And now St Petersburg, Russia. Days 2 and 3


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June 3rd 2019
Published: June 25th 2019
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3rd June 2019

And now St Petersburg, Russia. Days 2 and 3

The Grey haired nomads continue their journey around the Baltic: Tallinn, (Estonia), Helsinki, (Finland) and now, St Petersburg (Russia).

I guess you might call our hotel in St Petersburg good value. It seemed to be extremely popular: friendly reception, convenient for the city centre and everything worked – good shower, nice bed, furniture a bit on the basic ‘seen better days’ side, but all very functional. Breakfast was not included in our 'booked on line' package, but the busy little café just around the corner served us veggie omelettes, croissants and coffee at locals’ prices, while office workers fiddled with their phones over coffee before work and a tour-group of Italians from our hotel chatted somewhat noisily.



Nadia, our guide, stood by reception ready for an early morning takeoff by the time we returned to the hotel and we were off in the car, with Sergej, still smiling, at the helm. We had expressed an interest in local markets where we like to poke our noses into local farm produce and crafts, and after a short while we pulled into the kerb on a cobbled street to take a walk through a long established street market. Here, unlike many other markets we have visited in the Baltics, there was fruit and veg from past Soviet outposts to the south and the more familiar cheap household goods we might associate with markets at home.

Nadia is from the new Russian school where markets, their traders and some of their age-old customs are not to be trusted, but business here was still alive with a handful of elderly customers despite an overcast and drizzly sky. Perhaps it’s a class thing. Many of the more elderly in present-day Russia are feeling the pinch with their meager Soviet pensions as we have learned from our previous visits to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Here too, there are elderly ladies offering flowers and vegetables on the streets and the very occasional hand outstretched in hope.



A further half-an-hour-or-so through speeding traffic we arrived at Catherine Palace, our second stop of another hectic day on our itinerary.



Originally built for Catherine I in the early 18thcentury, Catherine Palace was extended numerous times as the summer residence of Russia’s tsars. This dazzling blue
The four-hour queue!The four-hour queue!The four-hour queue!

But we were straight in, thanks to Nadia and St Petersburg Tours!
and white palace with its fine array of gilded figures and onion domes is yet another outrageously extravagant palace, this one at Pushkin, a little way out of the city. And this is yet another colossal palace, built to impress – it surely does that. It’s really no wonder the peasants took to the streets; they were not impressed by this show of wealth - but with history behind us, we can now enjoy the glorious spectacle of this Rococo style monument. Nadia waved her magic wand once again and we were inside, past security, tickets in hand, within minutes of our arrival, shortly after opening time.



We could show you a hundred pictures of our visit here but that would in no way tell the whole story. Room after room is filled with displays of outrageous opulence: from the beautifully crafted floors to finely decorated ceilings, golden chandeliers and the Amber Room – a must see, with magnificent amber, floor to ceiling! Janice described this palace experience as awesome! And I must agree.



It was raining as we left. A sign said those at the end of the queue of many hundreds, including
Tower blocks Tower blocks Tower blocks

From the car
some in tour groups with their brightly coloured flags and orange hats, could expect a four hour wait. No such waiting around for those grey-haired-nomads with the presence of mind to employ the meticulous services of St Petersburg Guided Tours and their own intrepid guide. Nadia also had a nose for a good and speedy lunch. A tasty pie: chicken for himself and borsch for her ladyship, at the pie-chain specialist ‘Stolle’, proved the point!



It was another long drive out to our next port of call, the Peterhof Grand Palace, Park and Gardens at Peterhof. Beyond the city limits, tour block apartments loomed through the rain-soaked windows as we passed on the highway, sharing with us a way of life without our private English garden, a privet hedge, a barbecue on a Sunday afternoon or a chat with a neighbour over the fence. Apartments are the norm here, Nadia tells us – and they are expensive. Like many around the UK’s major cities, she has a one-hour journey into the city centre each day in order to afford her own modest home.



Peterhof Grand Palace is grand indeed. Along with its park and gardens it is often referred to as the ‘Russian Versailles’ for good reason. A number of breath-taking palaces exist here in the park, the main home overlooking a formal garden with numerous fountains extending downwards on the Grand Cascade to the coast of the Baltic Sea seen beyond. The house itself is stunning, but nothing can compare to the spectacle of the150 dramatic fountains fed from natural springs together with the sight of eighty marvelous statues. The magic wand was waved for us once again and we were fortunate, just us with Nadia holding our hands, to visit the grotto beneath the palace patio, where pipes carrying water from a series of springs and lakes constantly feeds the fountains without the need for pumps. Absolutely stunning!

St Petersburg has had numerous names over the last century or so. It was changed to Petrograd in 1914; and then to Leningrad in 1924. The Peterhof Palace and grounds were extensively damaged during the World War II Siege of Leningrad. 800,000 civilians are said to have died in the city by the time the 900 day German blockade ended in 1944 and many of the city’s historic buildings were reduced to rubble. There are still cracks to be seen here and there as a reminder of those times, but the sheer scale of the restoration programme across war-torn St Petersburg is truly astonishing and to be applauded.



With a little time to spare we ventured into a nearby Narvskya Metro station to see the elaborate murals of numerous professions: doctors, builders, sailors, farmers and other prime professions. Nadia bought platform tickets for us and we descended the steep and extremely fast escalator which shot us into this fascinating labyrinth of marble, light and Soviet history.





A brief stroll along the up-market shopping highway of Nevsky Prospekt was promised on our itinerary, but with so much else to see we were a little restricted the following morning. A splendid bronze statue of Peter the Great on horseback featured on our walk through the park along with another impressive monument to Catherine the Great amidst a few rather rustic flower borders – the winters are rather harsh here. Trams and cars flashed past at high speed as we joined pedestrians challenging the pedestrian crossing lights, Nadia parting the waves of traffic with a Canute like deft twist of the wrist. We were making for the Singer Building and took a look around a rather smart food store on the lines of an art nouveau Fortnum and Mason, at opening time, 10am, just before the crowds appeared. The grand-pianola was playing the theme music from The Sting – hardly appropriate methinks.



You can see the gleaming golden dome of the 19thcentury St Isaac’s Cathedral from anywhere in the city. The gilded interior is equally stunning with some wonderful mosaics, domed canopies and chandeliers. It would be incredibly difficult to choose one’s favourite cathedral here in St Petersburg for there are so many wonderful churches and each has some outstanding feature of great beauty. The alure of religious buildings is perhaps the colossal achievement of design, workmanship, art and the sheer tenacity that made much of it possible at the time.



St Petersburg’s numerous rivers and canals have earned the city its association with another name, ‘New Amsterdam’, and its 42 islands, connected by more than 800 bridges the additional title, ‘The Venice of the North’. What better way to indelibly mark our memories of this lovely city than to take a river cruise.

A guy with a megaphone was still hailing passing tourists to join us as we left the mooring for a fisherman’s view of the wonderful architecture along the banks – and a relaxing hour on deck, in a plastic chair, in glorious sunshine. Pedestrians waved to us from the riverbank and a group of smartly dressed young lads cheered us on our way. Memories – more memories.



And finally, before our evening return to Tallinn by overnight ferry, we left the river for a tour of Yusopov Palace, the family home of Prince Feliz Yusopov, where Rasputin, the ‘mad monk’ was murdered in1916 - an event that clearly rocked Russian society and hit the news headlines across the world. Russia’s aristocrats were fearful of the influence Rasputin wielded over the Romanov court.His body was recovered from the frozen Neva River. That’s history.



Our ferry back to Tallinn left that evening and we dined in the Italian Restaurant watching the Russian coastline and many memories fade away across a shimmering sea. We followed the EU Citizens channel through the green customs exit next morning, just four of us, all Brits. Should we return, we’ll have to join the one thousand or more Russians in the long queue for Non-EU Citizens. Good old Brexit!



We’re really quite exhausted. Time for a holiday.



The Grey-haired-nomads

Scroll down for more photos and up for the panorama show.



Notes:

No visa was required for our 72hour visit. This was subject to a confirmed tour with a licensed tour company and confirmation of a hotel booking. (This is also required when booking the ferry to St Petersburg along with confirmation of departure from the city)

Should you wish to go to Russia for more than three days, a visa can be obtained from offices in London, Manchester or Edinburgh. Cost: £109 ($160) at the time of writing. It may be necessary to visit the offices in person.

Our Tour: 'St Petersburg Guided Tours' - and please tell Valeria where you saw this!

Tips – 10%!o(MISSING)f tour price to guide and 5%!t(MISSING)o driver recommended.

Hotel St Petersburg: Art Avenue Hotel

Ryan Air flight direct to Tallinn.

Ferries: St Peter Line.

Petrol around 45p per litre compared to £1.30 in the UK….and beer is £2 per litre which might explain the street drinking.

There’s a fine looking golf course at Peterhof!

Prices generally appear quite cheap compared to The West. This probably reflects an economy where lower wages and pensions are the norm.

We could have done with a bit of extra time to view more of Russia’s art treasures at other Hermitage museums and time browsing the shops and side streets on Nevsky Prospekt. The guided tour and inclusive private car are essential to get to all the prime sights within the limited time available. You can’t do it all in 72hours but we loved every minute!


Additional photos below
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The Grotto - PeterhofThe Grotto - Peterhof
The Grotto - Peterhof

Janice and Nadia
River cruiseRiver cruise
River cruise

Janice and Nadia
Yusopov PalaceYusopov Palace
Yusopov Palace

Where Rasputin met his fate.
The Princess AnastasiaThe Princess Anastasia
The Princess Anastasia

en route to back Tallinn


28th June 2019

St. Petersburg
This is a city I long to see. Thanks for taking us along.
30th June 2019

St Petersburg
Thanks for joining us!

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