From Russia With Love
The next day we saw the Peter and Paul fortress, where all the great Tsars and buried, then actually had some free time and saw St. Isaacs Cathedral, which I can say without reservation is the most magnificent building I have ever seen or heard of. The interior was an arrangement of 14 different kinds and colors of marble, all polished and sculpted and arranged so beautifully that it almost did justice to the processes by which the earth created them. And every nook and cranny was taken very special care of so that you just kept discovering more beauty in every corner. There were also paintings and frescoes and sculptures and mosaics and icons all around, and at the top of the central dome, a single silver pigeon with wings spread suspended in air and illuminated by the sun.
The second most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen was the Cathedral of Spilt Blood, erected on the site where Alexander II was killed (the man who freed the serfs a year before Lincoln freed the slaves, and was trying to instate badly needed reforms when he was blown up by revolutionaries who, ironically, wanted those reforms but also wanted to get rid of the institution of Tsardom). The inside was absolutely COVERED in mosaics, every column and every wall and even the ceiling, just more and more mosaics, there must have been billions of shards of rock or glass or whatever they used, in billions of colors, not to mention billions of man-hours, to make it. But it really was beautiful. And there was a little shrine at one end with a little marble gazebo over the original cobblestones were Alex died. And the outside had blue and green and yellow and white swirly and checkered onion domes and mosaics also. (Funny story–when Liz and I first got to St. Petersburg after a week of traveling through Scandinavia, in our first disorienting day in Russia, we were wandering around, when suddenly we caught sight of the domes of the Cathedral of Spilt Blood. At the exact same moment, we both gasped and pointed and looked at each other, and then laughed our butts off, because we both knew the other had been thinking the exact same thing–that we were seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral at last! Never mind we were 600 miles from Moscow…)
All together it was a pretty canned and Bing-sponsored and touristy view of the city, but many moments of beauty nonetheless. Still, I wish I had time to actually get to know the city. I had a lot of fun two months ago during the few hours we had in St. Petersburg (after spending three hours trying to figure out how to get a ticket to Moscow when we didn’t speak the language beyond “Moskva” and “Bilyet,” ticket) just sitting on park benches, wandering the streets, watching ten-year-old boys playing games with impressively realistic toy guns, etc.