Baltic Cruise - St Petersburg, Russia

September 18th 2015
Published: September 19th 2015
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I didn’t think there was anything else that could really wow me, but I think St Petersburg deserves a huge wow!! I think the weather also helped because we had sun and blue sky, and as St Petersburg only gets about 40 days of sunshine a year, we were very lucky! We wanted to do everything in St Petersburg and as all the Ship’s tours were just not enough, we chose a Russian Tour Agency – SPB Tours and booked their 2 day deluxe tour. They had been recommended on Trip Advisor and I would say it is one of the best Day Trips I have ever had!! Very professional, were outside the Port to meet and greet us, and our Tour Guide, Elena was excellent! Her knowledge of history and everything Russian made it a very special day. Free wifi on the minibus was a bonus!!

We left the ship at about 8.00am, no problems at all with being booked with an outside tour agency, or through Russian Imigration, and met up with our Tour Group about 08.15. There was only 10 of us so after we had sorted all the money out and paid for our tour we set off about 08.30.

It was a completely full on day! Stopped for a photo stop by the River Neva before driving down Nevskiy Prospekt, the 6km long main street of the City, admiring all the baroque style, grand buildings and churches everywhere. Next, we took the Metro at Admiral Station, the second deepest Metro station in the world at 110 metres down. The Russians are very proud of their Metro system and it is spotlessly clean, with mosaics and marble and a very grand feel to it! The train arrived promptly and sped its way, under the river Neva (2x!!) to Sportimata Station, another beautiful station with mosaics of Olympians.

Back on the minibus to visit Peter and Pauls fortress, established by Peter the Great in 1703, as a defence against possible attack from Sweden, and later used as a prison for those who opposed the Tsarist regime. As we were in a minibus we were able to drive up to the entrance of the Cathedral, inside the fortress . The cathedral has a gold leaf, fragile 400ft spire, supporting an angel bearing a cross. Inside it is stunningly decorative, gold leaf everywhere and over the course of two centuries the Cathedral was the burial ground for many members of the royal Romanov family, including Peter the Great, Alexander II and the last Russian Tsar Nicolay II (cousin of George V) and his family.

Onto the hydrofoil where we rode up through the Gulf of Finland to Peterhof, built by Peter the Great, to have a walk in the Lower Fountain Park! Another huge Palace on top of the hill and gardens full of fountains that are all fed by gravity!

We wandered around the gardens, looking at all the different fountains before going up to the Upper Gardens and looking at more of the spectacular buildings with gold spires!

Lunch was borsch (Basically beetroot and tomato soup with cabbage and vegetables!) followed by chicken, rice and salad and ice cream as well as a complimentary vodka!! All very nice!

We then drove to Tsarskoye Selo (Tsars Village) and were completely wowed by St Catherines Palace, named in honour of Peter the Greats wife, Catherine I.! It’s just so big, the façade being nearly 1000ft long!! Had to queue for half an hour or so to go inside, but it was just so worth it!! It was decorated with a luxurious, fairytale interior with gold leaf and mirrors that continued room after room! It was an onslaught to the senses!! Saw the ‘red foil’ room (quite rare when it was decorated!) as well as the ‘green foil’ room and the Amber Room – completed with 6 tons of amber jigsawed into the walls to make patters and pictures! A cross between Buckingham Palace and Versailles….but a bit grander!!

After walking through the gardens, we got the minibus to a shopping centre for 20mins before getting dropped off back at the ship about 18.00.

A fantastic day, and can’t wait for tomorrow.

The next day did not disappoint!! Met up at 08.10 and after a short drive arrived at the Canal Boat for the tour of the City’s main canals. Very low bridges but superb scenery (despite the cloud!! Where is the sun?!) Huge pillared mansions, the longest façade in Europe, Palaces, Iron gated Parks, Church spires and onion domes, as well the very low bridges. It’s certainly a different way to see St Petersburg and gives the City a different feel altogether!

After looking at Palace Square, we then had a special early entrance ticket at 10.10 to ensure we could see a lot before all the crowds joined in. What we didn’t realise was that The Hermitage Museum is actually another Royal Palace (the Winter Palace) founded by Catherine the Great and home of the Tsars until 1917. There are 1000 rooms or more in the Hermitage, which houses over 2.7 million exhibits, making it one of the World’s most prestigious museums. Our guide told us that it would take 9 years of 8 hour days to visit all of it, and as we only had a couple of hours……. It was also the highest building in St Petersburg for decades, as Nicholas I decreed that all new buildings should be at least seven feet lower than the Winter Palace.

It really was amazing! A fantastic staircase, decorated in white and gold with marble pillars, leads upstairs into room after room of gold and white rooms, red throne rooms, mosaics, the largest collection of Rembrandt pictures – all originals, The Dutch Room – full of paintings from Dutch Masters, original Van Gogh paintings, - the floor was the original wooden marquetry floor that everyone was walking on!! There was a beautiful golden peacock automoton bird clock, beautiful gardens, long painted corridors, sculptures by Michaelangelo, huge urns of green malachite, a gold chapel, the uniform that Alexander II was wearing when he was shot – and we saw all this a couple of hours!! What did we miss?!!!

Anyway it was onto the Church on the Spilled Blood which is also known as the Church of the Resurrection, which is a beautiful onion domed church. Inside there are high ceilings and every wall is covered with huge mosaics, so exquisite that they look like paintings. At the back of the Church are the cobblestones that symbolise the spot where Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881.

We then had a lunch of soup, meat pie and cherry pie before visiting Yusupovs Palace. This was owned by Felix who married Elena, who then both fled Russia in the Revolution in 1917 and it was also the place where Rasputin was killed! Rasputin was great friends with the Romonov Tsars, and he tried to cure their son who had haemophilia, but his influence over the Royal Family was becoming a problem so he had to be got rid of!! Apparently the doctor was supposed to poison him, but in the end he was shot and his body thrown into the little River Neva. However they didn’t tie any weights to his body and it was discovered two weeks later further downstream with an English bullet in his head! Lots of speculation there as George V and I think, Nicholas were cousins so there were a lot of rumours! Anyway, a fascinating Palace, much more homely that the other grand palaces but such interesting history. It even had its own theatre, a small version of a grand theatre but it only held 200 people! Felix & Elena’s grand-daughter now lives in Paris and is unable to claim ownership of the Palace as Russian Law does not allow this!

Our last stop was to visit the inside of St Isaacs Cathedral whose golden dome seems to appear in quite a lot of photo shots as its reminiscent of St Peter’s in Rome! The interior is decorated with 30 different kinds of marble, painted ceiling murals, spectacular mosaics and sculptures. Isaac was actually a monk who did good deeds, and the original church was burnt down or flooded several times before the current Cathedral was built. Inside the huge dome is a white dove that looks quite small, but actually has a wingspan of over nine feet. In front of the Cathedral is the splendid bronze statue of Peter the Great on a rearing horse.

Back to the ship for about 16.30 for a well earnt wodka!! Next stop Helsinki!

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