St Petersburg

29/06/11

We arrived at St Petersburg in the early hours as we were ‘enjoying’ an early breakfast before were to go on our first tour to Peterhof Palace.

First impression of St Petersburg? I don’t want to live here. It looks so soulless with loads of high rise blocks of flats and featureless landscapes. It was just dreary and grey brightened only by the bright blue sky and promised temperatures of 27c+.

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The next challenge was Russian immigration. I’ve met some surly immigration officials before but none like these. We all had to queue to go though one at a time and pass our passport and papers through a little hole in the kiosk like a child at a sweetie shop. They then checked the passport in every detail, checked  the immigration papers, in every detail.  Cross checked passport with papers in every detail, typed something in on something in their secure little kiosk they were sitting in, stamped the passport and returned it with one half of the immigration for then pressed a switch to let us through the gate. I tried to smile at them, I tried to say hello, I even said thank you but nothing came back. Still, at least I was through. There were 34 on our coach so you can imagine how long it took, even with three kiosks running.

Now then, remember I said that they gave back one half of the immigration paper.Well, we had been told that we must not lose this as to do so would incur a penalty and we would have to give them a full account of what we had been doing, where we had been and how / why we had come to lose it. We didn’t lose it. I guarded those items close than my own wallet.

Having made it through Passport Control, we made our way onto our coach. Not sure when the coach was built but I am fairly confident that both Debbie and I had been born so it wasn’t too old! Actually, it wasn’t that bad, just a bit musty and cramped but it did have air conditioning, of sorts.

So, once we were all sitting comfortably we set off through the city of St Petersburg while our guise gave us a running commentary about the city, and how it was networked with waterways and believed itself to be the Venice of the North and also the City of Love. I shall simply bow to the superior knowledge of our guide on that one. Anyway, we carried on through the City of Love until we at last reached the Peterhof Palace Museum.

I won’t give any details about the Palace except to say that it was originally built as a two storey three wing building before some woman called Catherine came along and another storey and two wings (one either side) and the proceeded to decorate it with the most amazing bling one could imagine. Unfortunately, taking photographs inside the building is absolutely forbidden, also, you can’t touch anything and you have to wear overshoes to protect the floor. And, just in case you had errant ways, there was a surly looking woman in every room and on every corner ready to pounce on any wrongdoer. It is however well worth the visit: It is stunning beyond stunning.

Moving outside there are the gardens with the most amazing statues and ornaments around the most fantastic fountain set up I’ve seen (at least I’ve got some ideas for the paddock).

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Anyway, after all this we had to head back to the ship for a late lunch before we had to get ready for an early dinner before heading back out for an evening boat trip along the waterways of St Petersburg where I sampled some Russian Vodka [it’s very nice and very cheap).

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After we returned from the trip we ‘retired’, again, to the Observatory Lounge for a couple of rather large brandy’s and some light snacks. And then it was off to bed. Tomorrow, still in St Petersburg, we go to visit the Cathedral of Spilt Blood but at least it’s a late start.

30/06/11

We awoke to find we had new neighbours in St Petersburg. While we were asleep two more cruise ships crept in, these being the MSC Orchestra and the Costa Atlantica. This cheered Debbie a bit as she presumed they would be full of Italians (she is a bit of a tart where Italians are concerned). With ourselves and the Jewel of the Seas already in port, this was going to make for a very busy time in town. With each ship effectively despatching 30+ coaches into the early morning rush hours we just knew it was going to be congested. Thank god therefore that we elected for an afternoon tour [to the Cathedral of Spilt Blood]. After a spot of lunch of course.

Now for the educational bit:

The Cathedral was built over the place where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 when a bomb was thrown into his carriage. Where he fell fell and his blood spilt [on the cobblestones] the Cathedral was built while retaining the actual cobblestones where he fell within an alter as a memorial. The building itself is an absolute marvel golden domes, coloured spirals and textured cupolas.

The interior is embellished with over 7000 square meters of mosaics including more than 20 types of semi-precious stones including jasper, rhodonite, porphyry and Italian marble.

That’s the nearest you’ll get to education from me today. The pictures below are just a few samples.

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After visiting the Cathedral, we were awarded some shopping time in a local market where you could buy all manner of genuine Russian artefacts such as Russian Dolls, hats, tableware, etc, etc. A quick look at some of the dolls convinced me that we were not in a good place: they ranged from 1000 to 8000 roubles: In a shop maybe, in a market? no way. But I did find myself a nice little hip flask with the hammer and sickle and CCCP on the side, so I bought that instead. You can imagine my dismay when I got back to the ship, clutching my nice shiny spoils only to see imprinted on the bottom [in English] ‘Stainless Steel’.Obviously, it wasn’t a genuine Russian artefact at all. Boo Hoo.

The journey back to the ship through St Petersburg was interesting. The traffic was a nightmare though I doubt all the coaches from the ship wont have helped, but at least we got a chance to see the town in a little more detail and the better side of town at that. As I said, it was interesting: while earlier the town seemed very drab, grey and uninviting, now it was very much the opposite, with MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and Irish Bars plus well know high street stores such as Zara and Ikea. And here, the traffic consisted of new Merc’s, Range Rovers, Porsche, Land Cruisers, etc. there was even the occasional Roller and Ferrari. This was a stark contrast to the fading, ageing Opels, Lada’s, Moskvitch’s, etc. Eventually however the journey ended and we had to leave the coach and face the Russian Passport Control.

What a miserable bunch of buggers they are.

I’m sure they are deliberately slow just to annoy us. They seem to check everything before grunting and pressing a button to let you through. Either they want tourists or they don’t. If they do, will somebody tell them it’s not a sign of weakness to smile.

At last, we got back on board, so we headed to the bar for a much needed drink and something to eat, just to see us through to Dinner. We then retired to our cabin for a rest and a pre-dinner brandy. Sitting out on the balcony, watching the Italian ships leave (not before time) we were entertained by the sight of couple of military aircraft who seemed to be practicing for an air display. I’m tempted to say they were Migs but that’s only because I don’t know otherwise and I certainly don’t know how to spell any of the other types. But they were good what ever they were, doing loops and cross over’s, laying smoke trails and formation fly by’s. All too soon it was over and so we had to get ready for our evening meal which was to be washed down with a rather nice bottle of a Spanish White Rioca.

After dinner we ‘retired’, again, to the Observatory Lounge for a couple of rather large brandy’s. I’m afraid we stayed a little later than planned as we were deceived by the lightness of the evening. Sunset was at 23:31 and at 00:30 it was still light (sunrise by the way was to be at 04:01). Eventually however, we realised the time and off we went to bed. At least tomorrow, as today, our excursion was an afternoon one so we could have a lie in.

Maybe, I’ll lose some weight tomorrow. Maybe: Just Maybe!

01/07/11

Today was the third and final day in St Petersburg and you know, despite all my moaning and protestations about Russia and the, apparent, surliness, I have really enjoyed the visit and have found the tours really interesting. I know some of the tours may have been a little long but overall, I would definitely recommend the trip to anyone and would even come again. Maybe next time, it might be possible to arrange an overnight excursion to Moscow. Hint to Uncle Fred Olsen.:-)

So, this being the last chance to go ashore in Russia, we naturally stayed on board in the morning which allowed us the luxury of a leisurely breakfast while most of the passengers were already ashore. It also allowed us time to check out our new neighbours. Having  got rid of the Italians yesterday, we awoke to find The Emerald Princess and the Crystal Serenity had moved in. There was also another ship called the Gemini but it wasn’t one I’d heard of so it was of no consequence.

After lunch, which we knew would need, we (Nick & I) set off to check out the Yusupov Palace while Debbie and her Mum went off souvenir shopping, cash & credit card at the ready.

Now for the educational bit:

Yusupov Palace was where Rasputin the ‘Mad Monk’ finally met his untimely end. Nicholas II and his wife Alexandria saw Rasputin as a Holy Man who had been sent by God to protect their boy Alexis (heir to the throne). This was because he was the only person who could apparently stop their sons bleeding (he suffered from haemophilia).After a while however, there became an underlying air of concern that Rasputin was too close to the family and as such held potentially too much power.  Given these concerns, a group of aristocrats in league with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (a cousin of Nicholas II) and Prince Felix Yusupov got together in 1916 to ‘save Russia’ by assassinating Rasputin by meeting him for a drink and for his to be laced with Cyanide. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that Cyanide was neutralised by the drink they put it in!

The images below show the recreation of the room under the Palace where the assassins waited for Rasputin to die after being [unsuccessfully] poisoned with Cyanide and then shot at point blank range.

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Even the shot failed as Rasputin managed to get out of the room and into the courtyard before being shot again. This time, satisfied the monk was dead, they wrapped him in a blanket and through him into the river. Unfortunately, they forgot to weigh him down and he was discovered two days later (he was definitely dead by this time). After the body was retrieved, the doctors performed an autopsy and found that there was water in his lungs indicating that he did in fact eventually die from drowning.

The images below are just a few samples of the Yusupov Palace. The Palace, located on the Moika Embankment is seen as a fine example of Russian Classicism influenced further by it’s owners, the Yusupov Princes. The Princes were indeed wealthy and comparable to that of the Romanovs. They were great collectors of art although most of what is now in the Yusupov Palace are in fact replicas with the originals having been relocated to the Hermitage after the revolution.

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Anyway, tour over, we had 20 minutes to browse the adjoining souvenir shop for making those last minute essential purchases. Knowing that Debbie was already hunting down those items we never knew we needed, I opted to buy a book on St Petersburg plus a cheap Russian Doll, decorated for Christmas (you can never be too prepared for the festive season) and some nice Russian Chocolate for any little people we may see when we get back home.

When I got back to the ship and showed my bounty to She Who Must be Ignored, I mean, Obeyed, she enquired as to why I had bought another book on St Petersburg, showing me the identical book I had bought yesterday (oops, another senior moment methinks). As for the chocolate, well that was met with approval and of the four bars purchased, only one now remains. She didn’t think much of my doll saying that it looked strangely evil and cheap, which actually it was (cheap that is): It was only 180 Roubles which is about £4 so I couldn’t argue that it was cheap. Her doll however was exactly the blooming opposite. Hers cost 6000 Roubles which worked out to be, a_lot more than mine.

After this, Smug Debbie and Dejected Moi, went up to the Sun Deck for a drink and a sticky bun. While there we enjoyed the Sail Away party where free drinks were flowing freely the music was playing and the crew were dancing. Now bearing in mind that all this was taking place around the pool, the inevitable was inevitable and sure enough one of the crew went in the pool. Better still, he was followed by the Cruise Director. Unfortunately, her blouse was inappropriate wear for being in the pool but luckily some concerned passengers offered her towels to cover herself. Still it was all in good humour. Eventually, as the Balmoral sailed onwards, St Petersburg disappeared over the horizon and all went off to prepare for Dinner.

Dinner itself was well received and made all the more enjoyable in the knowledge that we had to put our clocks back 1-hour so getting an extra hours sleep. Yippee.

After dinner we ‘retired’, again, to the Observatory Lounge for a couple of rather large brandy’s safe in the knowledge that we had an extra hours sleep but forgetting that tomorrow brought us to Tallinn in Estonia and an early start for our tours. Eventually however, we realised and off we went to bed.

Did I lose weight today? Did I heck. Maybe, I’ll lose some tomorrow. Then again, maybe I wont!

Go To Tallin >>>>

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