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St. Petersburg, 2012

In August 2012 I was in Finland for a workshop. I've always wanted to see St. Petersburg, and it's only a three-hour train ride from Helsinki. I figured I would never be so close again, so I went for an overnight jaunt. Getting the visa was quite annoying; Russians are as good at bureaucracy as they ever were. But it was well worth it.

The "original" photos linked to in this set are reduced size, in fact, so contact me if you want a true original.
The train ride
This train between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is very fast, and apparently quite new. Of course it would be even faster if it didn't sit at the border for 45 minutes for no apparent reason, but what can you do. It's nice because they process your passport and visa on the train as it's moving; I assume if there were a problem they'd make you get off at the last stop within Finland, but otherwise it's completely smooth. You just walk off the train in St. Petersburg and keep on walking. It was rainy on the train, which had me worried, but once I arrived it got sunny.
Walking around
It's a beautiful city. The architecture is strongly – perhaps too strongly – influenced by the Austrian palatial style that was in vogue when the city was built. But you can also see a lot of Art Deco influences, which I absolutely love. The church in the third photo is St. Sampson's Cathedral, completed in 1740; the next shot is of it's interior, which was ridiculously baroque. The next photo is of a statue of Nizami Ganjavi, a 12th century Persian poet; no idea why there is a statue of him there. Photos toward the middle are around the Peter and Paul fortress. Then I'm near the Hermitage, and then the rest of the photos, well, I'm not sure what they're of.
The Church on Spilt Blood
One reason I have always wanted to visit St. Petersburg is the Church on Spilt Blood, completed in 1907 on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. It is an absolute triumph of art and architecture. I don't think I've had so much fun photographing a place since I was at Antelope Canyon; I spent the better part of a day there. And to their credit, photography is allowed inside, unlike so many places that arbitrarily ban it. I didn't doctor the photos at all, but in reality, the colors feel much more vivid.
The Hermitage
The other reason I have always wanted to visit St. Petersburg is the Hermitage, a staggering art museum. The only place I've been that gives it a run for its money is the Louvre. The architecture and interior decor of the museum, which was once a palace, is amazing. Its collection is even more amazing (and only a fraction of it is on display at any given time!); I didn't have nearly enough time to do it justice, but I did my best. I'll start with shots of the interior.
Now some old masters. The first row is all Rembrandt. The next two are da Vinci, and the last is Caravaggio. These are not good photos, sorry; they're mostly for my own memory of the experience. These paintings, especially the da Vincis, were insanely crowded; I think they unload a tour bus every few minutes and point the passengers towards these galleries.
The Hermitage has quite a few more modern paintings. The first row is Cezanne, the second is Matisse, the third is Picasso, and the fourth is Kandinsky.
The four painters above were my favorites (Kandinsky is always great). Now we get into singletons that I particularly liked. These three: Pisarro, Degas, Renoir.
Corot, Seurat, Van Gogh.
Gauguin, Vlaminck, van Dongen. The van Dongen is brilliant; just from looking at the painting I feel like I'm friends with this woman.
Derain, Marquet, Guttuso.
Now some ancient/classical art, of which the Hermitage also has a sizeable collection. Well, OK, the first row may not be that ancient, but I didn't know where else to put them. In the second row there is a Moghul flask (17th century) and a Moghul suit of parade armor (mid-18th century). Ganesha you probably know; this one is 11th century. I love the crane; it is standing on a truncated cube. The gorgeous lacquer box is 18th century. Starting with the figurine we get into Altaic art; I haven't encountered this before, but I love it. Apparently the Hermitage has perhaps the largest collection of Altaic art in the world, dug from the permafrost of the uplands. The figurine is around the 8th–10th century. The next is much older, 6th–5th c. B.C. The horse mask is 5th–4th c. B.C.; I absolutely love this piece. It reminds me of the fantastical horses in Terry Gilliam's movie The Fisher King. Finally, the swans are 4th–3rd c. B.C. I'm not sure of the provenance of the last three shots; I didn't take snaps of their cards, as I was leaving the museum in rather a hurry. I could have easily spent a week in the Hermitage, but instead I had only part of one day. Ah well; I will have to return someday.

These images copyright © 2012 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.