Day 19 St Petersburg, Russia

Trip Start May 18, 2013
Trip End Jun 14, 2013

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On board the Norwegian Star

Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Friday, June 7, 2013

St Petersburg is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name was changed from St Petersburg to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991 back to St Petersburg. St Petersburg was founded by Tzar Peter the Great on May 27 1703. From 1713 to 1728 and from 1732 to 1918 St Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia. It is Russia's second largest city after Moscow and has 5 million inhabitants. It is the northernmost city in the world to have a population of over 1 million and is the cultural capital of Russia.

Visiting St Petersburg was the realisation of a childhood dream. It is the one city in Russia that we have wanted to visit because of its amazing history. When we arrived in St Petersburg we joined an organised tour because of the waiver of any visa requirement if you join a locally organised tour. Smart move to promote the use of local tour companies. This turned out very well because once again we had a brilliant tour guide by the name of Anna who was a previous university professor and author turned tour guide. An extremely knowledgeable lady who provided us with insights into the history of the city and the country that we would not have got anywhere else. She is an obvious dissident and did not miss an opportunity to have a go at Putin and his government. Her daughter lives in Chicago and I am not too sure why she has not emigrated to the States, but despite their obvious hardships they are very, very patriotic people.

The city is built on the Neva River and we criss-crossed the river as we drove through the city in our tour bus on the way to the Peter & Paul Fortress. On the way we stopped on the Neva Embankment to take in the view of the Winter Palace, (now the home of the Hermitage museum), on the opposite bank of the river. The Peter & Paul fortress is the original citadel of the city and was founded by Peter the Great in 1703. It is built on Hare Island which is on the north bank of the Neva River. The fort served as the base for the city garrison and was also used as a prison for political prisoners. Although the fortress itself is rather unspectacular, the highlight of the visit was the Peter & Paul Cathedral which is the burial place of all of the Russian tzars from Peter I to Alexander III. The interior of the cathedral is quite impressive with extensive use of gilding and marble, including of course the tombs of the czars. According to Anna the church was abused by the tzars who used it for political maneuvering at the expensive of the people of the city. A very interesting visit and a must see when in St Petersburg.

On our way back to the port we stopped at the Church on the Blood, the full name is actually the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This church is one of the main sights of St Petersburg and is built on the site of the assassination of Tzar Alexander II. The construction of the church started in 1883 and was completed in 1907 under the reign of Nicholas II. The church is built entirely of mosaics and contains 7500 square metres of mosaics. The church was badly damaged and looted in both the Russian revolution and the second world war during which it was used as a morgue. Restoration of the church started in 1970. This is a magnificent church and is a must see for anyone regardless of their religious persuasion.

After rushing back to the port to prepare for our evening outing we ended up having to go as we were without getting back onto the ship, because of the Russian customs holding things up. The show was billed as an Evening of Russian Folklore and, to us, was disappointing. Most of the show consisted of male military types singing Russian folk songs. No classic Cossack dancing and very little to get excited about. Some things have obviously not changed in Russia and they need to brush up on their entertainment skills.   

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