Back to Saint Petersburg

Modern art in the Marble PalaceWith the impossibility to reach the old granite quarries in Ruskeala by public transport, my northern adventure was doomed to end prematurely. I wasn't inclined to feel stranded any longer, and the presence of many local tourists lured by beauties I failed to be touched by didn't offer much moral support. I had given these places enough time to bring out the best of themselves, and indeed yesterday's sunset had definitely been a sight, but there was no reason for insisting on staying. I returned to Saint Petersburg by the afternoon bus, and found again the beautiful city shining in its usual magnificence in the most reassuring way. I wouldn't have to scour under the cover of ashes to find the glowing embers because this was a burning fire of beauty. I was so fascinated by this city that if ever a place there was in Russia where I would like to live for some time that would be Saint Petersburg.

There were still many things to see. Outside the city there are innumerable royal residences and country estates, and Petershof had already been the object of a day trip. The charm of its impressive gardens comes from their astounding fountains. The grandest of all is the one in front of the palace, adorned with so many guilt statues that my first impression was of gaudiness. However, on closer inspection my judgement veered to a more benign appreciation, and by the time I returned on my way out I simply considered it as the product of sublime refinery. I stood watching it for a long time.

Baroque was the style that great Italian architects used to conquer the hearts of the Russian czars.

When I went to Pushkin I didn't need to acclimatise myself to the Baroque. I was already prepared to find the style which great Italian architects had used to conquer the hearts of the Russian czars. Only a few rooms had been redecorated in subsequent styles, but luckily Pushkin palace's most stunning feature remains the marvellous golden enfilade, a succession of rooms with glittering gold stuccos on white walls. The abundance of ornamentation makes them appear tremendously grand, and still the effect was not heavy or redundant at all. Here the Baroque found its perfection in a surprising lightness. I had to revise my ideas on that epoch.

Peterhof fountainThe Marble Palace hosts a museum of modern art, but I didn't go with the intention of visiting it. I was attracted by the marbles – tens of varieties were used in the construction of this single palace. The bluish hues of the stone in the grand staircase surprised me, but it was the great hall that left me speechless. Practically all the incredible colours on the walls were due to different sorts of natural stone panelling. There were interesting modern works of art on display, but I only gave the exhibit a perfunctory look because nothing would ever be able to match the magnificence of natural marble.