St Petersburg Day 1
We wake up at oh 600 and as Robin Williams said in Good Morning Vietnam, the oh stands for oh my God it’s early! We have to eat, shower, and meet at the Theatre at 0700 for our tour today. We get our bus tickets and get off the ship and into the customs line. I think there must be a test for the passport control people. They make them watch comedy movies and shows and tell them jokes. If they as so much start to smile they are out. Very serious Russians. We must show our passport, which they immediately enter into the KGB database, and our tour ticket to get through. Once we are through the officials, we go to our tour bus. Today we have an all day tour to Peterhof Palace and the Hermitage Museum. CNC, on a tour, you say! Well, here is why. After we booked this cruise, we discovered that Russia still does not welcome our passport with open arms. To enter the country and go on your own, you need a visa (290 dollars each) and it has to be sponsored by some travel type agent ( money making scheme). The only other way to get off the boat is to take a ship sponsored tour. The hassle of the visa and going off on our own was not worth it, so we have chosen a couple of tours to take.
We can’t believe we are in Russia as we leave the port area.
We have about an hour drive to Peterhof Palace, which is named after Peter the Great. We start out driving through central St. Petersburg past several domed churches. We get a history lesson along the way. I guess their last name was The Great as there was Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Their kids must not have been that good because none of them were Great. Anyway, enough of that. Actually the story was that Catherine before she was Great was captured as kind of a war trophy. She was not Russian. Peter the Great fell in love with her and married her. After some time, the love was not great. Peter had a girlfriend, Catherine had a boyfriend, and since divorce was not an option back in the day, Catherine was afraid she might be disposed of in a harsh way. She mentions this to her boyfriend who takes it as a command of sorts. Soon thereafter, Peter the Great is brutally murdered which for him was not too great. I think right before he was murdered, Peter abdicated the throne to Catherine. Even though she was not Russian, the people liked her and she became the ruler of Russia for the next 34 years. After her reign, the next Tsar made it a law that no woman could inherit the throne. A blow for woman’s rights in Russia!
We arrive at the palace and are the 4th tour group in line. The first thing we notice is the gold dome with a double eagle on it which is the symbol of the Tsars and found throughout the palace.
We get in and the decor is over the top. Lavish, luxurious, expensive, crazy beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it. Opulence galore is everywhere. One room after the other, we are just in awe of this palace. Funny side note is the Russian ladies that work for the palace and stationed in each room ( took,the same test as the custom officials) were extremely pushy and annoying, constantly telling our guide to move to the next room, sometimes even as we had just entered. Our guide was not lolly gagging and did a good job of fending them off while giving us the highlights of the rooms. After our palace tour, we went outside to the gardens to see the famous fountains. We walked around to several areas. Peter was quite the trickster and designed several fountains to get his guests wet when they didn’t expect it. For example, there were benches where he would ask his guests to have a seat. Stones in front of the benches would trigger water to shoot up from the benches onto his guest.
We then walk to the cascading water features and fountains directly behind the palace. Quite a lavish spectacle with gold statuary. What is amazing about all this is that none of the fountains were mechanical. It was all done with natural water pressure and the size of the fountain pipes. The water comes from a spring fed lake, 3 miles away.
We have lunch at the Palace Restaurant. They start you off with a shot of Russian vodka, of course. It is upper smooth and good. Carol has to have two. A traditional lunch follows and we are then on our way to the Hermitage. This place is crowded also but our guide gets us in in only 10 minutes. I don’t know if the Hermitage is larger than the Louvre but I think it is. It has over 3 million pieces of art. For you trivia or math buffs, you could look at each piece for one minute, eight hours a day and it would take you 11 years to see it all.
Part of the museum was the winter palace of Catherine the Great. The rest was, I think, her art storage closet. We see the largest collection of Rembrandts outside of Holland, 2 of 13 Davinci masterpieces, Peter Paul Rubens, Italian sculptures, not too mention that the rooms themselves were spectacular.
We also see a small Michaelangelo Statue, which surprised me, as I Thought the only Michaelangelo outside of Italy was in Brugge. Two hours in the museum seeing the highlights and we are pretty well spent. It has been a long day but we enjoyed it. Our guide, Irina, was excellent and her English was very good. She really knew her way around and provided a lot of information on what we were seeing.
We got back to the ship at 5:00, which gave us just enough time to get ready for dinner. The dining room was half empty as most people had long tours today and did not show up. It was only us with Jerry and Bell at our table. After dinner, we are ready for bed as we have another early tour tomorrow. Spacebo!
St Petersburg Tour 350 USD
Walked 5.6 Miles