It was an early rise this morning as we had to leave the hotel in Helsinki at 7:00. After our "Scandinavian" breakfast we hit the road for Russia. It was about a two and a half hour drive from Helsinki to the Russian border. We got lucky at the border, we zipped right through in no time. Our tour director, Ulf, said it can sometimes take hours. We were there about 25 minutes. After crossing the border it was another two and a half hours to St. Petersburg. The entire drive both in Finland and Russia was all forest. No towns or anything between the two cities. It was a nice day in St. Petersburg, an unusual occurrence in this city. The first thing we did was stop and Visit St. Peter & St. Paul's fortress. When we toured the inside of the cathedral it was hard to see anything it was so packed with people.
Next it was time to check into the hotel. We are staying at the Holiday Inn Moscow Gate. I think they must have given me the wrong room. I have a room with a huge king bed with a second bedroom with another bed. Below is a picture of the view from my hotel room.
We had about two hours at the hotel to have dinner or rest. I went to a market next door and got some meat and cheese and made sandwiches in the room. It's was fun shopping and trying to figure out what things were. I can't make heads or tails of Russian writing and no one speaks English here. I bought some bananas at the store. The cashier was talking and waving them around and pointing when I tried to pay for them. I finally figured out she wanted me to go have them weighed.
Then at 7:00 this evening we took a canal and river cruise around the city. It was kind of cool as the sun was setting. Also kind of hard to take pictures from the boat because this group is much too large. 48 people. I prefer Vantage, max size with them is 23 people. But they didn't offer this itinerary. Below is a picture of the Hermitage, or Summer Palace if you prefer. It was taken from our cruise down the Neva River. We are going there tomorrow.
We also passed St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress that we toured earlier. The gold spire glistening nicely in the setting sun. The top of that spire is the highest structure in the city.
All this St. Petersburg stuff is a repeat for me. Spent two fantastic days here in 2011 on my Baltic Cruise. I think those were probably the best two days I have ever spent anywhere. The last picture is again along the Neva River. You can see the long line of palaces along the river.
We're going to spend all day Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday morning here in St. Petersburg. Then we take a high speed train to Moscow Thursday afternoon. That's it for today.
We moved our clocks up another hour when we entered Russia, so were now 8 hours ahead of home. Today started with breakfast at the hotel. We then made a few photo stops around the city while it was still early and there weren't many people out yet. Below is St. Isaac's Cathedral. St. Isaac's has the fourth highest dome in Europe.
We made another photo stop along the Neva River at the lighthouses.
Next we toured the haunting Yusupov Palace.
Here in the cellar Felix Yusupov murdered the infamous Rasputin.
It was a very opulent palace. My favorite room was their personal theater.
Next we were dropped off on Nevsky Prospect in the heart of the city. We had a couple of hours to walk around, shop and have lunch.
I could see the colorful Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood at the end of the canal. We'll visit the church on Thursday morning.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Hermitage. If you spent one minute viewing every piece of art in the Summer Palace it would take you 15 years to finish. Very crowded in here. Hard to photograph anything. Below is a Rembrandt.
Below is my favorite painting. This woman beheaded this man that mistreated women, and she is standing on the head with the sword still in her hand.
I exited the Hermitage onto the huge Palace Square. That's the Alexander Column in the center of the square.
I walked around the square and back to the Neva River. I walked out to the center of the Palace Bridge. It was another beautiful day here in St. Petersburg.
An interesting thing happened on the bus this afternoon. I heard this couple sitting across the isle from me talking about this long video they watched on YouTube about St. Petersburg and how they liked it. The video they were talking about was mine. They were a little surprised when I interrupted them and told them it was my video.
We got back to the hotel at 5:00. Then at 7:30 we went to a Russian folklore show. The performing group was called the Red Army. All the singers and dancers were very good.
Can sleep in tomorrow, we don't have to be back on the bus until 9:30, Yippie!
Got to sleep in a little this morning. It was another beautiful day here. St. Petersburg is known for having Gray skies 95% of the time so we have been very lucky with the weather. That's why they paint their buildings in bright colors. This morning after breakfast we went to Peterhof. We had to dodge a few road blocks to get there. The G20 summit is being held very near there in a few days. They were checking the roads for mines.
We took a nice long walk through the massive gardens at Peterhof and viewed the hundreds of fountains.
There may be a few places on earth that are as pretty as the grounds of this palace, but I doubt there are any prettier.
All the fountains work on gravity, there are no pumps. The water is not recycled, it drains into the Bay of Finland.
Below is the main fountain in front of the palace, the Grand Cascade.
The picture below was shot up the stairs looking down on the gardens. That big ugly grandstand behind the main fountain is being constructed for President Obama and the 19 other world leaders to sit in. They were also having some kind of a drill while we were here. There were air raid sirens going off for about ten minutes.
After Peterhof we went to Pushkin and toured Catherine's Palace.
Below is a picture of one of the dining rooms inside the palace.
This visit was nothing like the special evening reception I went to when I was here last time. I did have time to walk through the gardens today which I couldn't do last time.
We got back to the hotel at 4:00. This evening we are going to the Russian ballet to see Swan Lake. Below is a picture of the theater we are going to.
We will spend tomorrow morning here in St. Petersburg and then tomorrow afternoon we take the high speed train to Moscow.
Last evening in St. Petersburg we went to the ballet. We had great seats in the middle of the theater right under the Royal box.
The ballet was beautiful but it was way too long. I know nothing about ballet, I have never been before. Our guide said Swan Lake is the longest one. Below is my illegal picture. We weren't allowed to take photos during the performance, but I sneaked one out. I wasn't the only one.
This morning after breakfast we visited the Church of Christ Savior on the Spilled Blood.
And after that we visited St. Isaac's Cathedral. In an earlier email I showed you the outside of the cathedral. Below is the dome from the inside.
Next it was off to Moscow Station for our train ride to Moscow. Below is the picture of the train coming into the station.
The rest of the email is on the Moscow page.
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