Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Czar's Summer Palace, Pushkin (near Saint Petersburg), Russia

The Czar's (actually the Czariza's) palace outside of Saint Petersburg is a magnificent building. It is situated on a hilltop near a small town called Pushkin after the famous Russian poet. The town was originally the King's Village where all the servants lived, but it was later renamed to honor the poet.

A few people from my team took me out to see the palace itself and the grounds around it:

We started the tour in the nearby Pushkin park where the great poet surveys all who come to visit.

The palace is huge and the grounds are enormous, including a lake, various streams, hills and other structures. The two pictures below show the front of the palace from two opposite directions.

The other side of the building is the large courtyard seen through the gate in the picture below.

The grounds are very pastoral to walk through. There are gardens



and buildings of different architectural styles, like this Chinese wedding chapel

and this Turkish bath.

To paraphrase Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the Czar."

Taking a Bath when You're the King

Attached to the palace building is a bath building. The word "bath" does not do it justice since it's two stories with multiple rooms and a second floor garden you can stroll through. When the Germans occupied the palace they turned it into an officer's club, but it has since been restored. The second floor which we were allowed to visit was the Czariza's apartment "away" from the palace.

We were not permitted to take photos inside, but here are a few from outside the structure. This chaste but naked lady stands outside the queen's apartments.

In this second floor garden couples come to take wedding pictures.

Busts of roman and Greek gods and men line up both side of the building.

The Palace Proper

We entered the palace itself and a tour guide walked us through the different rooms that have been restored. The top floor of the palace has a long set of bowl rooms, entertainment rooms, dining rooms, etc. They are all arranged one after another, with all the doors leading from one to the other in a straight line across the palace. The doorways are gilded with gold and the passage is called the river of gold. You can see some of it in the picture below.

The rooms mostly look like this, though some of them were decorated differently. In some rooms there are photos of what they looked like at the end of WWII. It's amazing the restoration that went into them. Additionally there's the famous amber room that is covered with amber all over, but photography is not allowed in it so you'll have to go see it yourselves.

Each room also had a fireplace, all made of china with decorations all over.

The statue I really liked was of small angel with a very wicked smile on its face and a finger raised up to its mouth almost but not quite shushing you. But that was where photography was not allowed, so here's a different one.

And Finally, the Director's Cut

Other than the touristy pictures above, here are the ones I really liked. Let's start with the door to the Chinese wedding pavilion.The following shows the mix of architecture that can be found in the palace grounds. The Turkish bath can be seen in the background of this roman or Greek bridge over the canal.

The water was standing still on the day we were there.

The lion's brow.

The queen's rooms above the bath had this beautifully carved ceiling.

Geometric shapes in the gardens near the palace. Barring an aerial shot, this is the best angle I could get.

Draped windows at the palace.

Inconclusive Proof

Too many people suggested that there was no way to know I was in Japan based on my previous posting. So here's a picture to prove I was really in Russia. And I didn't just photoshop myself in. Really. I swear.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Japan in a Week - July 2005

This trip to Japan was actually a business trip, but I did manage to snap a few (hundred) pictures. Below are the more interesting ones. All pictures are from Tokyo and Kyoto.


One of the things that grabs you about Japan is the number of temples and shrines. This is especially true in Kyoto where whole areas are one temple after another interspersed with some religious paraphernalia stores, tourists shops and restaurants.

The first picture is the gate of Senso-ji, a major temple in Tokyo.

This shows what a typical shrine within the temple looks like. This was a side temple, not one of the main buildings, hence much less busy.

Kyoto has temples sprinkled all over. This specific one is Higashiyama-ku, built on the side of the hill overlooking Kyoto.

You can see a view of Kyoto's downtown area from the top temple level.

The temple on the right is Kyoto's famous golden temple, originally part of a private mansion later converted to a temple. This building in the complex is covered with real gold.

Each temple has many buildings, with many areas to pray and leave prayears. A sample praying area can be seen in this picture.

Almost every temple building has a place for you to purify yourself with incense smoke, and a place to wash hands, usually with a dragon providing the water. The following are from various temples:

The gates to the temple are guarded (or maybe this is a welcoming god - I couldn't read the signs).

Gravestones and statues in the temple are adorned with red cloth tied around them.

Prayers are written on small wooden boards and left in the temple.

Alternatively, messages are written on a piece of paper and tied in a knot around a pole.

Prayers can also be left at shrines, next to statues of little old men like this one.

Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo

The fish market is one of the largest in the world. Tourists can no longer go into thee area where fish are auctioned off to wholesalers. The rest of the market is quite large, full with sellers showing anything that can be found in the sea. Narrow lanes like this fill whole areas of the market. Each stall has Styrofoam boxes full of ice and fish, as well as salt water aquariums with live fish.

The larger lanes in the market are patrolled by this ingenious little car. It's basically a platform with an engine-come-steering-wheel attached to the front. The engine, by the way, is marked as "Mighty Car". Drivers patrol the market back and forth ferrying fish from one area to another.

I took very little people pictures. I wasn't there long enough to get comfortable with asking permission. Here are the few I did manage to take.

I saw these girls all dressed up in matching traditional kimonos, sitting and eating. Using the international language of pointing at the camera and mumbling I got their permission to take the picture, but what can clearly be felt is that there's a third girl missing on the right. I wasn't sure if she was uncomfortable with the picture or was just getting up as I came and was surpirsed by my request. Here's the proof:

The following picture, on the other hand, is one I didn't get permission for :)

I took this picture on Sunday, just before leaving Japan. It's an area of Tokyo where mostly teenagers come to hang out, walk around, see and be seen.

This picture was taken in the same place. I liked all the pink that went well with the store.






Japan at Night - Hanging out In Tokyo and Kyoto

Shinjuku is one of Tokyo's nightime areas. Many people walking around at night, department stores and restaurants abound. Many neon lights decorate surrounding buildings, vying for people's attention.

Kyoto has a different feel to it. The area we walked along is near one of the cannals crossing Kyoto. It is full of restaurants and bars - places for people to hang out.





You can see people walking around the banks of the cannal, sitting in the restaurants, enjoying themselves.





The Artistic Corner

The rest of the pictures were my more personal take of Japan.