Ostentation – Then and Now

Between a 104-mile ride and a subsequent wakeup call at 2:30 AM for Aleksandr’s White Night tour, our sleep is messed up. We attempted to snooze some during the day to catch up, but we also had to get ready to leave St. Petersburg.

Our stay was too short to go inside the Hermitage, though we did cycle by it on the opposite shore of the Neva River on Aleksandr’s tour. The Hermitage was a mere addition to the Winter Palace, the official residence of the Russian emperor from 1732 to 1917. In 1764, Catherine the Great (1729-1796) had it built to house her personal collection of pretty things. Maybe they got her mind off the husband she detested, Peter III, the grandson of Peter the Great. The end year of 1917 came because of the October 1917 Revolution. Then, the building and its works became public property. It now receives 2,000,000 visitors per year. According to this concise lovely video, it would take a person 70 years to see every item in the Hermitage collection. It has 1000 rooms with 3 million pieces of art.

This morning, we pointed our wheels westward to round the Gulf of Finland. This leg will take us out of Russia. Given our comfort level with Aleksandr and lack of international incidents so far, we decided we could split our exit out of Russia into two days. The forecast for Thursday is rain, though, so we decided to do a longer leg, to Hotel Ust-Luga, today. Aleksandr got on the phone with the hotel. They practically begged for us to come stay there. With all the Nord Stream 2 workers furloughed, the hotel’s income is drying up.

Because it was 84 miles to cycle to Hotel Ust-Luga, we were only able to make a short stop at Peterhof. The Winter Palace was so ho-hum, the emperors had to get away for the summer. In 1709, Peter the Great (1672-1725) had a little summer palace built 25 miles away on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. (Yep, he’s the guy Putin compared himself to recently.) Peterhof was Peter the Great’s answer to the Palace of Versailles, his attempt to outdo French ostentation. You can see the Peterhof Cascade on a live webcam here to get an idea of it. As Wikipedia puts it, “The emperors constructed their palaces on a monumental scale that aimed to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia.”

Grand villas and super yachts are today’s wealthy people’s version of ostentation. Will they become public spaces? Homes for refugees and the homeless? When will today’s equivalent of the October 1917 Revolution come?

© 2022 Lynnea C Salvo

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