Our next stop on our awesome cruise was St. Petersburg, Russia! This was a two-day adventure and both will be included in this post.
With this particular country, as I’m sure you can guess, we couldn’t just show up like the other countries. There are a few ways we would be allowed into the country.
- Get a visa on your own
- Set up a tour with your cruise line – they’ll take care of your entrance in
- Find an approved off-cruise touring company – they’ll take care of your entrance in
We decided to go with option #3. The first one would probably take too long. The second option was pricier and with a larger group. Choosing the third option (we used a company called SPB Tours) was such a great decision. There were about twelve of us with a wonderful tour guide and an awesome driver!
- Arrival: 15/08/17 – 7:00am
- Departure: 16/08/17 – 5:30pm
- Port: Port Marine Facade Terminal 2 – Pier 5
Tuesday, 15 August 2017:
In our touring van, we first stopped to take some pictures at the Quay with Sphinxes at the Bolshaya Neva River. There you can find two ancient sphinxes that were brought from Egypt in 1832 during the Egyptomania. Egyptomania was a period of time in the 19th century when there was a renewed interest in ancient Egypt by the Europeans due to Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign.
These sphinxes are about 3500 years old! So crazy!
Us on the Bolshaya Neva River!
Afterwards, we made a quick stop at a souvenir shop where they had free chocolates! Oh, and some Russian Vodka. I obviously focused on the treats, but here we are!
In this shop, it was so cool to see all the Matryoshka (Nesting Dolls) on the walls! This common staple of the country is said to be originally from Japan. However, the Japanese have openly admitted that a Russian monk carved and painted the first Matryoshka dolls. Either way, we got a set!
One of the things that kind of surprised me about Russia was their Metro stations. I’m used to metro stations that are dank, stuffy, dark, plain, and sometimes icky, but the metro in Russia…one word – wow!
Look at the details on the poles in the above picture! So crazy!
It’s was so clean and beautifully decorated. Our tour guide told us that people know to respect and keep the metro clean. If someone drops something, it’s picked up immediately unlike other places where litter would just be left.
There are even mosaics! This one in particular is in remembrance of the ending of WWII.
After this quick stop we went to see the gardens of the Peterhof Palace, which is a series of palaces and gardens in the town of Petergof. The palace is sometimes referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. Along with the city center, the Peterhof Palace is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I found the history of Peter the Great very interesting. He held fourteen different professions, including making his own shoes! Talk about having multiple skills! What was even more interesting was the fact that this great leader did not prefer big houses, but rather small ones.
He saw Versailles in Paris and desired to recreate one in the Baltics. Hence why his gardens are sometimes referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. He began looking for a good place for this grand garden. He found this swampy area and was able to envision a gorgeous garden.
None of the fountains in this garden actually have a pump!
All of the water for the fountains comes from higher elevation sources, which was insane for us to think about considering how elaborate some of them were. At the time during the tour, no explanation was given, so let’s just say we spent some time debating on how this would work, lol.
At this point, it was time for some Russian lunch. In these gardens, there are a few different quick places to eat. We went to Cafe Brynza, where they served traditional cheburek. Cheburek is a huge fried dough pocket filled with minced meats and cheese. We grabbed a couple of them, and they were delicious!
Look at these two versions of the menu. The one on the right is legit Russian and the left one is the translated version. Their alphabet is so interesting.
After lunch, we headed toward the Upper Gardens of the Peterhof. Just like the Lower Gardens, the fountains don’t use any pumps. And they’re so pretty!
And here we are!
Peter the Great seemed like a fun character. He had a road built in his gardens called the “Trick Fountain Water Road”. It is basically a part of the road where water will randomly squirt out and wet anyone walking by! According to our tour guide, Peter built this part of the garden because he thought it would be funny for unsuspecting people to get wet randomly, lol.
There was also a small section of the gardens that is popular among children. Walking over some roots, there is another unsuspecting area where its visitors can unexpectedly get wet . Unlike the paved road, I found walking/running along the wet roots more dangerous…let’s just say we avoided walking through this area and simply walked around.
Here are some of the unique water features in this section of the gardens:
Even with its serenity, it was clear that Peter the Great had a playful side. The garden was lovely and it would be easy to spend hours upon hours here.
Following the gardens, we headed to downtown St. Petersburg, where the Peter and Paul Fortress can be found. It was built for protecting the city in a typical fortress style. Inside its walls is where they kept their prisoners.
Right inside the fortress, there is the Peter and Paul Cathedral. This is where many tombs of past kings and emperors are kept. It was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great.
Inside this cathedral is simply beautiful:
What I found interesting was the last Russian tsar Nicholas, his wife, and children are buried here. His youngest child was none other than Anastasia.
The tsar’s family was executed in 1918 due to increased public hostility during World War I. However, it was claimed that they found neither Anastasia’s body nor her brother’s. As late as 2007, DNA testing proved that the two siblings’ bodies were found at another grave location. Her body, along with the rest of her family, was brought to the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
Throughout the years, people have adapted several plays, books, and movies depicting where they thought Anastasia’s whereabouts were during her disappearance. When I watched the Disney version of Anastasia as a child, I didn’t actually realize that it was based on true events.
This where Anastasia and her family are buried:
Our final stop for the day was The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood (commonly called just the Church on Spilled Blood).
On the grounds of this church, prior to it being church, was the place where Emperor Alexander II was wounded causing his eventual death after eight attempts on his life. The reason for his assassination was an attempt to end Russia’s tsarist rule by the group called “People’s Will”. Eight times, though…geez.
The last attempt happened when a bomb was thrown onto his carriage. Surprisingly, he was unharmed from the bomb attack because the carriage was armored. The emperor saw a hurt boy and tried to help him. That was the point at which the tsar was mortally injured (by another bomb). He died hours later.
Afterwards, Alexander III decided a church should be built on the very spot that Alexander II was wounded.
And here is that spot:
Inside the church, there are mosaics galore.
The pictures don’t do it justice. The entire inside of the massive church is decorated with these extremely detailed mosaics. Here are some closeups of them:
And here we are right outside The Church on the Spilled Blood.
We returned to the ship to relax, saw a fabulous show of authentic Russian folkdance, and had dinner. The nice part of this night was we didn’t have to prepare for anything for the next day because our tour guide would take care of everything.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017:
On our second day in St. Petersburg, we visited a couple of sites before we had to say goodbye to Russia. The first place we visited was Catherine’s Hermitage in Palace Square. This was used as the Winter Palace for the royal family. Catherine II, or Catherine the Great, was Peter III’s wife and she became the longest-ruling female leader.
This Empress accumulated a large collection of paintings around the world and held her collection in this winter palace. Due to its extravagance and wonderful art collection, this palace became more than just a place for the royal family to live. It became a staple in Palace Square. Shows, masquerades, and ceremonies/receptions for the government were held in the Hermitage.
This palace, with some restoration, is in its original state!
Catherine the Great was proud of her enormous art collection. It continued to grow as the years passed. It grew so much that the collection became too large for the palace and an addition had to be added.
We quickly learned that Catherine really had a particular taste. She liked the frescos of Vatican City so much that she wanted them to be mimicked in her hermitage. After getting permission from the religious leaders, Catherine had it copied piece by piece here.
In addition to artwork, she had a theater built for her enjoyment. I was highly impressed to learn that this Empress actually wrote two operas and they were performed for her in her theater.
Here are some pictures of the Hermitage’s inside:
Look at the amazing floors this palace has!
One of the interesting pieces in this palace is the Peacock Clock below. Made in the mid-18th century, Catherine the Great preferred the clock to be in her summer palace. It was moved to the Winter Palace (the Hermitage) when Catherine passed away.
After some restoration, the clock still functions today – at every hour, the peacock, rooster, and owl move in different ways to announce the time.
Toward the end of our visit here, we saw the biggest vase in the world that is carved from one stone. It is called the Kolyvan Vase, weighs nineteen tons, and is 2.57 m (~8.43 ft) high. It took stone-cutters almost fourteen years to complete it! That’s such a long time! It was placed within the Hermitage while the palace was still being built.
At this point, like in most museums, we were getting pretty tired. With this and the amount of people accumulating, we decided it was time to move on.
Now was the point when we also needed to rejuvenate with some food! We went to a local mall and ate at a place called Teremok. We had the traditional блины (Bliny), a crepe-like pancake stuffed with something either savory or sweet, and Сырники (Syrniki), which are basically small cheesecake bites. It was pretty good.
Our last part of our trip was Catherine Palace. The namesake of this palace was Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great.
The outside needs to be repainted constantly due to harsh weather in Russia. In fact, we could easily smell paint in a section of this grand palace as we walked toward the entrance. Another interesting point: this palace had to be restored due to a fire in 1820.
And here’s us, of course!
There is great care in keeping this palace in tip-top shape. So much so that we had to wear these little booties while we walked around!
Here is some of the palace from the inside:
As we made our way around the palace, we followed the crowd to the Amber Room. This room is in dedication and a replica of Catherine’s collection of amber. The original Amber Room was constructed in the 18th century in Prussia. On a visit, Peter the Great admired the room and the King of Prussia gave the room as a gift to Peter to symbolize the two countries alliance. In several shipments, all the amber was moved to Russia; first to the Winter Palace, then to Catherine’s Palace. However, during World War II, the Nazis were ordered by Hilter to loot the room. Though the family tried to hide the amber behind wallpaper, the Nazis weren’t fooled.
Now, without our tour guide we would have never known about the existence of this room. We went to go see it and after waiting in a steamy hot room in a ridiculously long line, it was decided among the group (some voices louder than others) that we would leave the line and head back to the ship because it was starting to get late. There was a worry of not being able to make it back in time before the ship would leave, with us stranded in Russia. We ended up making it back with a ton of time left…but hindsight is 20/20.
A funny/not-so-funny story:
While waiting in line, only a certain amount of people can be let in at a time in different sections of the line. At one point, I was physically grabbed from security in order to prevent me from continuing onto the next section of the line, indicating I had to wait until the next round. You have no idea how much this made me nervous…I was separated from my group, albeit for just a few seconds, and already my mind was going – oh my gosh, what if we get separated for real and I’m stuck in Russia? Now, in reality, this wouldn’t have happened, but I still had a mini-panic attack, lol. Luckily, I was allowed to continue on easily enough, but it wasn’t a good feeling for a few seconds.
Anyway, to be honest, I think our tour guide knew that we would have been fine in entering the room, leaving, and making it back to our boat. Oh well. In our experience, usually things that are hyped up too much end up being anticlimactic (i.e. The Little Mermaid, lol). To be honest, I was fine without seeing it, but it does have an interesting history.
At the end of the day we rested, saw an amazing violinist perform, and had dinner. Tonight, we did need to prepare ourselves for our next adventure.
Look out for our next post where we visit Helsinki, Finland!
Thank you for reading! Until next time!