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St. Petersburg

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Sunday, 17 May 2009 | Views [416]

We docked in St. Petersburg on Sunday morning.  Before leaving the states we had checked out information on Visas and found that it was quite expensive and time consuming to get one on our own.  So we figured the  best way to visit Russia was to be on a tour sponsored by a Russian company or go on one of the many tours that the ship had to offer.  We decided on the latter.  Along with us, the other 2035 passengers also had tours.  We tried to choose wisely, taking only tours that rated the highest in “fitness” level (the highest rating was three stars).  Of course, to the elderly this definition was all over the place.  Our first tour, 8 hours, consisted of taking a bus to Peterhof (Named after Czar Pete the great, a palace belonging to his daughter Elizabeth), a ferry ride back to the city (we were about 1 ½ hours away via bus), a tour of the city, shopping (they slip this in whenever possible), a visit to the Church of the Spilled Blood (Czar Alex was murdered at this spot by the river by “terrorists” – the exact whom the heck they were speaking of was never clear), and then a trip to taste Vodka (my favorite: Cranberry, Horseradish and “Siberian” nut – gotta love that last one…who knew they grew nuts in Siberia!). It left us very compliant and willing to tip at the end of the tour!  Our fellow passengers were on the youngish side (no wheel chair, cane brandishing, rolly walker sitdown on it thingie older folks) and quite nice (no snorting, talking loudly, rude behavior or burping).  The palace was fantastic (see pics of yellow palace).  The Russian people are a very interesting lot.  Everywhere you look there are lines forming, they really love lines.  We got into the palace, had to check our coats (they insisted on this) got in line for the bathroom, then got to go through a turn style.  Our guide was there to make sure we did it all properly but unfortunately one of the other groups people went through with us which left the counter on the turn style out of whack (instead of 21 people we had 22) so our guide spent the next half hour yelling back and forth with the person in charge before they decided to send us all back through turn style until the count was the same as on the piece of paper ….a very stereotypical Russian experience!   

The architecture all over the city is something to behold.  To me, it was a mix between Paris and Venice.  The details were incredible, the statuary was amazing – there were even two sphinx on the side of one of the canals that were original.  Everywhere you looked was incredible.  The Church of the Spilled blood was actually built after the murder of Alexander on the exact spot  where he died.  The inside was wall to wall religious mosaics, lots of gold. 

The next day, another early riser, we had two tours.  The first trip was to Catherine the Greats summer palace.  It is in the town of Pushkin, very pretty, in the countryside (Trivial fact: 70% of Russians own a summer “home” –not sure of their definition of “home” - and have since the 60’s).  The inside was spectacular and you could see the French influence everywhere.  The second tour consisted of going down into the metro (deepest in the world).  Considering that St.Pete’s is built on a swamp it was pretty amazing that they even attempted it.  It was first begun by Stalin.  He wanted it to be the people’s palace and that is exactly what he did.  It is all marble, gold and lots of statues down there.  Most of the Russian people use it for daily transport.  We also were able to go into a grocery store and to a market (much like the states).  The interesting fact is that we always had to be with our guide and were not allowed to wonder at will.  The Russians have come a long way but you can still see the soviet influence everywhere.  There are no single family homes in the city, only billions of apartment buildings.  Quite a few of these are brand new and quite fancy others are soviet era and look like they need to be bulldozed down.  The guides all spoke freely of the changes that have occurred in the last 18 years and are quite proud of where their country is today.  Hopefully, we will never have even the slightest bit of government regulations that are imposed on their daily life but I do see glimpses of it coming our way.

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