Two very full days

Trip Start Jul 10, 2007
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Flag of Russia  ,
Sunday, July 15, 2007

We've had two very full days in St. Petersburg.

Designed by Peter the Great, the city has been called Petrasgrad, Leningrad, and since the fall of communism, reverted to it's original name by a slim 51% vote of her people. Our guide who was very fluent in English describes herself as someone who at times isn't sure she has a place. She was born in Leningrad in the USSR. Now neither exist and not all databases keep up with the changes.

The people appear quite stern. It was hard to tell if they still view us with suspician or merely don't know how to relate with people whose language is totally strange to them. We saw very few smiling faces and it rather became a sport among us to make eye contact and try to elicit a smile. Only rarely were we successful and never with the immigration guards. Women were everywhere, the guards, the guides, the shop attendants, the wait staff...we saw few men and when asked our guide told us only that her husband is in the military. It was hard to get a real picture of the Russian people. The oppulance of the period of the czars was obvious and was the primary focus of our two day tour,

but driving from place to place seemed to reveal a rather depressing environment. There were no homes as we know them. People live in huge apartment buildings in small apartments on very wide streets.

The buildings were built of stone according to the order of Peter the Great who feared that his city would burn if built of wood. Except for royal grounds and parks, nothing appeared green and we saw no evidence of private gardening. It is somewhat easy to imagine the cause of the revolution but equally clear that communism maintained the status quo for the working people while their leaders took over the role of the royalty.

The Russian Orthodox Church is very elaborately decorated and although definitely Christ centered, it also celebrates the history of the czars. Clearly when the Soviets closed the churches it took away not only the symbols of a people's faith but also their very identity.
We visited all the major attractions beginning with a band welcoming everyone to Peterhoff. It was interesting to watch them greet each arriving bus with songs representing the passengers country of origin. We were serenaded with the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and When the Saints Go Marching In.

Peterhoff was as elaborate a palace as any we have ever visited. The pictures above were taken inside. These were outside.

And as we were leaving the souvenir merchants were setting up. Unfortunately our guide advised us not to purchase souvenirs there as we would be visiting a more dependable later. Looking back, the later source did not meet our needs nearly to the extent this outdoor area presented. The influence of the west was evident.

Following the visit at Peterhoff it was on to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

We had a delicious lunch at a Pectopah, pronounced in Russian "restaurant",in which they served not only salad, soup, entree and dessert, but also water, champaign and vodka.

In the afternoon we visited the private palace where Felix Yusupov murdered Rasputen and then visited the "Church of our Savior on spilled blood" also known as the Cathedral of the Resurrection. The name comes from the fact that the church was built on the site of the assisination of Alexander II who was killed the night before he intended to sign into law a proclamation which would have turned Russia into a constitutional monarchy.

Along the way we passed the St. Petersburg residence of Vladimir Putin.

Following our already long day we returned to the ship for dinner and then returned to the city for a private tour of the Hermitage

followed by a classical concert. We walked through over two miles of corridors and climbed more than our share of steps. The Hermitage collection contains all the art owned by Catherine the Great which she had maintained as her private collection. It included a small collection of Monet, some Dali, some Van Gogh and the largest collection of Rembrandt outside of Holland including the painting believed to be his last work.

Need I say when we returned to the ship we collapsed into bed?
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