When you walk down Nevsky Prospekt and feel the overwhelming urge to push the people crowding the streets into on-coming traffic, you know it is time to get out of Saint Petersburg for a little while. This city can easily take its toll, but thankfully there are many sites away from here that are only a simple marshrutka ride away. However, sometimes the most difficult part of the trip can be finding the marshrutki. My friend and I once spent the better part of an hour trying to find the line of marshrutki that ran to Pushkin.
So far, in my two months in Saint Petersburg, I have managed to visit four former palaces of the Tsars. By far, Gatchina has been my favorite. Unlike the Winter Palace, Catherine’s Palace or Peterhof, Gatchina seems to be relatively undiscovered by tourists. There are no huge lines to get up to the ticket counter, and you can wander around easily without bumping into anyone. The museum workers at this palace were also friendlier and more patient than at the other palaces.
If you are interested in the history if the Tsars, Gatchina is fantastic. I went with a friend, pointing out that one portrait was of Peter the Greats son, who Peter himself had killed. She thought that was interesting. She, however, thought it was weird when I got really excited to see the portraits of the Tsars in childhood. I at one point said to my friend, “Look, thats Tsar Alexander III as a baby. He grew up to be a repressive Tsar after his father was assassinated!”
Unlike many of the other grand palaces around Saint Petersburg, Gatchina has yet to be fully restored after the Second World War. On the second floor, you can either go straight into the restored rooms, or left into a hallway in ruins that leads to an un-restored chapel. In the un-restored area, there are paintings of what these rooms once looked like. Even in the rooms that have been restored, there is still evidence of past devastation, such as broken chairs or statues missing fingers. It is still unclear to me whether or not there are plans for further restoration, but I hope that parts of the palace remain in ruins. The contrast between the restored and un-restored was powerful.
My friend and I mostly avoided the tours around the palace, but we did join one to go into the tunnel. This was the most fun we had on the trip. Although I could not understand quite what was going on, the guide showed us how messages were passed through the tunnel using the echo created by the tunnel. The guide had us yell phrases, afterwards we listened for the echo, which would usually sound like a name that we hadn’t even yelled.
Even though I very much liked the grounds at Pushkin and Peterhof, they were a little too manicured for my taste. That was not at all the case at Gatchina. The expansive grounds are still overgrown and look natural. The wilderness-like grounds was a great temporary relief from the city, and definitely put me in a better mood when I returned to Saint Petersburg.
By: Julia Baker
Term: Summer 2009