Ships, Planes, Trains and River boats taking us through Asia, Middle East, Africa, Baltic, England, Paris and Amsterdam through to Budapest...

Friday, May 23, 2014

49 St Petersburg, Russia Day 1

When we planned to visit St Petersburg little did we know what a marathon it was going to be.  Now we know why visits to this city are always overnighters...   In order to leave the ship you had you have your own visa, or let those who you were touring with sponsor you with a temporary visa.  TJ did all that for us and about 3 others bus loads... and that was just our ship.  There were groups of around 16 which were a very manageable number.
Our guide Elizabeth did a wonderful job keeping us together and getting us in and out of each of the attractions. As we drove around the city we were amazed at the architecture and how beautiful a lot of it was.  Our first stop was to photograph a couple of Egyptian artefacts on display along the banks of the Neva River that weaves it way around St Petersburg.
Next stop was St Nicolas Church, a splendid blue and white naval Church. It is topped with five glistening golden cupolas.  There are many paintings inside that convey the history of the Russian Navy.  We then went to an intersection where the canals crossed over. From this point we could see seven different bridges.   Our next stop might have you wondering why, but we had a ride on the subway!!  The only way you would even know there was a subway below is because of the blue M that is on display on the top of the building.  You are even more amazed when you travel the long escalators down to the platform... Then you can be forgiven for thinking that you have actually entered a palace, not a station... Each station is decorated with marble, sculptures, ornate chandeliers and other decorations along the walls.  We rode along 2 stations just so we could get a glimpse of how different each of them are.
We then had forty minute drive out to Peterhof to visit the spectacular summer palace of Peter the Great built in 1710.  Once there, we walked through the amazing grounds of many, many fountains and gardens.  They were so spectacular and crowded.  There was even a section of trick fountains.  When you walked past them, or sit on a seat near them, they would spurt out and wet the unsuspecting victim.
Once we left there we stopped at a Russian version of a fast food cafe and lunched on coleslaw, soup, meatballs and pastry.
From here we travelled to Pushkin Town to Catherine Palace....  yes Catherine the Great who was married to Peter III, but one day he came to an unfortunate end, they say on the command of his dear wife who thought she could do a much better job at running  Russia than he was.  She did accomplish a lot in her time, except in improving the lot of her poorest subjects, who continued to suffer.  This palace was an example of her extravagance, like of the Russian palaces we have seen, so ornate and opulent.   After the fall of the Russian Royalty all these palaces have been restored and turned into museums just to show how they lived, whilst the rest of Russia struggled to survive, hence justifying the Revolution.  Once particular beautiful room is Catherine’s Amber Room, a reconstruction of how it looked at a cost of 8 million dollars.  The original walls have been lost, said to be somewhere in the hands of the Germans who pilfered many of Russia’s treasures.
Next we headed to St Isaac’s Cathedral.  Today as we arrived we found that in front of the church there was a huge stage set up and they were rehearsing a concert that was being held the next day celebrating St Petersburg Day.  We made our way through the scaffolding and entered one of the most beautiful churches, rivalling St Peters in the Vatican.
Soldiering on, we visited our last highlight for this tour, which was the Church on Spilt Blood.  A colourful and beautiful church built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.
It was a very weary bus load of passengers that was taken back to port, but we quickly had to revive ourselves as we had arranged for another tour called A Russian Experience to give us a taste of Russia Today.
This evening tour was a little more modern than we had anticipated.  Arriving at Palace Square we were walked down Nevsky prospect.  Here you will find old buildings filled with new shops... a very busy street as everyone was just finishing for the day.  
We were then taken to a small restaurant where we were able to sample three different types of Vodka’s.  Our glasses were filled, and we were shown how we should “shot” our vodka.... nup can’t do it in one go.....  Tradition is, after every quick shot you follow it with a snack.. a hors d’ oeuvres of herring, meat or vegetable....
Finally back on the ship at around 11 pm and it is still daylight outside... it feels like we have not seen a night sky in so long... apparently this is the period of “white nights”  where even when the sun sets it is only just under the horizon so it hardly gets dark at all.

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