Thursday & Friday, August 4 & 5:|
It has been an amazing 36 hours in Russia. We docked in St. Petersburg at 6:00am Thursday morning and only minutes later I was off the ship and heading for the first sight on my 2-day mega-tour of the city. Our first stop was Peterhof, the magnificent palace built by Peter the Great. The palace opened up early just for us so we were the only ones there so there were no crowds to fight. We spent a couple hours touring the interior of the palace. There was gold everywhere. No photography was allowed inside so I can't send photos of the interior. Below is the exterior of the palace.
At 11:00am they turn on the fountains in a special ceremony called "The Grand Cascade." It was beautiful. The picture below was taken from the terrace looking down on the fountains and gardens.
After Peterhof Palace we went to lunch. We went to a local restaurant. There was barely room on the table for food between all the glasses. Wine, vodka, Champaign. I guess all the booze helps wash down the Russian cooking. Some musicians entertained us during our lunch.
Next we visited St. Isaac's Cathedral which is pictured below.
There are no pews in Russian churches as the congregation is not allowed to sit.
Next we visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The church occupies the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. The multicolored facade of the church was spectacular.
There was a shopping stop and then it was back to the ship for about an hour to dress for our evening out. It took over 90 minutes of driving through rush hour traffic to get to Catherine Palace. We got to the Palace a little before 8:00. The Palace was closed and was being opened up just for us. My group was the first to arrive. As we got there the gates were closed and then the band started to play and the gates opened.
It was a beautiful evening, not a cloud in the sky. We had cocktails and canopies before entering the palace.
We were the very first people to enter the palace, we had the whole place to ourselves. The picture below does not do justice to the experience, but this is looking down a long series of rooms with all the doorways trimmed in gold. It was like looking into a mirror but there were no mirrors.
All the rooms were the most extravagant things I have ever seen. Below is the Amber Room. The wall coverings in just this one room are worth more than 50 million dollars. Normally photography is not allowed in the palace, but we were special people and could take as many pictures as we wanted.
The tour of the palace ended in the Throne Hall. Here Catherine the Great welcomed us and there was a champagne toast to friendship between our countries. Then a string quartet played court dances for performers in traditional costume.
Then we were taken into the courtyard where the band played and then horse drawn carriages arrived and dancers got out and performed in the courtyard.
You wouldn't know it to look at the picture above, but it was after ten at night when that was taken. Next we were taken back into the palace for dinner where Russian singers and dancers entertained us as we ate. As we finished dinner it was after 11:00 and was almost dark. We drove back through the city with all the buildings lit up. There were no traffic jams to fight on the way back and we got back to the ship at midnight. It was a long but amazing day. We all had to sleep fast though, we had to be back on the bus at 7:00am.
This morning started off quite cloudy. We started the day with several photo stops that would be impossible to do later in the day due to the traffic. Below is Palace Square, the third largest square in the world. This city is kept immaculately clean. The street cleaners had just finished cleaning the square before this picture was taken.
Next we visited the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Next it was off to the Hermitage. Yet again the place was opened early just for us. The Hermitage is huge and totals six buildings in all. It houses over three million works of art.
Below is a Rembrandt.
Below is a work by Leionardo Da Vinci. All the museums have these "museum ladies" in them and they are everywhere. If you touch a wall or lean too far over a rope barrier they are on you faster than a bee on honey. And then you get a good scolding. It reminded me of the nuns in Catholic school.
By the time we got out of the Hermitage the skies had cleared and it was bright and sunny again. Just in time for our canal cruise. This is the second city that I have visited on this trip that said they were "the Venice of the North."
It was a very scenic cruise through the many canals and rivers in the city.
Of course there was more champagne on the boat. If I actually drank all the booze I was given in the last 36 hours I probably would have no memory of ever being here.
As we left on the cruise there was this boy waving at us. He than ran to the first bridge we went under, stood in the middle of it and waved. He repeated this throughout the entire cruise. Every time we went under a bridge he would be standing on it waving at us. We almost missed the sites of the city we were too busy watching him. The cruise lasted one hour and he ran the entire time. We all gave him money when we got off the boat. There has got to be an easier way to earn a buck.
It was time for lunch after the cruise. As usual lots of booze and lousy food. We finished the tour after lunch with a visit to Yusupov Palace. This is where Rasputin was murdered. Everybody was pretty worn out by the time we left here.
This was a special elite tour where the group sizes were smaller than the normal tours. We had the same tour guide for the entire two days. She was outstanding. There was a total of eight buses doing this same tour at the same time. We were bus #2 and were always first to see and do everything. Every place we went that had a performance we were sitting front row center. There was a friendly competition between us and bus #1 but they always lagged a little behind. It was a fantastic two days. We are now back in the Baltic Sea sailing for Finland.
More still to come,
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