The Splendor of Peterhof

Trip Start May 20, 2012
Trip End Jun 02, 2012

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Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Friday, June 1, 2012

Thursday, June 1, 2012: Today will be our last day in St Petersburg. It is also the day we have most anticipated. We visit Peterhof Palace. The only two attractions on this trip that have come near exciting us to this degree were Red Square and Catherine Palace. Interestingly, Viking does not include Peterhof as part of its tour. One must buy the optional tour for approximately $80 each. We never hesitated.

While Catherine's Palace was immense with its 1,000 rooms and 600 foot long fašade, the largest of the Peterhof palaces is quite narrow and consists of only 30 rooms. Both, of course, are equally exquisite. The largest Peterhof Palace is called the Grand Palace (Bolshoi Dvorets) and is truly imposing when seen from the Lower Gardens. It sits atop a 52 foot bluff looking out toward the Gulf of Finland.

Behind the Grand Palace are the small Upper Gardens. On the other side and down the bluff are the Lower Gardens and the Grand Cascade. The Lower Gardens comprise the better part of the estate at slightly over a square kilometer. These gardens are about 600 feet wide and are situated between the bluff and the Gulf.

Most of Peterhof’s fountains are located in the Lower Gardens. The centerpiece Grand Cascade fountain complex is made up of 3 waterfalls, 64 fountains and 37 statues. At 10 A.M. each day, the fountains are turned on in sequence to the accompaniment of the Russian National Anthem. Beth and I were present on this day to document the ceremony. The pictures appear in this section.

Sasha explained to us that all the fountains operate without the use of pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs located in the Upper Gardens. The 50-plus foot difference in elevation creates the pressure to operate the Grand Cascade and the other fountains. That system has remained unchanged since 1721.  

The Grand Palace is not the only historic royal building at Peterhof. The palaces of Monplaisir (My Pleasure), Marly and the pavilion known as the Hermitage were built by Peter the Great. There is also a large greenhouse in the Lower Gardens and the palace of Nicholas I in Alexandrine Park.

In 1714, Peter the Great began constructing the small Monplaisir Palace based on his own sketches. This was Peter's Summer Palace. Beth and I walked around Monplaisir for quite some time before returning to the Grand Cascade where we ascended the long flight of steps to the Grand Palace.

We took a number of pictures from the incredible vantage point atop the bluff and then started to the exit gate. Frankly, the area had become quite crowded. Viking got us in early when there were so few people it was almost as if we owned the place (right!). It was a cool feeling. By the time the Grand Cascade fountains became operational at 10 A.M., the grounds were packed solid with tourists.

On the other side of the exit turnstile souvenir vendor shops lined both sides of the walkway. We had already seen much of what was for sale at many of our earlier stops. But, we walked slowly toward the bus while inspecting the merchandize. One stall sold humorous t-shirts of world leaders from Stalin to Obama. I spoke to the young Russian vendor and we both had some laughs. In the end, I thanked him for his time but passed on the shirts. There was really nothing of interest to me. More and more, I regretted not buying the mammoth ivory amulet in Mandrogy.  

Beth, on the other hand, found some high quality, wool blend, Russian-made scarves being sold by a lady who spoke some English and had a sister who lived in Los Angeles.  Beth had been looking in every city we visited. She wanted one for her sister Nell. The lady selling the scarves was very nice so it was a good deal for Beth and the Russian lady.     

It was time to board the bus. As we approached, there was a small group of Russian musicians playing for tips. They had just finished playing the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, when they struck up the Battle Hymn of the Republic. If I was momentarily surprised, it was soon eclipsed by their next selection – Dixie!

We returned to the Rurik for lunch and then set off on our last tour event…the St Petersburg Canal Cruise. We boarded our launch and started down the Neva River whose banks we had explored for the last three days. There are 66 rivers and canals in St Petersburg and the view from the water is as impressive as it is from the land. It was easy to see why St Petersburg is known as the "The Venice of the North".  

No sooner had I settled back in my seat and aimed my camera at the Winter Palace than my picture taking came to an abrupt halt. I had filled my camera’s memory card to capacity…and all my extras were back at the ship. Beth cranked up her camera and filled in admirably. (In fact, I should add that she did an excellent job with our back up camera. She took at least 40% of the pictures included in this blog.)

We passed Michael’s Castle, the Winter Palace as well as the Sheremetev and Stronganov palaces. After a little over an hour we were back at the dock and our bus returned to the ship for dinner.

Our last dinner on board was exceptional. Afterwards, Beth and I sought out the waiter and waitress who had served us throughout the trip. We gave them a special thank you even though we also participated in the collection for the whole crew. We had already gone to Sasha to make sure he understood how much we appreciated his knowledge and guide services through the two weeks. We also met with Julia for the same reason.

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