Saint Petersburg (May 12-13, 2017)

Leaving the ship was unlike at any other port we’ve been to on any cruise. We were not required to have a visa as long as we were with a ship sponsored tour, but each and every person going ashore had to clear immigration. We queued up behind a yellow line and did not approach an immigration officer until a small light went green. We then opened a small stainless steel gate (which promoted the light to go red) and stood between an angled mirror behind our head and an immigration officer in a small booth. Cleone looked toward us knowing we were taking her picture and she was reprimanded for not looking forward at all times. Our personal information was typed into the computer, an entry receipt of sorts we were told not to misplace under any circumstances was printed, our passports were stamped, and we were excused before the light went green prompting the next in line to step forward. The process was slow and got our attention.

Immigration aside, I now have a new destination on my list of favorites: Saint Petersburg, Russia! What a delightful surprise it has proven to be. I had heard it was beautiful and am in the process of reading Natasha’s Dance, which talks about how it came about, but still.

It reminds me of an Amsterdam or a Venice where running out of room was not a concern. It is a young, planned city built in the early 1700s by Peter the Great (but named for Saint Peter) where nothing previously existed, so the buildings are huge but limited to a few stories in height, streets wide, with water (70 rivers and canals) and bridges everywhere. No surprise since 42 islands in the Neva River comprise the city. Peter’s idea was to build a city on the far west coast of Russia which would a) hopefully keep  Sweden at bay and b) give Russia water access. He wanted it to be very Western European in style and flavor with the hopes that Russia would be seen as rivaling Europe, especially France, in sophistication and taste. He sent nobles to different counties to learn what to immolate and then went for it in a big way. Saint Petersburg is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the city with the most palaces, so I’d say Peter’s objective was handsomely met!

Dan and I spent a day and a half exploring the city with W&C. (Hettie and Ronnie took the train the Moscow.) We got SO lucky! First it was sunny, which is a rarity here, and secondly our tour guide had tickets for us to go to the Hermitage, one of the largest and best museums in the world and usually a mob scene, before it opened its doors to the masses. We were the very first group in which made it seem like we had all the dazzling rooms to ourselves with no one ahead of us to dampen the shock and awe of how opulent it all is. Some rooms are works of art in and of themselves with amazing parquet floors and magnificent ceilings and walls…all decorated in an over the top, we-adore-gold-leaf sort of way. I loved it! Other rooms were used as galleries for paintings, porcelain, tapestries and whatever else you might want to see. The white and gold chapel where the court used to attend services was dazzling. There was a small, glassed off, semi-circular chamber where the queen could come from her private chambers to stand, per religious tradition, for services and then return to her private apartments without being disturbed. The Hermitage is a collection of palaces, including Peter’s Winter Palace, that face the river, so there is a lot of light and beautiful water views.

Another mind blowing stop on our tour was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. From the outside it reminded me of a fairytale with its colorful onion domes and cheerful exterior walls. From the inside it is a sea of intricate mosaic. From top to bottom, left to right………everywhere is mosaic! Stunning, breathtaking, unbelievable in a way, and over the top. Right up my alley.

The Peter and Paul Fortress is a small island across from the Hermitage and boasts the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, burial place of all imperial Russian rulers including Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and their five children. Although beautiful with lots of gold to compliment the soft green walls, it seemed understated compared to what we had seen.

At seemingly every turn in the road some spectacular building, tower, or monument would come into view. The buildings were primarily painted deep pastels. The city streets were wide and clean with bike lanes, street cars, and buses. The waterways were bustling.

Our tour included the gardens of Peterhof, a gigantic summer palace outside of Saint Petersburg. Oh my! The gardens are huge and laid out in a symmetrical pattern. Beautiful fountains and cascades were turned on. Gold is the accent color here also. The sun poked in and out and made it look dazzling.

It was nice to see a bit of the countryside on the hour’s drive to Peterhof. We passed mile after mile after mile of high-rise apartment buildings that in no way resembled the opulence of the downtown historic area. Although some of the newer buildings were interesting architecturally, most were drab concrete structures that made me think of the Hunger Games movies.

We had a fabulous guide who answered all our questions and filled our heads with interesting information. Handy facts like Peter the Great was 6′ 8″ tall, liked small rooms with low ceilings, and had small feet. She often prefaced her statements with, ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen’ as in ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen, wait right here while I check on tickets.’  Or, ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen, we will soon stop for lunch.’ Cute. Speaking of lunch, we got caviar, champagne, and a shot of vodka with our meal. Our guide told us that a good salary is around $1,000 a month and $1,600 would be fabulous but attainable with a certain level of education. Unpaid maternity leave is three years meaning your job must be held for you for three years. City folks like to vacation in Turkey and the Mediterranean and country folk like to vacation in the city. Beef stroganoff originated in St. Petersburg, the World Cup will be played there next year, and gas is 40 rubles a liter.

Russian bragging rights went to Hettie and Ronnie who had been to St. Petersburg once before; Dan who had been to Moscow on business once; and Cleone who had been to St. Petersburg in the late ’80s when it was still called Leningrad and the Iron Curtain had yet to come down. Cleone shared fun stories of trading things like jeans and cosmetics for Russian lacquer boxes, matryoshka dolls, and other souvenirs.

Between days one and two we had to clear immigration to get back on the ship. This involved producing the piece of paper we were told not to lose no matter what. The next morning we lined up to enter the country again. Needless to say our time here was fascinating in more ways than one.

Entertainment Friday night was a Russian troupe of 25 called Stars of St. Petersburg that performed lively traditional music in folk costumes. They were really fun to watch. The musicians featured the balalaika, a stringed instrument with a triangular body.

Entertainment Saturday night featured Leanne Mitchell, the 2012 winner of The Voice UK.


4 thoughts on “Saint Petersburg (May 12-13, 2017)

  1. What a day! Gold, history, food, friends and lots of interesting facts! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your pictures! Have you read, The Madonnas of Leningrad? It’s about the seige of Leningrad when people lived in the Hermitage.


  2. I agree with Leni! Quite the day! I have always wanted to go to St. Petersburg.
    Question…was the a statue of a mermaid going into Harbor into Copenhagen?
    Thanks as always Schele for sharing all your info from your wonderful trips!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s