We had an 8.45am start but knew that getting through immigration would take a long time. We got off the ship about 8.20am and queued for what seemed an eternity. Eventually it was my turn. My face was studied and there was a few taps on the keyboard. Passport looked at, more typing. Finally my tour ticket which acted as a visa and even more typing. Scribbling on a piece of paper and I was through. I had an immigration form in my passport but it was all in Russian so I have no idea what it said. We had plenty of time in the end and found our guide Katariina but known as Kate. We were rather shocked, nicely so, by the fact that there was only 8 of us on our tour! Some of the ships tours had 40+ on them.
We discovered that May 27th is St. Petersburg’s birthday and, as such, was a holiday.
Our first stop was a boat ride on the canals. Built across the marshlands of the Neva River delta, St. Petersburg is interlaced with around a hundred tributaries and canals with a total length of 300 kilometres and over 800 bridges crossing them. The boat was full and I ended up sitting facing the wrong way so really didn’t get to see very much. What we did see though were the two Rostral Towers. For over two centuries, they have formed an integral part of the city's central panorama over the River Neva, and are particularly impressive on major public holidays, when torches are lit on top of them and with it being the city’s birthday we were able to see them lit up. The other date they are lit is January 27th which was when The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade was lifted in 1944. The siege was a military blockade undertaken mainly by the German Army and started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed. Although the Soviets managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was only lifted on 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began.
We then walked to Palace Square – the home of the Winter Palace. There was going to be a big concert in the square in the evening which made taking photographs rather difficult.
However we weren’t going into the Winter Palace and turned round to see General Staff Building, which is part of the Hermitage Museum, where we were going to see French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Our guide had a degree in the History of Art so we knew she would be knowledgeable.
I’m not a great art lover but it was quite something to see works by so many famous artists. Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. I took lots of photos but I shan’t bore you with all of them! Here are a couple that I particularly liked. The first is Lady in the Garden by Monet and second is The Red Room by Matisse.
The General Staff Building itself is very interesting – old but modern.
Next it was our first Russian meal – chicken soup, chicken stroganoff. I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dessert!
After lunch we did get to visit the Winter Palace. This was our first encounter with gold! We would go into one room and go Wow, then the next room would be WOW but by the third we had got used to the opulence of the Palace. I’ll let the photos talk for themselves.
We also saw some Old Masters – Rembrandt, Van Rijn, Da Vinci and Raphael to name a few.
Next stop was The Church on the Spilled Blood. This church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage. The church was built between 1883 and 1907. The outside is fantastic but I was a bit disappointed by the inside. I guess I had seen too much gold earlier!
Our last stop for the day was St. Isaacs Cathedral. This was nothing from the outside but the inside was the biggest WOW of the day!! The Cathedral was originally the city's main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. It was built between 1818 and 1858 and was one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. Sadly the gilded dome was under tarpaulin.
It was almost 6pm when we returned to the cruise port and we were met by another queue of weary passengers waiting to go through immigration. This time the hold up was due to the white immigration papers being examined again and then taken away. Eventually we were back on the ship and totally knackered! We decided to go straight up to the Oceanview Café and have our dinner before going back to our cabins and collapsing. Sadly there was only one performance of the show tonight which was at 10.30pm – much too late for us!
"Life is so simple just add water" nautical saying