Friday 21 August St. Petersburg (Russia)

We woke to another beautiful sunny day with blue skies – temperature 29°.
We disembarked the ship at 7.45am for our tour to Catherine Palace in the morning and a city tour in the afternoon.
The Catherine Palace is a Rococo style palace located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo, 25 km southeast of St. Petersburg. It was founded by Peter the Great and was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. It took four years to build this 325 metre long bluish coloured palace for Empress Elizabeth and was finished in 1756.
The bus took us through the outskirts of St Petersburg, where we saw lots of apartment buildings. We saw the difference in the apartment building styles between the fairly drab grey of the Russian public housing style in the inner suburbs to the modern high rises that were constructed in more recent times. Most of them had shopping complexes on the ground floor, with lots of green space around them for parks and play spaces for the children. Some of them even had movie theatres and most of them had ornate gardens. Our guide, Natasha told us that life here is more comfortable now, since 2000. The area surrounding St Petersburg is fairly flat and the highest “hill” is only 150m. We passed a huge vodka distillery, a Wrigley Spearmint factory and a joint Coca-Cola plant. Natasha told us that there are Toyota, Ford and Nissan factories in Russia now.
We arrived at Tsarskoye Selo, which is now referred to as Pushkin, before the Catherine Palace gates opened and we were the second group onto the grounds. While we were waiting for the gates to open, we listened to a band playing traditional Russian folk music. From the moment we stepped inside the gates it was a case of “Wow!” We were so impressed with the beautiful condition of the outside and the inside of the palace, which is now a museum. We walked along the front of the palace and could see the Servant’s Quarters and the Main Entrance for Carriages before our entry into the palace, where, once again, we had to put on galoshes/overshoes, this time in a brown colour and with pointy toes.
The first section that we visited was the golden Suites of Rome – we climbed The Main Staircase and into The Great Hall (sometimes called The Hall of Mirrors), the Wedgewood rooms, and then through several rooms with ornate carvings and period furniture. Only some of the rooms were not furnished and we could see the ornate gold carvings and silk wallcovering etc. One of the most amazing rooms, which was the only one that we were not allowed to take photos in, was called the Amber room, which was originally created by Rastrelli in the 1750s. The room was decorated with the use of mosaics made up of pieces of amber in various colours and dimensions – the walls were completely covered in amber. All the artwork in the room was framed with textured Amber and the doorways, and parts of the ceiling were also decorated with Amber. Surprisingly, it was not over the top and was quite beautifully done. Most of the rooms we visited had ornate Wedgewood style, blue tiled, floor-to-ceiling corner pieces that concealed the heating systems that are referred to as “stoves”.
After our tour of the inside of the Palace, we were taken outside for a stroll around the beautiful gardens. We walked through the Cameron Gallery gardens and then down to the Great Lake, through more beautiful gardens. We entered a building called “The Grotto Pavilion” – it was a small concert hall, which had great acoustics, and we listened to a 5 piece male ensemble singing Russian Folk songs.
On our way back up through the gardens, we stopped to see the Palace Church wing. The golden spires glistened in the sun against the perfect blue sky – so beautiful!! We saw some people in period costume and then wandered through the markets before boarding our bus to be taken to our restaurant for lunch.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Catherine Palace because it was at a slower pace than Peterhoff and the Hermitage yesterday and also there were nowhere near as many people – this may have been because it was further out of St Petersburg.
Lunch was at Podvoriye Restaurant, which was a Russian Log House a short distance from the Palace. We were served a traditional Russian Meal, which included vodka. The entrée was various salads and meats, followed by Borscht soup and an interesting pork dish and finished off with a lovely berry crepe. The Restaurant went to a lot of trouble to give Sandy a separate meal as all of the dishes, except the dessert had garlic in them. We were entertained by a group of traditionally dressed Russian performers, who enlisted the help of some of us to play instruments.
We then headed back to the outskirts of St Petersburg, stopping at Pushkin’s Metro Station. Most of us got off the bus and followed Natasha into the Metro station, where she bought tokens for us to go down the escalator to the station platform to see the frescoes and a statue of Pushkin. Natasha explained to us that the token allowed you to ride on any of the 5 lines and 67 stations on the Metro for the whole day. She said that while the Metro is very busy (2 million people per day use it) it is very safe and reliable. She also said that Pushkinsaya (Pushkin Station) is one of the deepest Metros in the world at 85metres below ground. She also told us that the metro stations in St Petersburg are not as elaborate as those in Moscow with their chandeliers etc but we were impressed with what we saw here.
The bus then took us back into St Petersburg for a drive through the city with Natasha pointing out interesting landmarks.
We enjoyed our visit to Peter and Paul Fortress, which was the first construction in St Petersburg and built by the order of Peter the Great to defend this new city against Sweden. Inside the Fortress is the 18th Century Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The cathedral’s bell tower is the world’s tallest Orthodox bell tower and the cathedral houses the remains of almost all of the Russian Emperors and Empresses. We had a short visit to the cathedral where we saw some of the tombs of the royal family. We walked back over the cobblestoned square to the bus to our next stop, the Church of the Resurrection of the Spilled Blood. The church, which was built in 1907 in memory of Alexander II who was assassinated on this site, was completely covered in 7000sqmetres of mosaic tiles. What looked like paintings, were actually mosaic-tiled portraits.
After a very full but enjoyable day, it was time to go through immigration for the last time and re-board our beautiful ship for the next leg of our journey.
We joined the others up on deck for a sail away party to say goodbye to St Petersburg – we watched the ship sail past the commercial docks and naval base – and then it was time for our briefing about our next destination and then dinner.
A couple of hours after we left St Petersburg dock, we went past Alexander’s Fort and the Flood Mitigation Gates, which protect St Petersburg from the Baltic Sea during times of flood.
We have enjoyed our visit to St Petersburg – the weather has been wonderful and we have seen a lot, we have discovered that St Petersburg is somewhere that you could spend many days and still feel as though there were things that you would like to revisit.

One Response to “Friday 21 August St. Petersburg (Russia)”

  1. Gail Rounsefell says:

    We bought the band’s CD from the palace. We loved the music they were playing.

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