From Russia With Love

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Europe » Russia
August 25th 2008
Published: June 26th 2017
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Geo: 59.939, 30.3158

We have just spent three great days in the most beautiful city on the trip so far!!. I was so excited to be returning here, as I had only spent one day here in 1980 but had fallen in love with the place. I was keen to see how it had changed, especially now that Russia has become more westernised.
We had an interesting day getting here. We left Tallinn early and drove north to the border. We were warned that getting through passport control could take time so we were prepared. However, a serious problem arose when the visa of one of our group was found to have the wrong month's date on it. Instead of August, her visa was for September. We had to wait in No Man's Land between the Estonian and Russian borders while our tour guide went with her to sort it out. We had all brought our lunch so proceeded to have a picnic in No mans land while waiting.
After about two hours they returned but nothing could be done so Yvonne, the Australian with the problem, had to leave the bus and return to Tallinn. Our tour guide assured us she would be looked after there, but no Rusian trip for her!!!
After that our progress through the Rusian border was straight forward and we arrived in St Petersburg about 5pm just as Lucy and Sam both texted me to tell me Sally McLennan had won a silver medal. We managed to see the medal ceremony in our room.
After a nice dinner we went for an evening cruise on the Neva river, the main river here. St Petersburg is situated on 65 rivers and canals and is sometimes called the Venice of the north. We had a glass of champagne to start and although it was cloudy it was very pleasant. When we emerged into the main stretch of the Neva, a general gasp of admiration emanated from the whole group. The stunning view of the palaces lining the banks and the huge fountain in the middle left us all amazed. We had a great hour or so, with Maja, our guide, providing some vodka to make us feel at home in Russia.
The next day was exciting. We had a general tour of the city in the morning, stopping at the Aurora, the ship that had fired the signal shot for the revolution. We ended up outside St Isaac's Cathedral, the golden dome of which dominates the city skyline. From there a group of us were taken to the St Peter and Paul Fortress which is the oldest part of the city. It was here, in 1703, that Peter the Great founded the city. Inside the walls there were several buildings. We went into the church which is the burial place for the czars since Peter. Only in the last few years the remains of Nicholas 2nd and his family have been found, exhumed and reburied here. There is a small chapel off the main church where they lie, with memorial tablets along the walls. At the front, either side of the altar are Peter the Great, his wife Catherine 1st, Catherine the 2nd and her children and grandchildren. Quite an imptressive lineup. We returned to the centre of the city and had lunch at The Astoria Hotel, very nice.
We then went to the Winter Palace, now of course The Hermitage museum. Last time I had only seen this from the outside, this time I got to go inside. My expectations were fulfilled. The stunning and opulent interiors of Catherine the Great's palace were preserved with a magnificent entrance staircase, leading to the magnificent Reception room. Then followed the small throne room and then the main throne room. The ceilings are magnicent , the gold leaf incredible and the marquetry on the floors also is impressive. In the main throne room the floor decoration exactly mirrors the ceilings. It was difficult to know where to look. From there we went into the second of four buildings over which the collection is spread. We were taken to see two Da Vincis, several Raphaels and many other masterpieces from the Italian school. The guide told us that if someone stopped for 5 minutes in front of every exhibit here it would take 19 years to see it all!! Further on we came to the collection of Rembrandts, 26 in all and we then moved quickly through more Dutch and Spanish painters, including Goya and El Greco. These were housed in the next two buildings.
When we had a chance to wander on our own Fletcher and I went upstairs to see their impressive Impressionist collection with all the masters, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Gaughain as well as heaps of Matisse and Picasso. Wow!! Fletcher tried to photograph them all, so Josie, I have a series of great photographs for you!!!
When we returned to the hotel we turned on the TV and they were showing the final stages of the men's Pole Vault. It was excellent coverage and we sat entranced and were so excited when Steve Hooker won. I texted Sam and Lucy and got the reply that in Australia it was only up to the final height!!! Channel 7 obviously were not showing it live!!!
That night we relaxed at a small cafe down by the sea and celebrated Steve's win.
End of Part 1 of St Petersburg!!!

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