One of the ports on our 11 day Baltic Sea Cruise was Saint Petersburg, Russia. To be honest, it was never on my travel bucket list, I didn’t know much about it. We booked the trip last minute so I could see my niece and her boyfriend preform on the ship. They both got jobs as entertainers and this cruise was one of the itineraries during their 9 month contract. I started digging in a bit and somehow convinced my husband to send our daughter and me.
To prepare for this port I watched The Last Czars series on Netflix. It was really well done and fairly accurate according to people who know more about Russian History than me (nearly everyone). Saint Petersburg featured prominently in the series as it was the capitol of the Russian Empire from 1712 – 1918. Nicholas II was the last Czar of the Russian Empire, he ruled from November of 1894 until he abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917. Spoiler – he was a shitty Czar. Whether that was due to malice, ignorance or ineptitude is up to debate, perhaps a toxic mix of all three. If you plan to visit or just need something to binge watch, I recommend the series (Netflix feel free to send me something for the plug).
With my newfound interest, I decided to book a tour during our two day stop in Saint Petersburg. After stalking cruise experts online and reading dozens of reviews, I went with the Grand Group Tour with Alla Tours. The group sizes were much smaller than the ship excursions and the prices were better with similar itineraries.
The morning we arrived in Russia I was a bit nervous. I grew up during the Cold War, Russia was enemy #1 for a big chunk of my youth and let’s face it, they get bad press on the regular – land grabs, election rigging, poisonings, scary stuff. So I open the curtain to my cabin balcony and THIS greets me –
Russia is that a missel or are you just happy to see me?
That was a bit intimidating…according to our guide, Roman, it is an 87 story sky scrapper (not a scraper, a scrapper) which is owned by a petroleum company. Oh and Roman said it looked like a corn husk. Roman also said the Crimea land grab was fake news so draw your own conclusions.
Our first stop was the Palace Square which features the Alexander Column, the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building. It was gorgeous and we got a clear morning which is rare as SP only averages 60 sunny days a year.
Winter Palace completed in 1762 was the first building constructed in the square and became the primary residence of Russian Czars. While visiting the Palace Square we ducked into a souvenir shop which, immediately offered Russian wine and vodka to all the customers, it was 8am (slurs speech, it’s 5pm somewhere Ruskii). My daughter tried on those big furry Russian hats, eyed the Faberge eggs and ultimately fell in love with this Russian nesting doll –
I didn’t buy it at the time because $45 seemed outrageous. Then when we got home I found it on Amazon so, someone will get this at Christmas….shhhh.
The Hermitage (1764) was our next stop, the place is infested with gold and precious works of art. We had the good fortune to see works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and countless other artists at a mind numbing pace.
Danae, Rembrandt (1636 w/later revisions). This painting was seriously damaged in 1985 when some jackass threw acid on it. Extensive restoration and repair were done with some of the damage left intact so as not to entirely redo the painting.
After a couple of hours, my daughter was going numb from the barrage of information so she started to amuse herself by photo-shopping Michael Jackson’s head on famous works of art. I thought it was genius.
After the Hermitage we went to a restaurant for lunch which consisted of Borscht and Chicken Kiev. I enjoyed it, DD is not a fan of beet soup but she tried it and the chicken was better received. We were given pastries with a cream inside as dessert, yum. Next stop was the Peter & Paul Fortress and Cathedral.
The Cathedral featured the remains of the Romanov Family, including Nicholas II the last Czar. Their bodies were not interned until 1998 with the exception of Prince Alexei (born as heir to the Czar) and Princess Maria. The remains suspected to be of Alexei and Maria were not discovered until 2007. These bone fragments have since been tested and identified as the missing Romanovs though the Orthodox Church has not yet interned them with the rest of their family. The entire family was murdered in July of 1918 after being held captive by the Red Army in the city of Yekaterinburg (pssst…watch the series, you will not be bored).
We finished the day with a trip to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin. It was exhausting, crowded and monotonous – gold, mirrors, chandeliers, hall, followed by more gold, priceless antiques, rare works of art and yes, more gold. Keep in mind this Palace, along with the other cites we visited had extensive renovations after being devastated in World War II. I kept thinking of the people that went hungry while all this gold was being brushed on for the renovation. Here’s the backyard –
…and more gold for the road, stay tuned for the rest of St Petersburgh!