We have a gorgeous view from our room; we overlook the flat roof of the immigration building. As the wind blew and the rain poured, I admired the way the waves of water seemed to dance on the tar paper roofline. Ahhhhhh, the day looks like an adventure.
Our call time for the excursion was even earlier this morning. We had to report at 7:00 a.m. for another ten hour guided mass sojourn to the summer palace of Catherine the Great. Ellie is feeling a bit better, but definitely moody. More than a bit of teen attitude. Grumpy, I mean Grampy, would rather have a case of jock itch than get up to stand outside a palace in the rain, but he gamely agrees to go.
I have to give it to George. Yesterday was a long day, and this day won’t be any better. A guy with a fainter heart would have refused to get up, but here he was. Grouchy as hell, but there. Alternately cajoling and/or threatening my loved ones, they got up, dressed and agreed to do it one more time.
This was the day that I could check one more item off my bucket list. Years ago I read about the Amber Room in Catherine the Great’s palace. She is one of the more remarkable women in history, and when not sending people to their death (like her husband, the Czar) she made some remarkable achievements. I mean, she was Great, right?
Did you know she wasn’t Russian? She was a 14 year old girl of great aristocratic lineage from Germany, but her family had lost all their money. The future czar was a bit odd, but crazy about Prussian (German) soldiers. She sucked it up for the family and married the royal prince. At 14, the same age as my granddaughter, Ellie.
Catherine was smart as a whip and fell in love with Russia. When her husband became czar, she started taking an active role in ruling while her husband spent his time marching soldiers around the parade ground. He loved the Prussian army model so much that he started dressing his human toy soldiers in Prussian uniforms and hanging out with his mistress all the time. This totally alarmed the Russian military leaders. Catherine had given birth to an heir, so if they got rid of the czar, she could rule as regent.
The czar had a bizarre fatal “accident” one night when he just happened to fall on a knife. It was never proven Catherine ordered his death, but she didn’t hesitate to step into the role as regent. Apparently her son was a slow grower, because she ruled for over 30 years. She was incredibly smart and started schools, founded over 200 towns in the first urban planning seen in Russia (possibly Europe), fought wars and built one heck of a palace.
The Amber Room story is pretty cool. The King of Prussia was the original owner of an amazing room made of amber panels. Because amber is petrified pine resin, it has a very low melting temperature. The room took a ton of maintenance because it kept falling apart. It was driving the king nuts, and costing a fortune, so he didn’t want it any longer. What to do with a priceless room made of amber that is a total pain in the royal butt and bank account? Peter the Great came for a visit and admired it. Why not give it to Russia as a totally unique gift – a diplomatic coup, impress the crap out of the unsuspecting czar, and get rid of a never-ending home maintenance money pit.
Long story short, it was a wonder and no complaints on the maintenance problems. Maybe Russia is cold enough that the amber never overheated. Catherine moved it from Pete’s place to her own. For 200 years it was the pride of the palace – until WWII. At some point in the 900 day siege of St. Petersburg (by then re-named Leningrad), poor Catherine’s palace was bombed and looted. Among the stolen treasures was the entire Amber Room, often billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. And it is still missing to this day.
Modern day Germany felt pretty bad about this, and in 2003 replaced the missing panels as a gift to Russia. How could you not want to see a room with such an exciting history? You won’t be seeing any pictures of the room here, cameras are forbidden. I am also sorry to say that I had built up a vision in my head of what it would look like – and it fell quite short. I had regaled Ellie with the tale of the room and when we were there, she looked at me and said “I thought it would be more spectacular.” Sadly, I felt the same way. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful and interesting in a rock collecting type of way. But Eighth Wonder of the Worldish? Not quite. Obviously better than the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas (also on my bucket list), but a little bit disappointing. That’s what can happen when you let your imagination get carried away. Continue reading “Day 10 St. Petersburg – Weirdest Bathroom Trip Ever”