Monday, July 5, 2010
St Petersburg Russia Day#1
St Petersburg from cruise—Day#1. The Venice of the North July 4, 2010
Here is a primer on St Petersburg.
Tsar Peter the Great hated Moscow (traumatized as a child by attempted coup). He loved the sea. He embarked on a lengthy tour of Western Europe where he learned their “modern ways and culture”. He sharpened his knowledge of ship building in the Netherlands, and learned about naval and military affairs from England. 300 years ago, he decided to build a new, modern capital city—a paradise on earth---on the water. He built it on the swampy Neva River. His goal was to build a city with European grandeur: imperial gold palaces, canals, attractive bridges, broad boulevards, candlelit cathedrals, lush gardens and parks, and impressive monuments that rivaled the best of the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria and others. The city covers more than 40 islands, many connected by bridges adorned with sculptures and wrought iron. Peter also transformed society so that it conformed to more modern western standards. For example, he banned the boyars from wearing beards. The result: A stunning planned city of opulence, beauty, and order.
Day #1 St Petersburg
Instead of taking the ships tours, I explored private tour options with reputable local tour companies.
I selected SPB Tours, the company with whom I toured Berlin. I would hire them again! I prefer touring in small groups and the price is typically 1/3 to ½ less than the cruise ship’s tours.
The itinerary was packed with important city highlights. The tour guide, Maria Malakhova, firstname.lastname@example.org, was excellent. (her English was impeccable although she had never studied outside of Russia and she was certified to give tours on many topics, including 8-hour tours of the Hermitage). She kept us on track, shared valuable information, and was very professional.
We crammed into 1 day what many others would include in a 3-day visit. The same was in store for us Day#2.
--Ist we took a Subway ride. (Tech Institute stop) Because it was Sunday, it was not very crowded. I would never survive here alone because the Russian Alphabet is not recognizable to me. She took us into modern, beautifully-adorned stations.
--Next, we toured the opulent Catherine’s Palace with the famed Amber Room—a room completely covered in amber, even the ceiling. Unfortunately, the Nazis raided most of Russia’s treasured palaces and had even bombed Catherine’s Palace. After WWII, futile attempts were made to locate the amber panels; eventually, Russia restored them in a decade’s long project.
--Lunch-buffet lunch with lots of potatoes and pickled items. Nothing to write home about.
--Hermitage Museum--Known for its Rembrandts, Leonardos, Goyas, Raphaels and others, it is a vast museum that holds 3 million exhibits from paintings and sculpture to archeological finds. Our tour guide whisked us past the 3-hour long line right into The Hermitage. It is a collection of buildings on the Neva that include the original Winter Palace (it out-does Versailles). Every room was meticulously designed to complement the works it holds.
--Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral of Peter and Paul—the date on which construction began (1703) is celebrated as the birth date of St Petersburg. The fortress served primarily as a political prison. Even Peter’s son (Alexi, who was later executed for treason) was imprisoned here.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is adorned by single, gilded spire whose height made the church the city’s tallest building for more than 2 centuries. Apparently, the pulpit was used only once-- to excommunicate Leo Tolstoy for his denouncement of the Russian Orthodox Church. The cathedral houses the tombs of all the Russian Tsars. They are tastefully laid out inside marble and gilded tombs
Next to the church is a boat house that holds a model of Peter’s childhood boat.
What a busy, enlightening day, in a city that is a feast for the eyes. We had record-breaking sunshine and warm temperatures (in the 80s). Russians were lying out sunbathing all along the P&P Fortress. The sunshine had everyone smiling. It was the 3rd continuous day of sunshine in St Petersburg. Maria told us this NEVER happens.
I must say: I did not feel I was in an oppressive environment. I also realize I was receiving VIP treatment as a welcomed (and Visa-registered) tourist.
I couldn’t wait for day#2 of our St Petersburg journey.
Places Where I Have Traveled *=more than once
- United Arab Emirates
- Viet Nam
- Grand Canyon
- Niagara Falls
- France* lived there
- Bilbao, Spain*
- Costa Rica
- Banff Hot Springs
- Catalina Island
- St Johns
- St Marteen/St Martin
- St Thomas
- South Padre Island Texas
- Vatican City*
- Taj Mahal
- Pyramids at Giza
- Climbed Great Wall of China
- Smithsonian Museums-DC
- Wailing Wall-Jerusalem
- Burj Kalifa in Dubai
- Toured Ancient City of Petra, Jordan
- Transited Panama Canal
- Transited Suez Canal
- Subway in Russia
- Visted 21 Countries on 5 long cruises in 2012
- St Pat's Day Parade in Dublin
- Ceviche in Peru
- Saw Lamas in Lima
- Vasa Museum-Stockholm
- Buddhist Monastery in Viet Nam
- Drove Amalfi Coast
- Queen Mary 2
- Rio for Carnivale 2X
- Berlin Wall
- Mummies In Cairo Museum
- Jordan River; Sea of Galilee
- Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Luxor at Sunrise
- Transited the Pirate-Infested Gulf of Aden
- Ski Dubai
- Fellucca Ride on the Nile at Sunset
- Cremation Service in Bali
- 16-day Europe/Transatlantic on Queen Victoria
- Tahrir Square-Cairo
- Toured Pompeii
- In Fashion Show Aboard Queen Victoria
- Rode Elephants in Thailand and India
- 7-Country Baltic Cruise
- Hermitage Museum
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Transatlantic Crossing on QM2
- Climbed Tikal in Guatemala
- Mediterranean Cruise 6 countries
- Audience with Swami in Rishikesh, India
- Poetry Class in France
- Kissed Blarney Stone
- Pike's Fish Market in Seattle
- Photo with Snake Charmer in India
- Dacau near Munich
- Hitchhiked from France to Scotland
- Climbed Washington Monument in DC
- Oktoberfest in Bavaria
- Toured Panama Canal
- Wine Country in France, California and many others
- Guest of Placido Domingo in Chicago
- The Alamo
- United Nations
- San Diego Zoo
- Helicopter over Grand Canyon
- Club Med in Cancun
- Eurailpassed Twice Thru Europe
- Albuquerque Hot-Air Balloon Festival
- Rodeo in Dallas/Ft Worth
- NCAA Playoffs in Charlotte and New Orleans
- Cucchi Tunnels in Viet Nam
- Grammys in New York
- Paella in Spain
- Rain Forest in Costa Rica
- Xmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on 5th Avenue
- Niagara Falls
- Disney Land & Disney World
- Voodoo Museum New Orleans
- Cancun Jazz Festival
- Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica
- Las Vegas for Trade Shows
- Key West for Hemmingway Festival
- Art Classes in Louvre
- Black Ski Summit in Vail and Colorado Springs
- Texas State Fair
- Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- Italian Class in France
- Nude Sunbathing in St Marteen
- Danish Pastry in Denmark
- Palace of Knossos Crete
- Anne Frank House Amsterdam
- Karaoke in Japan
- Leaning Tower of Pisa
- Lobster in Maine