Day 3 St. Petersburg
The day started quite early and I was the only passenger up on the ship, as I told you yesterday. We had a packed itinerary that started with a 6:45 wake-up call (not that I need it), and buffet breakfast at 7:00. The buses then departed for an-all day whirlwind around Peter.
One side note: Cathy's bag arrived at 3 am and had been placed outside her door. That was one big concern she no longer had to deal with.
Or at least they tried to. We are docked near a large bridge and the bus got slower, and slooower . . . then stopped on the bridge. Our guide, Olga, went on narrating as if this was part of the tour. But the bus wouldn't start. Finally she said the bus was broken and we had to wait for another, and the driver managed to get us over the bridge to a city street.
We waited less than 10 minutes and continued into the city.
St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great around 1700 to be a modern city on par with Amsterdam and Paris. Up until then Russia was considered culturally backwards by Europeans. Actually the many cultures throughout the country were rich in their own rights, but since trade was expanding and the royal houses were looking to Russia for marriage alliances, Peter wanted to modernize and be respected. He also wanted to showcase the abundant natural resources of Russia that the West was eager to get its hand on.
We didn't learn this on the tour, but I did a lot of reading preparing for this trip. I can see that the Peter residents are very proud of the cultural capital of Russia. Our guides often note that Moscow doesn't have the art or the pleasing facades of the buildings here.
Peter the Great brought in builders and architects from everywhere. There is a mix of styles but generally they kind of have a Federal feeling. The colors are pastel and white trim, mostly, with a lot of green, yellow and pink. Many palaces were built but not like in England or France. These are much younger, looking more like museum buildings.
We stopped for pictures a few times, at churches and monuments. And it was cold, I mean, cold. No one needed extra time. The city is a maze of canals connected by the Neva River, which means cold air coming off the Baltic, blowing this way off the gulf from Finland.
We had the obligatory pit stop at a tourist trap selling souvenirs. They offered a free hot drink or shot of vodka. Tim and Cathy liked it, Delores did not. I did not imbibe.
First touring stop was Peter and Paul Fortress. Since it is Russia Day there were a lot of locals along with the hundreds of tour groups like ours. The church was designed by a Catholic, so it is much brighter and more ornate than your typical Russian Orthodox Church. All of the royals are buried here. There are stone sarcophagi, but actually the bodies are deep underground. There is a special room for the last of the tsars, the famous Nicholas and Alexandra who were assassinated in 1917 with all of their children. There is no doubt Anastasia was one of the victims.
As we entered the church their was a huge explosion. Everyone was startled, clutching their chests and exclaiming. It was high noon and a cannon is shot off every day. That got the chatter going.
Next stop was buffet lunch at a hotel that caters to the hundreds of tour groups. It was nice to relax before heading to the highlight tour of the day, the Hermitage.
I don't know what I expected. It's a huge building that Catherine II had built for herself. She sent agents all throughout the world to negotiate purchases of all kinds of classic art, furniture and collector's items. This museum holds a collection considered the finest in Europe.
It would have been nice to really see some of it for more than 90 seconds. We stood in a light rain, very chilly, for a half hour while inside they were trying to figure out where to put thousands of wet coats and umbrellas. There is a gigantic cloak room occupying almost a whole floor but since they don't allow wet coats in the galleries and there were thousands of people, they ran out of room. We had to wait while they debated and they finally let us in, wet gear and all.
Our guide, Olga, was extremely knowledgeable but the crowd was so gigantic we could barely maneuver through the rooms. We saw probably 10% of the highlights. It reminded us of trying to see Versailles. That was more packed and we didn't have a guide, but the sense of being a herd of cattle persisted. Still and all, it was worth it, despite the obstacles.
We returned to the ship for dinner, and then the four of us jumped back on the bus for the river/canal cruise. We were so tired but we had booked it extra, wanting to squeeze out every possible moment. It was informative and gave us a different perspective of the city. I tried to stay outside with a blanket. It was nice at first but so cold, and I had no one to talk to. I went in so the four of us could enjoy it together.
On the bus ride back literally everyone fell asleep except the driver, the guide and maybe three out of the 20 passengers. Long day! We turned in right away.
Tomorrow is our last day here as we finally sail at 5 pm. We bought the optional tour to Pushkin and Peterhof. Tomorrow I'll tell you some of the info we learned about WWII and the Nazi invasion. It touched almost every place we have seen.