08.31.2010 - 08.31.2010
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and able to get into St. Petersburg earlier than some of the other 2000 passengers on the Vision of the Seas. So we were up by six a.m. and breakfasting by seven.
Getting into Russia is a bit of a trial. We had to go off the ship in groups and wait in long lines while we went through Russian Customs. After what seemed like an hour (because is nearly was....) we were on bus #28 and heading into St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is a city that was designed and initially built by Russian Tsar Peter the Great in the early 1700s. He wanted a port city built that would rival other European cities, a "Northern Rome." He had the city laid out with purpose and building began, but it was blighted by fire twice before Peter's death. It was up to his daughter Elizabeth and her successor Catherine the Great to make it the grand city that we toured today.
However, our first sighting of the city from the ship was not so grand. The water front is crowded with concrete high-rise apartment buildings from the more recent past of the Communist era. It is not inspiring. But once the tour bus got us into the old town, we were quite impressed. The Niva River flows through the city and on its shores stand the stately palaces of many Russian nobles—and, of course, of the Russian royalty.
The grandest of them all is the Hermitage, the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. To say it is huge is an understatement. The original palace itself and several newer buildings including (The New Heritage erected by Tsar Nicholas I are a sprawling complex that makes up the largest art gallery in the world. Beside housing paintings from every imaginable master, there is furniture, Egyptian sculptures, Greek and Roman artifacts, and more. We spent three hours walking through hallways and galleries and only touched the surface.
After that tour, the bus drove us around more of the city until we reached our lunch spot—in the last grand palace to be built. There was champagne and vodka for all, which made up for the "chicken stroganoff."
After lunch we walked to the Cathedral of the Resurrection with its very Russian Orthodox towers. There was time for some souvenir shopping, and a bus ride to St. Isaac's Cathedral, the fourth largest church in the world.
By the time we arrived "home", our feet were sore and we were tuckered out. A light dinner was followed by a Russian folk song-and-dance session in the main theater.
Then time to sleep. We gain an hour tonight on our trip west to Helsinki. Bedtime, here we come!