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2007 and 2011 trips to Russia

Saint Petersburg

(Also previously known as Petrograd and as Leningrad)

2011 Update

Our 2011 trip started in St Petersburg, and we didn't have as much time for exploring as we did in 2007, but we did visit the incredible Hermitage Museum again (see their official website). Previously the Museum had been extremely busy, but this time the tourists had all gone home (apart from us!) and we were able to study the exhibits up close and at our leisure. There are about 3 million items on display at any one time and we could happily have spent several days wandering the museum's magnificent hallways, but we were allowed just a few hours; even so we were able to see an amazing number of incredible exhibits and to have a most informative commentary from our guide.

 

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The Winter Palace which is now the Hermitage Museum
The main staircase with its extravagant use of gold
One of the many beautiful hallways in the Palace
Here is a portrait of every Russian General who fought against Napoleon - and of the Duke of Wellington
The majestic silver throne of Peter the Great
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The throne of Anna, Empress of Russia (Peter the Great's niece)
The magnificent gilded ceiling of Catherine the Great's throne
room ...
... whose pattern is copied in the parquet floor which amazingly you are still allowed to walk on
This painting holds a number of scandalous secret messages
An unfinished statue by Rodin gives an insight into his working methods

If you want to return to the 2011 cruise ...

otherwise:

2007 visit

We arrived at St Petersburg while we were having lunch. Great excitement all round as we were able to moor against the quay (not against another boat). As soon as lunch was finished it was off to the coach for a trip round the city. The traffic was quite bad – nowhere near as bad as Moscow - and it did improve during the 3 days we were there!

 

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Our first view of St Petersburg, one of the lifting bridges over the River Neva
Rather over-enthusiastically designed lighthouses where the river divides
Statue of Peter the Great who built the city as a museum and cultural showpiece to the world
A small but pretty statue of a Swan on a Lake near the port
Nevsky Prospect, the 3-mile long main street of St Petersburg

First stop, for a photo shoot, was the Smolny nunnery and cathedral. It was never consecrated and used for the purpose it was built as someone committed suicide inside the cathedral.  Instead it was made into a home for widows and a school for the daughters of the gentry.

 

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Smolny
The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul
Chapel and Burial Place of Peter the Great
Chapel and Burial Place of Catherine the Great
The newly installed tombs of Alexander III and his wife Maria

After this we crossed the Neva to visit the site of the original St Petersburg, where Peter the Great laid his foundation stone for the city. The fortress of Saints Peter and Paul contains many old buildings, but the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul houses the coffins of all the Tsars from Peter I to Nicholas II. Walking through the Prisoners Gate you look over the Neva to the Winter Palace.

 

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The tombs of Nicholas II and his family
View of the Winter Palace across the Neva from the Prisoners Gate of the fortress of Sts Peter & Paul
The spire of Sts Peter & Paul
The weathervane atop the spire of Sts Peter & Paul
The weathervane atop the spire at the Admiralty

We also saw Peter’s first house – a small wooden hut he had built near the fortress to oversee the building - and the Aurora, a ship whose main claim to fame is that it fired the first (blank) shot of the revolution in 1917. Passing the Admiralty with it’s tall spire, and along Nevsky Prospect (the main street in the city), we re-joined the traffic jam back to the ship.

After a very quick dinner we again went into the city to the “Karnaval” concert hall for an excellent evening of Russian songs and dancing by the Ensemble of the Russian Army.

The next morning was our visit to the Winter Palace, now better known as The Hermitage Museum. In the 2˝ hours we had we didn’t see a lot, but it made us decide we have to go back to St Petersburg to spend more time there ( I didn't take any pictures in 2007, but see above for a few that I took when we returned in 2011; you can also find everything in their official website). The highlights were walking through the State Rooms, seeing two Leonardo paintings, and then having time to see the Impressionist paintings.

The afternoon saw us visiting the Yusopov Palace. It was here that Rasputin was killed – 3 times. The first two attempts failed: Poison, Shooting, then his throat was cut and he died!  The Palace has a theatre, Turkish room and a grand ballroom which is often used for concerts now.  In the basement are tableaux of the last hours of Rasputin who dined at the Palace with members of the Army.

 

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Statue of Peter the Great
It is supposed to be lucky to touch the statue
The 'Aurora', a shot from which signalled the start of the 1917 revolution
The canal alongside the Gardens of the Summer Palace
The lodge in the Gardens of the Summer Palace, as seen from the canal

The evening turned warm and sunny in time for our trip on the River and canals of St Petersburg.  We also had a walk through the gardens of Peter the Great's original Summer Palace.  The canals are quite busy and the buildings look wonderful from basement level. The city was getting ready to celebrate Peter’s birthday at the end of May, and the fountains on the Neva were turned on for the first time this year, making a wonderful backdrop to what would be a spectacular mock sea battle.

 

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Sunset over St Petersburg
Sunset over St Petersbur
Fountains in the sunset
The emblem of St Petersburg, a lion playing with a ball. Legend has it that the lion stays awake by playing with the ball, so he can guard the city 24 hours a day
The gutters on all the main buildings are massive, and empty straight over the pavement. You need to wear stout boots if it is raining!

The next day we visited two out of town Palaces: Peterhof and Pushkin.

Peterhof was the new summer palace built by Peter the Great and greatly enhanced by Empress Elizabeth. The Palace was totally destroyed by the Germans when they left at the end of the war after their unsuccessful 900-day siege of Leningrad, but using many pre war photographs and drawings the Palace has been re-built to its former glory.

The afternoon saw us at Pushkin Palace, once known as Catherine’s Summer Palace.  Again it was badly damaged during the war, but has since been rebuilt to show the splendour of Russia and its Tsars in all their glory. The big mystery at Pushkin is what happened to all the Amber from the Amber Room.

That evening we went to the ballet. The performance of Swan Lake was magnificent even though it was only a touring company. A wonderful way to (nearly) finish our trip to St Petersburg.

The last morning saw us sadly leaving the ship to spend the morning at the Russian Museum of Art. It amused us to read from a notice that  'entrance with gas sprayers, cold, gas, and service weapons, as well as with thrusting and cutting instruments is forbidden'. All the work exhibited is by Russian artists. Some of the work was wonderful – you can see how European artists influenced them.

After lunch at a restaurant it was time to go the airport for our flight home. For now ...

   
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