We reached the Catherine Palace or Winter Palace, as it is often known in the evening. It started raining, and some of the elder members of the delegation refused to step out in the rain. Our sassy and brilliant guide declared, “There is a time for entering the palace. Now, I can’t change the time, and I can’t stop the rain, so you have to decide if you want to go or sit on the bus.” The majority of the group adamantly stayed on the bus, and our guide said, “It is sad they won’t see this, but it is good for the 6 of us going inside.”
Stepping inside we were immediately taken to the cloakroom. Russians take their culture very seriously, and it is common knowledge amongst museums that coats and jackets are like explosives to architecture.
It was indeed tragic that the delegates in the bus missed the wit and intellect of our guide. She brought us close and carefully whispered in our ears, “We can use the washroom for now, and we will stop here again once we are done, but… if it is just as crowded then.. I will show you a secret one.” As we skipped the line, first moving past one group and then another pleading to each guide that there were only six of us, we were meticulously instructed to follow our deft guide without saying a word. Before we entered the great hall we saw Maria wink at us and casually mention, “This probably won’t work in the big cities, but this is a small town and people here are stupid.” You could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she didn’t really mean it.
Pushkin’s pride and joy is a sight to behold. Bent upon impressing, the Catherine Palace is decorated in Russian baroque style, with almost a 100 kilograms of gold used in its gilding. The banquet hall had approximately 700 candles and alongside the tall windows were equally tall mirrors that reflected and maximized light, and when the banquet was at night, the candles were lit. The roof, which was rumored to have been gold, as well was on long beautiful painting. All carvings were gilded and all chandelier glass was uniquely made of violet glass.
Each room we walked into had its own unique appeal. A room with two sculpture of a baby cupid. Going to sleep in the West and rising in the East. The room which holds the chessboard. The chessboard using which Elizabeth the great won the palace from the first Catherine, who was not very good at chess. There was the portrait room. The painting room, which had paintings on its wall like they were wallpaper. The porcelain room.
Each room prettier than the next and finally we reached the Amber room. The Amber room had pieces of Amber crushed into the walls. The Amber ranging in colors yellow, orange, and blood red. The yellow Amber is said to be the most precious. Photographs are allowed everywhere except in the Amber room. Here our well-informed guide shared with us that Russia own 90% of the world’s Amber, and “Sure!” she said, “You can find Amber in other places, all you need is for there to be a forest with Raisin trees. Then you need that forest to go away and the land to be transformed into a deep-sea bed. That isn’t the end; you now need the sea to go away and thousands of years to pass for the Amber to harden. Then you will definitely be able to mine Amber in other places.”
As we reached the end of the corridor and look back we saw the infinite doors, candle, and gilded sculptures, and understood why it isn’t permitted to stop here. One who does rarely wants to walk away. We walked down the circular stairs, and our guide said, “Now, I’m going to show you something that is going to make you hate the Nazis forever!” She led us to a painting that depicted the condition of the Catherine Palace after the Nazis burnt it to the ground, and on the other side hung the painting of the same Palace in its full splendor and glory.