Day 7 and 8 – the mystery of st Petersburg

After the beauty of Tallinn we headed off to st Petersburg, Russia. One of the main reasons that I booked this cruise was specificity st Petersburg and I was genuinely excited by seeing it. However I was really worried about going through passport control, Russians are notoriously strict about things and when we walked in and saw the miserable robot like faces we knew it was going to be tense. One couple got pulled out in front of us which only made things worse and eventually it was my turn, we walked up to the window handed our papers to her and nervously waited, she stamped me eventually and I was on Russian soil. The dock we were in is very industrial and lots of soviet era tower blocks greet you when you get off the ship and it is very imposing. I remember goldeneye was filmed in st Petersburg and it did remind me of this as we boarded our coach and headed of to Peterhof palace and gardens. Peterhof is the former home of Peter the great and his family and descendants. The coach trip took about an hour and it was nice driving through the streets seeing the different style of buildings, we managed to see some of the churches and cathedrals along the way and whilst it was hard to see from the coach you could still appreciate the beauty. As we made our way along the motorway the different sides of st Petersburg adorned the skyline. Finally we made it to Peterhof and we met by about 40 coaches, this was gonna be an experience.
We got into the entrance of the palace and queued for ages, what seemed like hundreds of groups in front of us. The organisation by the Russians was not what I had expected, it seemed like they just wanted as many people in as possible. The palace interior is magnificent we weren’t allowed to take photos but you can’t comprehend the amount of gold in every single room, one room is just all gold absolutely everywhere, it is just unreal, the rooms of the palace seemed to be a different theme and it was really nice to see, despite the hoards of Chinese tourists in the group before taking ages, thank god they weren’t taking photos as we would have been there forever. The assistants who worked there weren’t friendly, everything was in Russian so we couldn’t read what was what and they were more interested in moving us along like cattle than letting us appreciate the majesty of things. Eventually we got outside where we could see the gardens and fountains. Our group had one straggler who stayed behind so we stayed by the exit where one of the happy security attendants proceeded to blow his whistle loudly at us until we moved. He was just the typical Russian security, it was really amusing to see him proudly whistling in people’s ears !! The fountains really are stunning, loads of them dotted about everywhere, the actually grounds of Peterhof was something like 230 acres, the only downside to the park was the pickpockets which are always watching you, after walking around for about 4 hours it was time to head back to the ship and the joys of passport control.
By the time we were back onboard we were both hungry so headed to the windjammer for a light (honest) lunch it did seem strange eating and looking at land. Then it was nap time followed by a shower and dinner.
We wanted to stay up late tonight as it was white nights, and we wanted to see how it looked, try also had a band playing on the pool deck as well as a BBQ, so we got our seats early and waited, by this time it was 22:15 and the sun was still shining, after a few cocktails and a hot dog (more food) it was time to watch the sunset at 23:30, it was beautiful but once it had gone down it was still light, we couldn’t believe it, we stayed up until 2 in the morning and it was still daylight, very surreal but very beautiful.
Day 2 arrived and this was our ‘anniversary’ so we preordered breakfast in bed which duly arrived at 8, we had an excursion booked for 12:45 so we could sit and relax, the breakfast was lovely and after we had showered and dressed we made our way for our morning stroll along the decks. We were really looking forward to the excursions today which would take us to three cathedrals. St Isaac’s, st Nicholas and the church of the spilled blood which is situated on the spot where the tsar was assassinated. Passport control was much simpler today as we had shown our immigration passes yesterday we more or less went straight through and boarded the coach. Our guide andreiv only looked about 15 but he was extremely knowledgeable and was the first friendly Russian we had met, we later find our that he was an historian. We arrived at St Isaac’s cathedral along with hundreds of churches and feared the worst like we were going to be paraded through like cattle, however this was not the case. The outside of the church is very imposing but nothing would prepare for what was inside, it was truly amazing, every single piece of wall, ceiling, door you name it was covered in mosaics depicting the life if Christ and the saints, the ceilings were so high that it hurt your neck looking at them but you couldn’t help but,the church held upto 20,000 people in its hay day and we had lots of room to mill around, it’s no longer a working church it’s a museum but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of it, as other groups walked in you could audibly hear them all saying wow. I’m not as religious as Debbie but I can still appreciate the majesty of the church, we had about 30 minutes inside where we could take photos and then walked back to the coach where we were taken to a gift shop and a toilet. The traffic in st Petersburg was horrendous as hey was a economic meeting taking place and the police has closed off some streets, there was police on every street and every junction.
Finally we made our way to st Nicholas which is still a working church, the Russians may be miserable as a race but they do know how to build a church!!, again whilst not as spectacular as st Isaac’s it was still magnificent, it was bright blue in colour and really stood out. We were unable to take photos inside but it was really nice again, our guide bought us a candle for us to light and Debbie showed me what to do. The locals coming in and out all had their heads covered and Debbie did the same, some of our group didn’t bother and I felt that was a little disrespectful but our guide said that because there was no service on they wouldn’t mid, however seeing as we were advised that there was a dress code for the trip some should have shown more class.
From here we were making our way to my highlight the church of the spilled blood, I had seen photos online and it looked truly spectacular, it was 15:50 and the ship was due to leave at 17:30 so we thought we were ok, however a ten minute journey turned into an hour and twenty minutes and people were starting to panic. As this was a ship operated excursion the ship had to wait but some were still worrying we would be left stranded. We made it to the church and only one word can describe it WOW, it really has to be seen to be believed, photos online only give you half a taster of what you see. We only had a quick 10 minutes inside and again, every single piece of the church is covered in mosaics, how they upkeep these buildings is beyond me, some people on the coach stayed on it which was absurd, this church is absolutely outstanding, I can only recommend seeing it or yourself. Religious or not it will take your breath away.
Finally an hour past the time we should have sailed we made it safely to the ship where people were anxiously waiting for us, the Russians didn’t even check us they wanted us gone. Me and Debbie had a dinner reservation at portafino’s the Italian restaurant at half 7 so after a quick wash and change of outfits we made it. Whilst the steak was very nice I was expecting a little more, in all honesty it was no posher than our dining room, but it made a nice change, after a while we retired to the bedroom and after a long eventful excursion it was time for sleep.
My impressions of st Petersburg changed midway through the two days, the places are beautiful, the buildings truly astonishing, the people we met miserable as sin except for our guide who was wonderful. I would come back again though I think as there is so much to see and two days really isn’t long enough, however I would only come back on a cruise not on my own steam!!!

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