When asked to produce something that says ‘symmetry’ I instantly struggle because, like Michael York who once remarked that his fortune was made when he broke his nose as an adolescent, his face otherwise having been too perfect to be handsome, I rather shy away from the precision implied by symmetry. But the Fountain of Eve (she’s standing calmly at it’s centre looking a little manly to be frank) in the Peterhof Palace Gardens in St Petersburg, has a glorious symmetry to it and the light catching the slender sprays of water makes me think of a glistening crown for Neptune. And the quote? Mr Darcy contemplating Elizabeth Bennett whom he has mentally picked to pieces and found in her every fault imaginable is forced to admit to self that despite the lack of symmetry to her form she is pretty damn gorgeous. I rest my case.
Having resembled the Michelin man in my several layers last night, worn to combat the cold in my bones from the open windowed bus tour, I am fully prepared to don every single article of clothing I packed for this little trip in order to stay warm in the biting wind, but mercifully it is a smidge warmer today so the people are spared a 6′ weeble wobbling down Nevsky Prospekt meet our coach to the Peterhof Palace. On the way we drop into the Arctic and Antarctic Museum. Our first plan (you have learned our plans are fluid at all times) was to visit this museum given Two Brains connection to Greenland and abiding interest in Polar Exploration and then visit the Dostoevsky museum – Fyodor D lived much of his life in St Petersburg (both before and after his enforced time in Siberia) and many of his great works are set there. That we both wanted to visit both museums is evidence of the fortunate nature of our relationship – we morph so many interests and often spark an interest one in the other that is unexpected. I digress. The fact is that we were late leaving the hotel after the rigours of breakfast – one of those typical continental buffets where you have to keep one eagle eye on several tables lest you miss the single thing you might like to eat and often find yourself in combat over a croissant with a stranger. I always find it fascinating to watch people rapaciously grabbing vast quantities of food and stashing it in their bags for later. Somehow, I can never quite bring myself to do the same … Unencumbered by snaffled and concealed food but nontheless tardy we only have time to pop into the beautiful 18th Church that houses the Polar Museum. I am so glad we did. The interior is beauteous, the frescos depicting arctic scenes, animals and polar explorers presumably replacing the original religeous paintings. We only have time to swiftly browse the books and gifts and Two Brains buys a book on Greenland in Russian (he speaks none but intends to be able to read it oh so slowly as he learns the language). The sales-lady is delighted and says she will welcome us when we return – ‘I will wait for you’ she says. Dostoevsky will have to wait as well.
A quick snack and a cuppa and we find our coach. The journey out to Peterhof takes 1.5 hours and the place does not disappoint. Sadly we disappoint the guide by opting out of the tour of the Palace on the basis that we want to enjoy the garden with the statuary revealed and the fountains turned on for the first time after their winter sleep. We will return, we know this and tour the interior in winter when the rooms are less crowded. The fact is that we are ill-suited to guided tours – irascible and intolerant of waiting for people who have been asked to be in a particular place at a particular time and aren’t (paying 5000 rubles to stand next to a convenience in a car park marking time for strangers is not my first choice of recreation it has to be said). Besides, it is clear that with a total time allocation of 5 hours for the trip, 3 of which will be spent travelling on the bus an hour touring the rooms and now a quarter of an hour standing by the lavatories, will leave us with next to no time in the vast and beautiful gardens. So there you have it Maverick and Wife part with the party, enjoy the grounds (we covered about 1/5th of the total) and are first back at the bus bang on time. We loved Peterhof, will return and will arrive at opening time, leave at closing time. It is that expansive … I would urge you to do the same should you care to visit.
Back in the city we buy metro passes and find out that the stations here are splendid, the escalators rapid and the trains frequent. We flitter about and take dinner in an Italian (Gogol, a good looking Russian Restaurant having refused us entry – its Saturday night and we haven’t booked) which is charming and relaxed. The food is enormous and I can barely stagger. I am confident that the two large glasses of Montepulciano had nothing whatsoever to do with this. Back at the hotel we collapse, stuffed culturally and culinarily for a short night before the return to Moscow.