Another Wonderful Day
Trip Start May 12, 2011
39Trip End Jul 10, 2011
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Where I stayed
Marriott Courtyard St. Petersburg Center West/Pushkin Hotel
Another lovely clear day in the high 20s. We had a reasonably early start so we could get to some of the photo sites before other tour buses. When we drove past some of the sites later in the day we could see why. We made a small donation to the local economy when we paid a bit too much for a book on St. Petersburg from a street seller. He did throw in a dozen post cards for free though – probably felt sorry for fleecing us of €3 – yeah right!
So this morning was a driving history tour. It really is a beautiful city – the Venice of Russia. No high rises, with buildings being about 5 storeys, the exception being spires on churches. Architecture was named after the leader in power at the time. Stalin apartment buildings were solid, Kruschev apartment buildings were poor quality; small rooms, paper thin walls with no privacy from the neighbours and now they are building the type of apartments we would expect at home (albeit we have not seen inside them).
The Siege of Leningrad/St Petersburg during WW2 saw the Nazis come within a few kilometers of the city. This lasted for 900 hundred days and in the first year one million people lost their lives through bombing and starvation. The bombing damaged 50% of the city. A huge effort was put into rebuilding the city especially restoring the palaces and other treasures. This restoration came to a standstill during Kruschev's time but has come a long way since then.
After the driving tour we had a WC stop at a very good souvenir shop. Not only did it have a wide range of goods for sale but you could also get free coffee, tea and vodka. While Bruce and the men went for their regular 10am vodka Anne and women visited the WC and went shopping.
With them men full of vodka and the women laden with shopping bags we were rounded up (men were easy to find) to get back on the bus and head for the St. Peter and Paul Fortress. A few pub songs later we arrived at the fortress located on Hare Island on the Neva River. The fortress was named after the cathedral of the same name on the island. The cathedral was of the Russian Orthodox architecture and had numerous burial vaults of royal family members including Peter the Great. Another very interesting vault contained remains of some of the Romanov family that were recently found in the 1980s. As we were leaving the Cathedral we were directed into a side chapel where 4 men were acapella singing. In the Russian Orthodox Churches there are no musical instruments nor is there any seating. The singing was riveting.
After the walking tour of the Fortress hunger was starting to set in. No time for lunch however as we were greeted on the bus with vegetarian and meat pies which our guide had picked up for us. Not like your ordinary round pie, these were large rectangular glazed pies (30cm x 10cm) which were then cut into pieces. They were much nicer than we thought they would be and others must have had similar thoughts as many of us went for another piece. While having our lunch we were driving to the Peterhof Palace which was about 1¼ hours out of the city.
The original building at this spot was a small house built in 1705 for Peter the Great as a resting point between Kronstadt and St Petersburg. Later the Emperor made it his main out of town residence and during the 18th & 19th centuries it spread to over 1000 hectares and included 11 parks, numerous buildings, pavillions, sculptures and 200 fountains which operate by gravity, being fed from a source on higher ground. A small canal runs through the gardens and out into the Gulf of Finland. We didn't go inside the palace but spent our time wandering around the grounds. We would see many other palaces.
In the evening we went to see Swan Lake at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The Prima Ballerina, Ecatherina Borchenko, had just been nominated or the ballet equivalent of the Academy Award, The performance was excellent and the scenery and costumes outstanding. When we came out at 1030 the sun had not yet set, kids were still playing in the park, the streets were full of people and the restaurants still going strong. This time of the year is known as the White Nights when daylight is from 4am to 11pm. The longest day (June 21/22) is 18 hours and 53 minutes. While this all sounds great there is of course the winter time when daylight hours are between 10am to 3pm. They also have snow from October until May. We are told that while these are depressing times the city does not lose its charm and is quite beautiful with all the snow about. While there are a lot of people living in St. Petersburg that obviously believe this, we would need more convincing. The city at this time of the year however would be difficult to beat anywhere in the world.
One of the things we did not mention yesterday is that while we could drink the tap water in Poland and the Baltic countries we have been told not to drink it in Russia or Belarussia. Bottled water is however less than half the price it is at home.
This was a long day, we should sleep well.