A SACRAMENTO GIRL ABROAD;
DESCRIPTION OF A VISIT TO ST. PETERSBURG.
A Glimpse of the Czar and Czarina Sights and Scenes in the Russian Capital.
Misses Lottie and Laura Steffens of this city, graduates of Stanford University, are now on their third year attending the German University at Göttingen. These young women spend every vacation in visiting some part of Europe. During their last and recent vacation they made a trip to St. Petersburg, in company with Miss Evelyn Crowe and her sister, Mrs. Myra Marshall of San Jose. The following is an extract from .a letter on that trip, written by Miss Lottie Steffens to her parents in this city: Towards sundown we left Stockholm, that beautiful modern Venice, a striking contrast to the Venice at the South in its lively commercial activity and clean, rushing waft r Streets. In place of the old-time, picturesque, slow-moving gondolas, here swift darting steamboats were ever oa the gui vive to transport one from island to island. Our steamer pushed out into the Baltic, past summer villas and stone-walled island-fortresses, threateningly pointing their great black guns in every direction.
After a delightfully calm voyage of two nights and a day, we entered the Russian protected harbor of Helsingfors. A Finnish friend. Professor in the University of Helsingfors, met us at the steamer landing. Guided by him, walked to the hotel across the market place, crowded with peasants selling fruits, meats, vegetables, tins and cloth, and all the other homely needs of everyday life. There at dinner we found the same “smorgosbord” custom with which Sweden had first made us acquainted. At meals, before seating themselves, guests are expected to go to a sidetable laden with all sorts of cold fish, caviar, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, pati de fois gras, cold meats, and liquors, and serve themselves. Then, either standing or sitting (the former is usually preferred), they first eat this mixture intended as a stimulantvto the appetite, and then seat themselves to a full-course dinner. The evening supper, any time between 0 and 11 o’clock, often consists of the
“smorgosbord” alone. Imagine one’s dreams after that!
Just at sunset we were rowed by a peasant man and woman to a little rocky island, the zoological garden of Helsingfors. The gulf was calm and a dark green; the sky was a cheerless gray, and in the distance were low, black trees between the gray rucks. Thf two peasants rowed us on, man and woman alike with steady, powerful stroke. They sat there as coldly stern as the landscape; honest and grave, full of purpose and energy, their garments warm and neat. The peasants of Finnland bathe religiously every night of their lives. In this respect they are a striking contrast to corresponding classes of other lands. Here it is evident that woman is man’s equal, not only among the peasants, but in the upper classes. We counted twelve women clerks in the first bank of Helsingfors. and in the university they have equal rights with men, almost the only country in Europe in which such is the case. Landing on the island, there we found stretched out on a large black, slanting rock an enormous white polar bear. His house was walled with iron bars, but he was free to change from rock to water. Some girls were throwing pieces of bread into his huge jaws, held lazily open for its reception.
The summit of the island was crowned with white, marble-like ruins, which our friend told us had made their appearance there during his absence from Finnland the previous year.
This was the only attempt at deception we had noticed in the land. These ruins served as retreats for the wild beasts of the collection. Two black bears lived among them. and they, too, put theeir open jaws through the bars and waited with Job-like patience for us to throw bread down their throats. One could not miss the mark. Wider jaws could scarcely be found. Two goats came and interrupted this by pulling at our wraps to call attention to their hungry selves, and so we walked on and visited all the strange creatures in their pleasant retreats.
This day was one of mourning for this freedom-loving people. Russia had pent to propose that the length of service in the army be extended to a term of five years, instead of three, and that the Finns serve in Russia, instead of in Finnland 1. as heretofore, meaning that every Finn must learn the Russian language. The people, not dreaming of Russia’s new plan for submerging their nation into that of Russia, had petitioned this same day for a decrease of the years of army service from three to two. Of course the proposal of Russia is virtually a command, and the people, powerless to resist, can only hopelessly watch their nation sink out of existence.
Two days later we left Finnland for Russia, and at half-past 10 in the evening the lazy train brought us into the Petersburg station, and we were only too glad, after the stupid slowness of the twelve hours’ journey from Helsingfors. to hay the excitement of stirring about in’search of a luggageman.
He was 1 found, and, loaded down with our luggage, could be gotten only as far as the waiting-room. Then he explained in Russian what he wanted to do, while we made our demands upon him in English, French and Get our luggage, could be gotten only as far as the waiting-room. Then he explained in Russian what he wanted to do, while we made our demands upon him in English, French and German. He did not understand; neither did we.
Happily, a Russian lady came to our rescue and explained to him in his native tongue our wish for a carriage. In a moment (for the Russians- move quickly w hen they do move) we were whirling off to the Hotel d’Europe in two queer little vehicles called
“iszvosehtschik.” driven by two little men made enormous by their large blue flowing robes with pillow-like paddings, in spite of the warm summer weather. About their huge waists were bright red embroidered belts, forming a brilliant contrast with the somber blue of the vast robe. The straggly little horses fairly flew, and on the way we caught sight of church spires and domes and many an intoxicated fellow wending his weary way homeward. Immediately after taking our hotel rooms our passports were demanded. We were delighted to make use of the lumbrous things after the two years of useless carrying them about with us into Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland. The clerk had no sooner disappeared than in came a great red apparition, bringing with him our luggage. His hair was red, his beard was red. and his shirt was red silk embroidered in green and red. He departed as silently blazing as he came, and we never saw him afterwards, except down in the entrance hall guarding trunks and waiting for tips with many of his brethren. Since then I have noticed that everywhere the laborers wear these bright red shirts, extending almost to the knees, outside their trousers.
Except for the garments of the workmen, and the bright red-bearded cap of the nurse of the boy baby, and the
bright blue of the nurse of the girl baby, the colors of the Russian Capital are not happily chosen. Building after building is of a sickening gray-yellow tint, and many are red, but the red is dark and meagerly saturated.
The Newsky Prospect, the corso of the city, was at first very disappointing.
The fine shops are almost all in the upper etages, and those on theground floor display their goods so modestly that the street has little of the attractive brilliancy that makes those of Paris so fascinating. But soon after our arrival the Czar and Czarina returned, followed by the nobility and wealthy class, so beautiful carriages and handsomely gowned women made
the Newsby appear at its best again.
One morning after breakfast we strolled into the Kasanche Kathedrale, the half-circular collonade of which is a miniature copy of that of St. Peter’s at Rome. We found service in progress, and nothing but a mass of tiresome gilt and gold catching our hasty glance, we decided to postpone our visit for another time, so we turned to leave. Just then great crowds of men. women and children came rushing in. their eyes staring wildly and their faces pale with excitement. We were frightened into fright, and our hearts sank as we saw armed officers holding the doors closed against the crowd.
But we did not stay our steps, and rushed madly to the entrance to force our way out, when, much to our astonishment,
the guards opened the doors for us, at the same time ordering back those trying to ent.-r. Not having
noticed that the general striving was to enter, rather than to go out, we explained our happy exit by our having been mistaken for people of importance.
Fear having been supplanted by vanity, we could lock about less dizzily.
At once everything was explained, for the large bronze doors of me main entrance stood open, ana the Czar and Czarina were going into the house of worship. On both sides of the entrance stood masses of people watching. We were soon: in the thickest of the crowd.
Just back of us stood, trembling with excitement, the little woman all in black whose business it is to stand and ask for alms at the cathedral entrance, but who had left her place to gratify an earthly curiosity. Opposite were three American girls on tip-toe, gazing with deepest interest, their red Murrys in their hands (Baedecker publishes no English guidebook for Russia). The young Emperor and his Hrmiish-German wife passed in. and in less than two minutes came out again.
As they walked by we saw them well. He was dressed in a Colonel’s uniform, and she in a plain but beaujtiful tailor gown. He seemed youthful, affable and kindly, perhaps a little weak. She was cold and composed, with a gentle German face and an erect English carriage, altogether attractive, but seeming scarcely an Empress. As they drove away a hearty, rumbling
cheer rose from the Russian crowd. We lost no time in visiting the Eremitage. This is one of the most lnautiful galleries we have seen* All the Important schools of painting, with the exception of the German, are well represented.
Of the old Italian school there is only one by Eandro Boticelli, but of later times there are Raphael’s “Madonna Alba,” his “Madonna Connestabili,” a tiny gem perfect in every detail, his Saint George and several others A Madonna, supposed to be by Leonardo da Vinci, is of greatest beauty, the colors as brilliantly fresh as if it were painted yesterday.
In no other gallery, unless It be at Madrid, could one see Murillo to better advantage. His picture of the holy family, painted on wood, Is a masterpiece of conception and composition, light and shade and mingling of dark rich colors. In it the Madonna is no sweet, pretty child, as are so many of Muril1o’s Madonnas, but, rather, a woman inspired with holy, as well as earthly love.
Rubens, as might be expected, had his lion share of pictures in the gallery.
One only, ascribed to Van Dyk, but probably the work of Rubens, a portrait of Rubens’ first wife, is worthy of much attention. Here the fair lady is Aremi 1 in black, with a large black hat on her head, and she looks out of the picture as charmingly as is her wont.
Rembrandt, too. has many beautiful works there of which his “Danae” is, perhaps, the most beautiful. In the entrance hall are Canova’s “Amor and Psyche.” “The Dancing Girl” and “Hebe,” all delicate and graceful. Houdon’s statue of Voltaire, in the same hall, is as life-like a portrait of modern human character in intense activity of thought as marble could possibly be made to produce.
Peterhoff, the summer retreat of the Czar, wasnext to attract our attention.
are many acres of land thickly wooded and garnished with all sorts of fantastic fountains, and chiefly with the red and white pleasure palace of Peter the Great. In front of this palace a mighty, rushing double cascade falls down over bright colored marble stairs and past gilded statues into a , broad basin. From there the water Hows leisurely out to the gulf through a long marble lined way. on either side of which are fountains and great fir trees.
It was a cheerful sight to see, and is undoubtedly a pleasant change for the Emperor after a winter in his somber, elegant Petersburg palace, with its marble and gilded reception rooms and tama.ll, glassed-in winter gardens. But the streets of the city are of greater interest. There one sees the delightfully characteristic Russian type the women, fine looking, tastefully and elegantly gowned, vivacious as the French woman, but more serious. But the cabmen are what make Petersburg look so Russian. Many of them were not even capable of reading the printed name of our hotel.
But, in no wise saddened by their utter ignorance, they are on the contrary endowed with a lively sense of humor, always good natured and taking great pleasure in bargaining with their customers or in demanding double the customary price, should terms not have been settled upon before the drive. Yet they cross themselves none the less piously every time they pass a shrine or Cathedral. Even in Italy one does not see more devotion to the ceremonies of religion than in Russia. The rich and poor alike cross themselves m the streets when they pass a shrine or church, and shrines are everywhere. In one corner of a cafe we saw a shrine with a burning candle before it. In the Alexander 111. Museum, .vhere only Russian art is exhibited, a shrine was in the corner of every room. Old men stand on the streets with open boxes strapped on their breasts, on the back of which are painted Cathedrals, inviting people to drop in a few kopecs to help toward building some new holy edifice. The shops and restaurants are mostly German enterprise. Consequently, we found the German language invaluable, whereas English was of very little use.
The climate was too malarial. We dared not remain there longer, so applied for our passports, or, in other words, permission to leave the cautious land. But it being a holiday (the holidays and Sundays in Russia amounting in all to ninety days in the year), and the next day being Sunday, we were told we could not leave before 4 o’clock Monday afternoon. There was nothing to do but wait for our passports, which were returned covered with stamps and Russian writing, which, as an Englishman remarked, made one think he had been to China and back. So on Monday we took the steamer back to Helsingfors, and a more satisfactory voyage we could not have wished. On the way out from the Russian coast we .passed the powerful natural fortress of Kronstadt, and wondered how any unfriendly vessel could possibly penetrate into the midst of it. It was with deepest regret that we left the great country without learning to know it better, but we have formed secret plans to besiege it from the south some day in the future.
Gottingen, September 9, 1898.