I’ve just returned from an amazing journey with our guests to the glorious city of the Russian tsars – St. Petersburg Russia.
They accompanied us on our September 2017 Walking Tour of St. Petersburg Jewelers on the Centennial of the Russian Revolution, and it was indeed 10 days that shook our world!
Our first stop: a private visit to the Fabergé Museum. Against a magnificent backdrop of the sumptuous Shuvalov Palace, we marvelled at the works of the world’s most famous goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, in what is now the largest collection of his oeuvre.
We then dined at a celebrated neighborhood restaurant with Fabergé scholar, Valentin Skurlov. Valentin regaled us with stories and anecdotes of his research into the amazing jewelers of imperial Russia.
But the experience wasn’t all about Fabergé. After all, our mission is to ignite a passion for all Russian treasures and culture in the west and, in the process, increase appreciation of the country itself and its riches.
So, after our breakfast chats about Russia’s most prominent Jewelers to the Romanov Court we set out to find their workshops and discover the most important streets in the jewellery trade: the Bolshaya Morskaya and the famous thoroughfare Nevsky Prospect.
To bring it all to life, Sonya Lurie, a local historian and guide took us on a whirlwind bus tour around the city followed by a boat tour up the Fontaka and along the Neva River.
In her perfect and animated English, Sonya recounted many fascinating stories about the opulence of the Romanovs, the Russian Grand Dukes, and the intriguing tales of their love affairs on the eve of the 1917 revolution.
We also toured the exquisitely restored interiors of the St. Petersburg architectural landmark, Spas na Krovi (Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood), which was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated.
For the first time ever, we visited the Hermitage Reserves. This part of the museum complex is only open by appointment and entry is not easy to secure. Over 90% of the Hermitage’s is stored in this architectural marvel and we saw selected rooms of imperial coaches, including one made for Peter the Great, as well as the stagecoach that Fabergé painstakingly crafted a less than four-inch model of and fitted as a surprise within a velvet-lined compartment of the Coronation Easter Egg of 1897.
There was so much to see that we dedicated one whole day to the magnificent Hermitage Museum and a guided tour of the Diamond Treasure Room was a true highlight.
Here we marvelled at the gem creations of master jeweler to the courts of Empresses Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine the Great, Jérémie Pauzié, as well as the works of other 18th and 19th century imperial jewelers. We even encountered horse harnesses incrusted with hundreds of carats of diamonds and emeralds!
Of course, our adventure didn’t stop there. We also participated in a wonderful master class at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory where we got an insider’s look at the kilns and workshops and also took part in a specially curated tour of the museum collection. And on another glorious day we visited Pavlovsk, favorite palace of Paul 1st and his wife Maria Feodorovna.
Additionally, we met the chief curator of the Stieglitz Museum of Design who mesmerized our guests with a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of this hidden treasure of St. Petersburg which includes a school where many artisans were trained in stone-cutting, metalworking and design. The experience gave us a great sense of the style and opulence of the turn-of-the-century era, as well as the vision of the founder, Baron Stieglitz.
We ended our visit to this beautiful and magical city with a tour of the Russian Museum’s Mikhailovsky and Benois wings. The collection’s masterpieces from the 14th through the early 20th centuries embellished our impressions of the life and times in the city on the eve of the Revolution.
Throughout the trip we enjoyed special evening experiences, including a performance of Rigoletto at the New Mariinsky Theatre, the ballet Giselle at the old Mariinsky theater and a Rachmaninoff concert at the Kapella.
We want to extend our deepest gratitude to our wonderful St. Petersburg tour organizer, and to the museum curators, art experts, city historians and translators who made this trip so memorable. My thanks as well to our fabulous tour guests for joining us on our walking tour of St. Petersburg and for being so utterly delightful.
And, of course, we look forward to all of the upcoming adventures we have planned for the rest of this year and for 2018. You can find out more right here and you can also stay up to date with everything happening at mariebetteley.com when you join our email list.