baelt – island hoping through Denmark.  A quick phone call to Scandlines and J discovered that the 45 min crossing was less than we had thought  it might be … £85.  Given the Storbaelt bridge was £36 we decided to go for it.  Unfortunately, we had a 2.5 hrs delay as one of the boats had broken down, fortunately we could see it gaping hull in the dock, so no one was stranded at sea.  We took a  thrown together salad up onto the boat and, as it was 9.00 p.m. when we alighted, we headed almost immediately to a Stellplatz in Burg auf Fehmarn.  Stellplatz are motorhome parkings in Germany.  Sometimes they charge and often have sanitary services and electricity.  We had to do a wander and get coins for the parking ticket of EUR10 …  does this count as a campsite?  We have stayed in campsites for only 22 nights and in a fee charging marina for 2 nights. Pretty good going.

 

87 – Tuesday: Shorts and Driving

Exercised and K spotted really cheap shorts and trousers in the centre of Burg – she was definitely not moving fast enough!   Given she is using string to hold some up, it really was time to replace some items in her wardrobe.  After breaky we set off and returned with 3 pairs of shorts and one pair 3/4 length trousers – all for a grand total of £32.  We do like Germany and its prices.  The town offered multiple choices of lunch for around EUR10.  We also stopped at Lidl and bought fuel on the way.  As we departed, the queues to get into the town were humungous.  Mostly S and some DK plates all on a much cheaper than home shopping spree.

A driving day and the rain came and went and returned and left again.  Was K too optimistic in buying shorts?

Having decided to stop by 7.00 p.m., we found a free Parking … with free, if slow, wifi, at a place called Neuss (nice and free) Ski Hallen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days 41 – 46: St Petersburg and home to Helsinki

WARNING:  This post is a biggie …. make yourself a vat of coffee!


 Day 41:  We think…..and Friday

Tram into Helsinki to retrieve repaired bikes – James punctured pride will take a little longer….Our new neighbours on the campsite are a lovely Australian family, Nick, Liz, Tye and Shay – I hope  the boys names are correct guys… We led Nick and Liz astray supping wine until midnight last night – but they did not take much persuading :). K somewhat dehydrated in the morning!   They like us are off to St Petersburg by cruise ferry today – another adventure…

Cruise ferry Princess Maria – enormous – 10 decks ! We decamped to cabin 6629 and dropped our bags – quick deck tour and then drawn by some kind of magnet – to the Funny Rabbit bar!  Nothing to do with sex aids!  Thought we would down a minor glass of wine pre-prandial….. but the Lady K spotted that there was a Happy Hour just starting – but only for cocktails! We forced ourselves to imbibe x number of cocks tails – or was it tocks sails!  Or even socks tails … my socks could tell tales after walking for 3 days with blisters !s Suffice to say, we sailed to our cabin, had some food and were in medieval sailors bunks by 8.30 pm!

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Would that be ONE dry martini?

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Would that be two Long Island Iced Teas?

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Round 1

 

Picnic in the cabin - knives got through the boarding scan!

Picnic in the cabin – knives got through the boarding scan!

42.  Saturday:  Sunny St Petersburg at 9.30 am in the morning, walking tour and the Hermitage

The route into St P passenger dock is through numerous islands with aging and semi scuttled ships.  Evidence of fortifications from the wars with Sweden and Finland.  Then a narrow channel through the largest commercial docks we have ever seen.  The horizon filled with dock side cranes and ships for scrap metal, wood, containers … you name it.

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Offshore fortifications

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Biggest docks - ever

Biggest docks – ever

We stood on deck and watched the dockside fork lift trucks manoeuver the heavy guys / stays / ropes as we docked.

Shuttle bus to St Isaacs Cathedral after going through Russian Passport and immigration control – not too onerous even with 5,000+ tourists from the Occident….  K foot navigated to our apart-hotel near the Kazan Kanal – nice bedroom, shared kitchen and bathroom facilities – good and cheap.  Now to meet our tour guide, Natalia – lovely lady.  She met us outside the hotel and we started on a quest for Rubles!  Having nearly purchased £200 worth of phone top up and several bank queues later, Euros were exchanged for Rubles.  Despite us expressing surprise that ATMs would not work for Euro bank cards, we did establish later that they do; our guide just did not know how or where – surprisingly 😦

Once we got going on the walking tour, Natalia was extremely knowledgable about facts of construction, why, who, height etc.  We started with the Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan.  Inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and built in 1811.  Constructed to house the icon of our Lady of Kazan, which disappeared during 1917 and was repatriated from New York – people queue up to kiss the icon …. needless to say, we did not.  During the Communist era, sac-religiously it was used as a museum of atheism!

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Our hotel was 3 mins walk from here

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Saw the Church of the Spilled Blood, a cacophony of colour with over 7000 sq m of mosaics and numerous types of coloured marble covering the exterior and interior.  Built in 1881 as a memorial to Alexander II who was assassinated on this site.  During WWII and the siege of Leningrad, which lasted a phenomenal 900 days, this and many (most) other buildings were heavily bombed / destroyed by the Germans.  St Petersburg / Russia has spent billions on restoration works … all done, as our guide would say, by ‘Russian master craftsmen’!  This opened to the public in 1997 after 20 years of restoration.   The icon stand in the nave, a glow of gold, had only just opened.

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Gilded icon stand

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The assassination spot

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View down the canal to the Church of Spilled Blood from the Little Bank griffon bridge right outside our hotel

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The final church of the day was St Isaac’s Cathedral.  This is not the original one – the one commissioned by Peter the Great in 1710, and several of its successors, slid into the river as a result of flooding and the whole of St P being built on marsh land.  This version was opened in 1858 and was the design of a French architect, de Montferrand, who won a competition and was the chosen architect based on a book of drawings and little experience.  Whilst he may have had the vision and made it his life’s work, he was not technically good:  work had to keep stopping and be redesigned to deal with his mistakes.  Hundreds of serfs lost their lives, crushed by huge chunks of falling marble.  The gilding process of large dome, where 60+ died from inhaling mercury fumes, must have been worth it as it has not needed re-gilding since!

A little rest

A little rest

 

Front view with massive marble columns

Front view with massive marble columns

Gilded domb:  a cupula within a cupla and many upturned pottery pots inside for acoustics

Gilded dome: a cupula within a cupla and many upturned pottery pots inside for acoustics

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We also walked up the Field of Mars, named after the Roman God of War.  Used for military parades previously, it now has the eternal flame 1957, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1917 revolution.

Field of Mars

Field of Mars

Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame

K's Eternal Flame

K’s Eternal Flame

Lilacs planted everywhere as Peter liked them

Lilacs planted everywhere as Peter liked them

It is adjacent to the Summer Garden, which was one of Peter the Great’s projects … he imported all sorts of trees and shrubs, which was then lost to flooding.  Catherine the Great then had it redesigned as an English garden.

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It was close to Mikhaylovskiy Castle, built for Paul I in 1797.  He feared for his life and had a moat, drawbridge and a secret tunnel, but was murdered only 40 days after moving in!

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We also walked several bits of Nevskiy Prospekt:  the main artery with shops and some interesting buildings.  There remains a blue warning to inhabitants that this side of the street is more prone to bombings; a relict of the siege of Leningrad.  Interestingly, this long street is also home to numerous churches of different faiths – all restored!

Views down side waterways and roads

Views down side waterways and roads

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Multi faith Churches

Multi faith Churches

And only recently restored

And only recently restored

Singer sewing machine building

Singer sewing machine building

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Set of 4 horses being tamed on the 4 corners of a bridge.  So popular, the sculpter made them twice more for other cities

Set of 4 horses being tamed on the 4 corners of a bridge. So popular, the sculpter made them twice more for other cities

And onto the Hermitage.  This museum is housed in 4 huge buildings … they had to keep extending to accommodate all the artifacts!  Apparently, it would take 11 years to see every exhibit.  We had 2.5 hours and it was whirlwind to see what we did.  The blue Winter Palace was built for Tsarina Elizabeth from 1754  and all the Romanovs lived here – opulent does not half describe it.  The use of white and gilt and mirrors makes a dazzling display.  Particularly of note were the main staircase, a throne room and a room with 100s of portraits of the officers who successfully overcame Napoleon’s invasion (if they could not obtain a portrait, the picture frame is left blank).  There are also the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage and the General Staff Building make up the other buildings around the Palace Square.

Some of the key works of art that we saw were:

  • Leonardo’s Madonna Litta
  • Rubens’ Baccus (only sold after his death as he liked it so much)
  • Michelangelo’s marble crouching boy
  • Houdon’s statue of Voltaire
  • Peacock clock

We missed out on the Impressionists due to lack of time 😦

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The Palace Square is also interesting.  The Alexander Column, dedicated to Alexander I and erected in 1834, is the world’s largest free standing single piece of marble.  The square is the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre January 1905, when ordinary people in their Sunday best had a peaceful protest about their living conditions and were gunned down on the orders of tsar Nicholas II.  About 1000 died.  The aftermath led to the 1905 Revolution.  The square is now used for political meetings and concerts.

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Having walked our socks off … J developed a massive blister underneath his foot and needed a pain killer … we found a bar / restaurant near our hotel and had a beer and a SMALL meal … cheapest options.  Picked up some more sustaining food items in a tiny corner shop and ate these back in the hotel, with the litre of red we had bought with us.

 

43.  Sunday:  Peterhof and Peter and Paul Fortress

9.00 start and met outside the hotel by Natalia and the driver.  30 mins or so and out of St P.  Interesting to see more of the architecture, such as a Triumphant Arch (Napoleon’s defeat), Metro buildings that could pass for classical temples, ordinary apartment blocks (few semis or detached houses) and the Palace that Putin uses when in town.

Metro

Metro

Metro doors

Metro doors

Peterhof is an extravagant collection of palaces, fountains and landscaped gardens.  Having come across the site in 1705, Peter the Great commissioned the building of a palace here in 1714.  He intended the estate to equal, if not rival, Versailles.  Elizabeth altered much of the interiors.  Although her changes were nothing to the Germans, who occupied the Palaces and then left them as charred ruins, merely walls half standing. This is another example of the massive restoration spend that has been completed by ‘Russian master craftsmen’ and it is still on-going, as more fountains, rooms and buildings are opened up to the public.  It is so busy that the rooms are by timed ticket, and when not being crushed by tour groups, you have to keep shuffling forward … no time to stand and stare as the Room KGB move you on.  No interior pix allowed.

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Sugar hit before we start the tour

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The cascades are just amazing … the Grand Cascade alone has 37 gilded sculptures, 64 fountains and 142 water jets.  There are fountains and cascades everywhere, all very different to each other.  Some are almost comedic.  There are buildings to entertain with elevating tables, baths etc.  Peter the Great mostly used to come by boat, but the main Peterhof / St P road had entertainment along it length for the nobility who had to follow the court.  It is a massive complex and you could easily spend a day, however, when I suggested that the grounds would be a lovely place for a family picnic, I was told absolutely NOT allowed!

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And this is just one of the Romanov palaces outside St P – all just as sumptuous.

Our driver was quite a character… he had lived in the States for a while and spoke really good English, and as more open about the post USSR / Communism era.  He explained that people now had mortgages they could not afford and that many had gone credit buying for goods mad … the Communist era had some merit.

We were dropped at the Peter and Paul Fortress.  First built from wood in 1703 and then reconstructed in stone.  It was Peter the Great’s protection for the new St Petersburg against the Swedes, however, they were defeated before it was completed so it became a garrison.  Again, 100s of serfs and Swedish war prisoners perished in the swampy build.  Most of the centre of St P is built on swamp:  timbers were laid down and then stone on top … the Hermitage is on St Basil’s island and this was raised 15 feet.

The main interest at the P and P Fortress is the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral.  Peter commissioned it to be a burial chapel for the Romanov family.  The design is Baroque, rejecting traditional Russian architecture … so no onions here.  The whole complex is vast; the Mint still produces coins and medals and many buildings with temporary and permanent exhibitions.

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Toilet bus.  Pay, collect paper, sit with doors across aisle, leave by rear!

Toilet bus. Pay, collect paper, sit with doors across aisle, leave by rear!

One museum here we did go into was the Trubetskoy Bastion:  two floors of intact prison cells and the the isolation room with information about the prisoners, including Aleksey d.1718, as accused of treason by his father Peter the Great.  Others were from uprisings such as Maxin Gorky, Lenin’s bother and Leon Trotsky.  Most that came through the doors were hung and they are now finding mass graves in the Fortress complex from opposers to the 1917 revolution.

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It was here that we parted from Natalia, our guide.  She was worth every penny (paid in Euros!) as we would never have found our way around, pre-booked the tickets when needed and found the obscure entrances … we just would not have seen anything like what we did …. just wish she had a little more soul and would have been more prepared to talk about Russia today more.

Blisters, tired feet, hunger and thirst made it imperative that we stopped for respite, so we tumbled into a restaurant.  With wine at £40/bottle, we had vodka shots and a tasty small dish.  The nearby Information hut was very helpful and told us what time the hop on / hop off bus went, where from and where to find a cash point.  We were a little lost getting to the cash point, BUT found buzzing Aleksandrovskiy Park with its street performers and brass models of the main St P’s buildings.  Finally, we saw police men (not evident when you see motorbikes and cars racing at 60 mph + down Neviskiy Prospekt), no English but pointed us in the right direction to the Metro and the ATM … how easy to get cash when you know how!

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Onto the hop on / hop off bus.  Did a 1.5 circuit to get back to near our hotel.  Covered much of what we had seen but filled in some of the more mundane and fun detail.

Supper was a tourist restaurant, but K got to eat Russian Soup and tried a meat pie and J had a burger and it was close to the hotel.  On the walk to the hotel we spotted a booze shop:  vodka and a bottle of 7Up 🙂   Bed at 1.00 chatting to our fellow resident, John from Oz who shared pretzels and travel stories.  J spotted skinny dippers from our bedroom window into the canal … too dark to see!

 

44.  Monday:  Greeter and Russian Market

Up and out – to meet our Greeter (Greeters.com – free local people who welcome you to their city), Victoria – definitely the star of the St Petersburg trip!  It was bound to go well as she met us with gifts of a Griffon <our hotel was by the griffon Bank Bridge> magnet and local (delicious – did not last long – chocolates).   She took us on the Underground to the Macken Russia – the escalators in the Underground are miles steeper than the London Tube – James managed to stay upright!   Macken Russia is housed in a long warehouse style building – it is a scale model of all Russia – accurate down to the last detail. We walked from St Petersburg in the west, through Moscow, via the Urals, Siberia, Steppes – all the way to the east coast – 9 hours of time zones!!!  Using a large wall map, Victoria was able to indicate where different areas are, and explain the industry, mining and agriculture of each area.  She also helped us to understand more about living in apartments, Dachas, the industries etc.  We loved her openness and warmth.

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Victoria recommended a restaurant specialising in traditional Russian meat pies – delicious and nothing like the one K had tried in the tourist restaurant.

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Running out of time, V guided K through a ‘hidden courtyard’ to a local supermarket and recommended items  for our evening ferry picnic and which brand of Vodka to buy.

We checked out of our aparthotel, Tatiana was our host, we made our way circuitously – well K is the master navigator (NOT always!) – to the cruise ship Princess Maria.  On board in cabin 6017 this time – the Funny Rabbit bar was screaming for our business – we had rabbit pie for lunch after all…  Guess what K made us drink ? Tocks Sails again….


45.  Tuesday and back ‘HOME’ in Helsinki

Slightly fatigued and outwalked in St Petes, this was a down day – that is to say we – K mostly, cleaned our vanhome – spit and polish like you never saw in your life…  BBQ in the evening – and all is well. A nice Turkish man let us use the remains of his BBQ coals – he seemed to be in charge of about 30 young men on a tour…


46.  Wednesday:  Limited walking and ‘free’ tram tour

A leisurely start …J just managed to see our neighbours, Liz and Nick, off and exchange blog addresses … they are heading for Turkey, Croatia etc … so may be a useful info source!

Decided to start using our transport cards today, which we had bought with the help of Irmeli, our Helsinki Greeter.  Metro into the main station, walk to Tourist office to get the route for the trams 2/3 tour.  Basically, these trams do a figure of 8 and cover some of the main areas.  Picnic by the main market place and a visit to the main Lutheran Helsinki cathedral (sadly seems very plain after St Petersburg excessive opulence).

View of Russian Orthadox  church with Aldos Av>>> building

View of Russian Orthadox church with Aldos Av>>> building

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Then a random tram (making the most of the transport card) on Line number 6 … stopped at a small shopping centre and found chain Cinnabon:  coffee and Finnish cinnamon buns …. Beth told us to hunt them out and these were bloody good … warm with melting frosting!  We watched some being made …

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Back to the campsite for K’s minimalist packing for her trip back to see her Munchkin … can’t wait…..