Day 1

Trip Start Apr 29, 2011
Trip End Sep 03, 2011

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Friday, July 15, 2011

Our worst fears were realised. We'd none of us slept due to the heat, well that’s not quite true but the snorer will remain our secret! Breakfast was very good but we made the mistake of having it too early as there was quite a wait to get off the boat.

Our initial impressions of St Petersburg confirmed our worst prejudices of Soviet Russia – at least I hope that that is the explanation for the massed ranks of ugly utilitarian flats that flanked the banks of the waterside around the extensive quay areas. It was also raining which didn’t help but a nice touch was a jazz band playing some Dixieland. Our bus took us into the centre and dropped us outside the impressive St Isaac’s Cathedral (more later) and we then searched for a taxi to get us to our hotel, a Marriott, the Courtyard Pushkin Hotel . Sadly, we failed in our quest and it was 5 bedraggled and discomfited individuals who finally got to the hotel just before midday. However, our spirits soon lifted when we saw that a) it boasted a micro-brewery and b) the rooms were really good. Julie and I got one and the others had an additional bed installed to complement the existing 2 double beds. So, having occupied our rooms and turned them into a homely mess, naturally the next thing to do was to go and try the beer and then, some lunch. Both were very good, in fact I would say that the beer was probably one of, if not the, best continental beers that I have ever tasted. The two that I tried and stuck to over the coming days was a Czech –style lager and a weissbeer, both beautiful and much later in our stay, I was told by the young manager that they were taking their beers to the Munich Oktoberfest this year and were hopeful of recognition – I wish them luck, not that they need it as I’m sure that they will do well.

Energy and spirits restored and with the weather a little improved, we decided to do some sight- seeing, sticking to those notable buildings within walking distance of the hotel. That meant initially St Nicholas’ Cathedral, a few minutes’ walk away. This cathedral, dating from the earliest days of St Petersburg itself, was built around 1750 and it is dedicated to the Navy. However, before we got there we came across a small film crew, based around a bridge across a small canal near the cathedral. They were filming some sort of love scene between an officer and a lady, with extras waiting in the wings with a variety of costumes on. I have included a couple of photos but the one photo I really like is the soldier on crutches with his woeful expression, especially as at this moment he was not acting!

Here is a URL for the cathedral

The cathedral inside, is quite low-ceilinged and is divided into several little mini-churches, each of which can be used for a service. One service that was being conducted whilst we were there was a baptism, whilst a wedding party was waiting in the wings for their turn. Indeed weddings were to become a theme whilst we were in St Petersburg, I don’t know whether it’s fashionable to get married here but we must have come across fifteen or so wedding parties during our visit. Photos were not allowed in the church but I sneaked one, it is a little out of focus but you can see one or two guests in the baptism I referred to a moment ago.

Having enjoyed this, our first church in St Petersburg, we then went to the Mariinsky Theatre, which was renamed the Kirov in the 1930’s and which is probably what most people know it as in the UK today although now of course, it has reverted to its’ original name. or more information than you ever wanted to know about its’ history, plus a few photos, here is a URL

Now a little aside. Louise was dying to go to the ballet here but initial searches over the net showed us that the Mariinsky ballet company (ie the Kirov) were performing in something we’d never heard of and moreover, the tickets were well over 100 each, so we had persuaded Louise, no told her flatly, that we weren’t going. Undaunted, when we were actually in the theatre and having been refused entry into the theatre itself to have a look, Louise decided to enquire as to the availability of affordable seats and to everyone’s delight, we discovered that it was only 900 roubles (22) for a front seat in the gods so of course, tickets were acquired for the following evening.  Satisfied, we decided that we had done enough for the day so we went back to the hotel, gins in our room followed by a meal and of course, more beer in the hotel’s bar.
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