25.07.2011 - 25.07.2011 30 °C
Early this morning we neared the port of St. Petersburg to find that the Baltic Sea cruise business is alive and well in this Russian city. Already in post were the Emerald Princess, Regent Seven Seas and a European cruise ship. Right behind us was RCCL’s Vision of the Seas. Once we got to the center of tT. Petersburg we saw four more ships; The World (where you own your cabin and travel where the ship happens to be), Seabourn, Azamara’s Quest and an AMA Waterway river boat. Talk about a busy day for tour operators. My best guess was there was over 10,000 cruise passengers adding to the 5.5 million people who live in St. Petersburg.
Safely docked it was time to meet the renowned unfriendly Soviet Customs and Immigration Agent. No welcome to Russia, no smile, no conversation. Just a strong glance to make sure you looked vaguely like your passport photo, a stamp in your passport and we were in! Off to meet Eugene, our SPb Tour guide for the next two days. I had arranged this two day tour for a number of reasons, mostly financial. The cruise line shore excursions are costly and no-one is allowed off the ship to tour by themselves. We were fortunate enough to be added to a group to make the 16 travellers for the next two days. I am sure there could be some inherent issues – such as not liking the other 14 travellers but for us this was not the case. We had a couple from New Zealand, one from Australia and ourselves to represent the Commonwealth. In addition, we had 5 other couples from various locations in the U.S. The best part of travelling with a group of 16 is that everything is much more efficient. Bathroom breaks take less time, hearding 16 in the long lines of tourists are easier, etc.
Now on to our day – we squeezed (literally – there is NO leg room on small Russian tour buses) into our seats were off for our first stop – a photo stop at the central part of St. Petersburg. This is a city that was designed to resemble Venice and Amsterdam. Canals and bridges abound here.
On to Catherine’s Palace and the famous Amber Room. This palace and surrounding 250 acres is located a 45 minute drive from St. Petersburg. In the days off the tsars this would have taken three days of hard travelling – we made it in about 45 minutes. Enroute and leaving the city Eugene showed us some of the city sites from the bus. The palace has been mostly restored since the destruction by the Nazis in the 1940s. It is absolutely ‘goosebumpy’ to think and see the pictures of how the Nazis desecrated such a masterpiece. The Amber Room was nothing like I had been expecting – each wall in the room is covered in Amber from Russia – 6 tonnes in all. Well it is not how I would decorate my house it was breathtaking.
From Catherine’s Palace we travelled to Peterhof – Peter’s Palace. It seems that Catherine didn’t like water and Peter did so he built his own palace which offers fountains galore. It is a great place for a stroll and walk in the park. If you need cooling off you can participate in the water fountain which goes off three times a day and gets everyone soaked. With the hot weather of the day it was a welcome activity for some.
A 30 minute hydrofoil brought us back to St. Petersburg where Eugene kindly deposited us at the ship. Knackered from the day we had a quiet night on the ship – choosing not to partake in the vodka fuelled folklore night. From all accounts this is a great thing to do while in St. Petersburg – oh well, there is always next time!