Irina, my Russian friend in Miami, recommended I visit Petrodvorets outside Saint Petersburg. So I rode the Metro (subway) for twenty minutes and then hopped a mini-van for a thirty minute ride west of the city.
Peter the Great (1682 – 1725) built a home here on the shores of the Gulf of Finland to oversee the construction of his naval base. Eventually the area was developed with gracious white palaces, sculpted gardens, a series of dancing fountains and energetic cascades.
Also called Peterhof, most of the original area was destroyed by both the Soviets and the Nazis. But the reconstruction is splendid. The weather is fine for my stroll and everyone is in a cheerful mood. I meet dozens and dozens of visitors - a lady from Uzbekistan dressed in native attire, a group from Brazil – the guide holding the familiar green flag, a few delightful local high school kids, and the ubiquitous camera carrying, fast afoot East Asians.
At one spot, three Asian girls are posing for photos. I hear “Neung, song, sam!” This is the unmistakable “One, two, three” in Thai. Naturally, I stop for a chat. With my broken Thai, and their excellent English, I learn that two of the girls are visiting a friend who is a university student here.
The best event of the day was a musical surprise. On one of the garden paths, I encountered three Russian men and their percussion orchestra: xylophone, marimba, vibraphone. No Russian folk songs or jolly dances for these guys. It was all Vivaldi (Four Seasons), Bach (Toccata and Fugue) and Chopin (Nocturnes)! The lead player took the melodies, including all the grace notes and arpeggios. The second man added the base chords and the harmony. The third musician provided the tremolos and rhythms. The grand garden setting and the flow of the music was velvety and beguiling.
For my final stop, just across the road from the entrance to the park, is the early Twentieth Century SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. The multi-colored brick exterior and the somber interior of the church lends a spiritual contrast to the splendor and extravagance of the Petrodvorits palaces.
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