Thursday 20 August St Petersburg (Russia)

Where to start? We have had the most amazing two full days in St Petersburg – the weather has been perfect (29°)and our program has been so full that we didn’t have time to even write up what we had done, let alone post it to the website.
Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia and is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is the cultural capital, has a population of over one million and is the northernmost city in the world. St Petersburg, the creation of Peter the Great, benefited from the inspiration of Europe’s greatest 18th century architects and craftsmen.
Our ship docked at the ‘English Embankment” in the Neva Riva in the centre of the city and by 8.10am, the ship had been cleared by the Port Authority and we were able to disembark the ship, go through immigration – a separate little building just for us – and board our buses.
Our first stop was Peterhof Palace, which is about 32 kilometres from St Petersburg. We travelled through the city and then into the outer suburbs where there were many apartment buildings and several new ones being built. Our guide, Natasha, told us that there are now wonderful facilities close by the apartment buildings for families as well as shopping malls, movies and green spaces for the children to play.
Peterhof Palace, which sits on 100 square hectares, was the brainchild of Peter the Great and was originally a two-storey house, which was then made into the Grand Palace that is now a museum. We entered the Palace at the Upper Garden and had to put blue disposable galoshes/overshoes on, to protect the parquetry floors with their amazingly intricate patterns. We were taken on a guided tour, from room to room, where we saw the incredible opulence of the palace. In each room there was a lady guard who had a fan and if the tour guide was taking too long she fluttered her fan and if the group didn’t move quickly enough out of the room, the fan was closed and the end of it held against the guard’s mouth, which was then the signal to “move now!” Although APT had organised an early opening booking for us before all the hordes arrived, there were still several other groups coming along behind us, so we had to move through the rooms quite quickly. Natasha gave us some wonderful information about each room as we walked slowly through the rooms, and we were not allowed to take photos, so that didn’t hinder us.
Some of the rooms that we went into were: The Blue Reception Room with amazing zig-zagged patterned parquetry floor and walls that were lined with light blue silk; The Throne Room, which is the largest room in the palace – 330sqm; the Dining Room with its Wedgewood place settings; the Divan Room – this was Empress Elizabeth’s bed chamber; and many other incredible rooms.
Just before 11.00am, we had finished our tour and were out on the upper terrace that overlooks the beautiful gardens and the 18th Century fountains, statues, and pavilions. From the top we could see the Great Cascade, the gardens and the canal that leads down to the Baltic Sea. At exactly 11.00, the music started and the spectacle of the fountains of the Great Cascade with the golden statue of Samson overcoming a water-spouting lion, began. The Great Cascade has 80 fountains, 250 sculptures, reliefs and decorative features. We walked down the stairs to the lower level to take more photos of th fountains and wandered through the gardens, before walking along the canal to the Hydrofoil Ferry terminal to catch the hydrofoil back to St Petersburg.
Our overall impression of Peterhoff Place was of opulence with beautiful rooms, lavishly decorated with gold and ornamentation, as well as beautiful gardens and amazing gravity fed fountains. It is easy to see why Peterhoff Palace is referred to as the Russian Versailles.
The buses picked us up from the ferry and brought us back to the ship for a quick ¾ hour lunch break, before we headed off on our next excursion. Each time we come or go from the ship, we have to pass through the Russian immigration office.
Our afternoon excursion was to the State Hermitage Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, and was commissioned in 1764 by Catherine the Great as a winter palace. The museum is located on the banks of the Neva River and is home to more than three million exhibits. Looking at the Hermitage Museum complex from the river from left to right: Hermitage Theatre – Old Hermitage – Small Hermitage – Winter Palace – and the ”New Hermitage” is situated behind the Old Hermitage.
As our group walked from room to room, with Natasha telling us about the interesting sculptures or pieces of art, we quickly took photos and continued to follow her. We have quiet-vox systems, where the guide has the main system with a microphone and our system, which has an ear-piece, automatically tunes in to hers so that she can keep walking and talking and we can hear what she is saying and know when she is leaving the room and going into the next one, or when she turns a corner she can tell us so that we don’t lose her if we have stopped to take photos – great system!
Some of the interesting items that we saw in the Hermitage Museum were: a huge malachite vase; some original Leonardo da Vinci paintings – Madonna with Child with Flower and Madonna with Child, the Little Madonna; Portrait of a Woman by Corregio; Bathsheba in the Bath by Giovanni Battista; a sculpture of The Crouching Boy by Michelangelo; The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt and the amazing Peacock Clock, which is an 18th century gold mechanical peacock and on the hour, its tail comes up and rooster beside it crows.
The number of original paintings and sculptures on exhibition was astounding and to fully appreciate this museum would take many days. The 3 hours that we spent at the Hermitage went very quickly and before we knew it, we were back at Palace Square, which is a huge open area in front of the Hermitage buildings. The Square is bordered by the General Staff buildings and has Alexander’s column in the middle.
We returned to the ship at 5.30pm, passed through immigration and boarded the ship for another quick meal, a shower and got “tarted up” to head out again at 6.45pm for the Hermitage Theatre for a Russian Ballet performance of “Swan Lake”. The Hermitage Theatre was commission by Catherine II in the 18th century – she was well-known for her love of the arts. The seating in the theatre was built in a semi-circular arrangement so that Catherine II could entertain a small number of guests in an intimate environment where everyone could easily see the stage and also each other. The ballet performance and acoustics were very good, however the seats were very uncomfortable.
The buses returned us to the ship at 11.45pm and the dining room staff had a midnight snack ready for us after a wonderful, but exhausting day in St Petersburg!!

2 Responses to “Thursday 20 August St Petersburg (Russia)”

  1. Gail Rounsefell says:

    Laughed when I read about using the vox system and therefore knowing where your guide was. We were using that system in The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and was the reason I got lost. I kept walking and could hear the tour guide but didn’t realise the group had actually stopped. Didn’t do that again! Loving re reading about St Petersburg – what a magnificent place that is. It brings back lots of memories.

  2. sandy says:

    Yes Gail, the Vox systems are good, but you still need to be on your toes a bit! We nearly lost our group at one stage too. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed revising St Petersburg with us. xoxo

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