The highlight of our Baltic cruise was a two-day stint in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Now, one does not simply walk into Russia. It is a country known for its very bureaucratic approach to tourist visas. In order to be allowed off the ship, we needed to show Russian immigration officials that we had a sponsor – in other words an organized tour. So did the other 2,000 people on board. When they made the announcement that we were clear to go ashore, the line wrapped up six decks worth of stairs, and stretched halfway across the ship. By the time we caught up with our tour group 40 minutes later, we were the last ones to arrive! Luckily no one decided to hold it against us toooo much. We opted to go with SPB tours in a small van of 15 people.
Saint Petersburg is overflowing with beauty and buildings of historical significance, and we had only two days to see it all. It was a whirlwind visit to be sure, but come with us now as we try to stuff everything that is Saint Petersburg into a single blog entry.
We started with St. Isaac’s Square which is home to:
- Saint Isaac’s Cathedral – notable for being the 4th largest cathedral in the world,
- a monument to Nicholas I – notable for being the first equestrian statue in Europe where the horse was only supported on its two rear legs, and
- Mariinsky Palace – notable for being the seat of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
Whew! That’s already a lot to take in, and that was only the first 15 minutes.
As we drove through the streets of Saint Petersburg, we got to see a bit of that famous Soviet Architecture where function is everything and form doesn’t matter. We also got to see how the inevitable spread of capitalism was creeping in.
We took a quick peek in the very deep Admiralteyskaya metro station, but didn’t actually get a chance to ride the subway because we were already running behind schedule. We had arrived only two days before Victory Day which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. All the festivities meant tons of people were pouring into the city, and traffic was being redirected everywhere.
After the subway station came the Hermitage Museum. This is one of the largest museums in the world with over 3 million items in its collection. It’s comprised of six buildings – most notably, the Winter Palace of Russia’s emperors going all the way back to Peter the Great.
Before we get to the photos inside, let me just tell you that two hours with a tour group is no way to see this place. When you’re in Saint Petersburg, make sure you set aside a couple of days for the Hermitage Museum. All was not lost, however. Our guide Maria gave us some great advice which I will now impart to you: leave your jacket in the car. The Hermitage insists that coats be checked (free of charge). It is worth being a little (okay a lot) chilly while you wait to get it in, in order not to have to deal with the zoo that is the coat check room. Seriously, she saved us about 40 minutes! Okay, on to the photos. Let’s start with some of the amazing ceilings inside.
Among other great names in art, we saw works from three out of four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo (Da Vinci), Raphael and Michaelangelo.
We saw many other amazing works of art as we continued on…
We were particularly fascinated by this painting by Canaletto. The perspective actually shifts as you pass in front of it. Notice how in the first painting, the palace seems to extend to the center of the canvas. In the second photo (taken from the left hand side), the palace now appears way on the right. Take that, Photoshop!
My favorite thing in the museum (aside from the dog that looked like Vladimir Putin) was the Peacock Clock. This gold clock was a gift to Catherine the Great in the late 1700s, and features a life-sized peacock, owl and rooster – all of whom move when the clock strikes. They weren’t running the actual clock while we were there, but here’s a really neat video of the it in action.
There was no rest for the weary as we moved on to the Church of the Spilled Blood with its fabulous gold mosaics.
We stopped for a fabulous lunch. I’d show you, but I think it’s a law that all food pictures must be posted exclusively to Facebook. Rested and replenished, we paid a visit to the Yusupov Palace. The Yusupovs were a wealthy aristocratic family, and their home was where the plot to murder Rasputin was carried out. Rasputin was a monk who had the ear of the Royal Family. The Yusupovs (and others) didn’t like that and decided to eliminate him. One night he was invited to the palace where he was served poisoned wine. When that didn’t kill him, he was shot. Still undaunted, he tried to escape, but was discovered and then drowned in the Neva River.
Could we possibly fit any more into one day, you ask? Well, remember St. Isaac’s Cathedral from this morning? It was time to go inside. This is one of those places you have to visit to fully appreciate, but here are some pics…
Hang in there – only one site left to visit: The Fortress of Peter and Paul. The cathedral there is the resting place of the ruling families of Russia, including the Romanov family whose remains were discovered in the 90s and interred there.
Day 1 was a long day, and we only scratched the surface of Saint Petersburg. It looks like we didn’t fit it all into one entry after all. But, tomorrow is another day, and I’ll be ready.