Stunning St. Petersburg

Trip Start Aug 23, 2008
Trip End Sep 09, 2008

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Flag of Russian Federation  , North-West Russia,
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Saint Petersburg, Russia founded by Tsar Peter I in 1703 was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years. St. Petersburg lost this distiction after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Over the years the name changed to Petrograd (1914-1924) and then to  Leningrad (1924-1991) but since 1991 by a vote of the people, Saint Petersburg once again became the name of this city sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North". 

We visited this 2nd largest city in Russia and fourth largest in Europe for two very long but exciting days.  Located on the Neva River, St. Petersburg boasts 60 rivers and canals and over 400 bridges of which we crossed and sailed among many.
Visiting Russia is not as simple as most other countries.  We would have needed in advance of our arrival a Visa that would allow us to tour the city on our own.  Since this was not possible - our other choices were to stay on the ship, book tours through the ship or to book an independent Russian tour company that would handle the Visas for us so long as we were escorted by them.  We chose the latter option and I have to say I would highly recommend it. 
We used a company called Red October and prior to our visit - we were able to customize a tour just for the four of us.  This arrangement included our own private van, driver and professional tour guide.  We could not have been more pleased.  Our driver always dropped us off right at the entrance to any of the sites and was always waiting with the door open when we arrived back to the van. Helen was a delight.  She is an English teacher and knows all there is to know about Russian history - our heads were spinning - especially when she would periodically quiz us on what she had told us.
The first stop was at the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral - one of the oldest in Russia.  This was just a little something to break us in easy.  A little gold - and a little opulance - for this church that dates back to 1743.
We then circled the city a bit viewing various buildings and statues before stopping to see the Marinsky Palace - and the monument to Nicholas I.  The Marinsky Palace was once the home to Nicholas I's daughter Maria.  She however, did not like the statue of her father facing toward St. Isaacs Cathedral which meant that her view was of his horses @$$ so she sold her palace - today this is the City Hall.
We visited the famous Bronze Horseman - A statue dedicated to the founder of St. Petersburg - Peter the Great.  This is a very famous site for wedding parties and we couldn't believe the number of brides and grooms that we saw here taking photos - we counted at least 9 this day. 
We quickly visited the 3,000 + year old sphinx statues along the Neva River that were brought here from Egypt.  Back in the time when beards were not in style - the beards were chisled off of these ancient statues.
By this time we were able to head to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum.  We had the option of entering the Palace/Museum before it opened so that we were able to be ahead of the tour groups.  This was one wonderful advantage of using a private Russian tour company.  There were just a few other people also in the Palace/Museum with us so we were able to make our way through quickly - as one could easily spend a week in the museum and still not have enough time to see all of the artwork - but we had more ground to cover - so we made somewhat of a quick trip hitting some of the more famous works - DaVinci, Rembrandt, Titian, Rafael, El Greco...  What a grand life Catherine the Great built here along the Neva River.  Comprised of 1,057 halls and rooms I can't imagine being the decorator.  But almost every inch of wall and floor space is adorned with beautiful fabrics, tapestries and art.  The parquet floors mostly were mirrored copies of the beautiful ceilings - unfortunately it was very difficult to capture all of this.
Time for lunch.  Helen took us to a typical Russian 'restaurant'.  A typical lunch is either a soup or a 'pie' of rabbit, chicken or beef, rice and vegetables.  This is followed by a piece of fruit or sweet pie.  These pies are quite large - baked with beautiful pasty crusts and then cut according to the size you request. 
We had an interest in seeing the Yusupov Palace - along the Moika River - home to the wealthy Yusupov family who were related to the Romanovs by marriage.  One of the two highlights - aside from the grand opulance of the living quarters is the Golden Theatre which is a replica of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.  The second interesting highlight was seeing the cellar where Grigory Rasputin was assassinated prior to the Revolution.  Although he didn't actually die here - this is where the first shots were fired that started the absurd path of death for the famous Rasputin.
Next stop - the Neva River to take the Hydrofoil to Peterhof - The summer residence of the Russian Tsars.  This 30 minute ride across the edge of the Gulf of Finland gave us a chance to catch a much needed cat nap.  Entering the Lower Gardens and seeing the Grand Cascade caused us to gasp - and then taking in the view of the Palace was amazing.  I don't think Helen could ever tire of the expressions on peoples faces when they first catch a glimpse of these grand palaces.  But before we got too close to the Palace we walked through the lower gardens and to the original "palace" belonging to Peter the Great and his formal French gardens.  The flowers are replaced every three weeks so there is always a beautiful display of flowers in the gardens.  The golden statues are too numerous to count and the fountains include some interesting tricks - one as you can see in the photos - shows Jim being sprayed with water while walking over some rocks that set off the water spray.  Another one is a circular bench and once someone sits on the bench - the water falls down around them.  Peter liked to play these tricks on people.  We pitched some coins up to the boot of Peter the Great - trying to get one inside his boot and then it was time to head to the Palace where we had our tour AFTER the public tours were over.  As a matter of fact - we were the last people inside the Palace and as we left each room - they locked up behind us.  We were not allowed to take photos inside.  The only good thing about that - is that after you view all of the photos I am including here - you will be happy that photos were not allowed.  One interesting note about the Grand Cascade - is that these water fountains are run without the use of pumps - the water comes from resevoirs high above the fountains and are gravity fed down.  They do stop the water from flowing in the evening - so when we exited the Palace we had the chance to view the fountains without the spray of water - what a serene view that was without the crowds. 
After leaving the Palace we stopped to take some photos of the exterior of the Saints Peter and Paul church.
We then had about an hour and a half drive back to the ship where we then grabbed a quick dinner and then went to bed in anticipation of another full day tomorrow.

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5025 on

St. Petersburg
I need to see these at home on my high speed but all I can say is WOW. Great Photography!


glenroe on

St. Petersburg/Baltic Cruise
We loved reading through this travelpod and remembering how much fun this trip was - can't wait until our next one.

Love, Roseann and Glen

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