Saturday 30th June 2018
Day 2 in St Petersburg. I had asked Phil to set the alarm for 5:45 am so we had time to have a nice breakfast and ease our way into the day. I woke up at 6:30 am (because Kim had knocked on our door) and freaked out. We had set the alarm for 6:45! I jumped up and got dressed and raced down to Moderno. No omelettes today, just scrambled eggs that are already cooked. Phil joined me and we had a very quick breakfast. We went back to the stateroom and got ourselves organised. We managed to be off the ship by 7:00am – so we were pretty happy about that. It didn’t take any time to get through customs today (only about 10 minutes) and we also learnt to line up behind the women custom officials (as they are much quicker).
Elena was waiting for us on the other side of customs and we boarded the bus. The San Francisco Americans were there and the last to arrive were the South African Americans (who weren’t late – but they had been waiting for an hour or more for us yesterday).
We got away on time and headed into the city. Our first stop was a metro station. We got on one near a sports stadium. When we went into it we were surprised to see that it had beautiful mosaic artwork decorating the station depicting sports events. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful artwork. We headed down another set of escalators and caught the train. We got off at the Admiralteyskaya which is the train station near the Admiralty House. It is also the deepest station almost 100 metres underground. The mosaics are beautiful all depicting naval scenes. We then went up the world’s steepest and longest escalator. It took 4 and a half minutes from the bottom to the top. We thought it would never finish.
After this, our driver picked us up and managed to navigate our mini bus through these tiny streets. We then headed to the boat trip. This could have been a highlight, however it was freezing! Not technically – but it felt like it. The temperature itself wasn’t so bad, but the wind chill dropped it dramatically and being on the water made it even colder.
The river was quite high, also due to the wind as the wind was pushing more water into the river from the Baltic Sea. We went down the main channel and were able to see St Peterburg from a different perspective – a cold one – no from the water. We went up a little canal and Elena told us the story of a famous law school with distinctive uniform that were called little birds. There was a statue dedicated to them, but we couldn’t see it.
We didn’t go into too many canals, which was disappointing, but I think that that was due to the high water rather than anything else. I imagine on a sunny day that this would have been a highlight. We then headed back to the dock, which I was grateful for as I was freezing.
We got back in the bus and headed to a photo stop of the bronze horseman. Phil got out and took some photos, I was way too frozen.
Our next stop was The Hermitage. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. It joined the Winter Palace and served as a private gallery for the art that she had collected. It was open to the public in 1852. Following the revolution of 1917, it became public property. This museum is massive. Elena told us that if you spent just one minute looking at each piece of art housed in the Hermitage, it would take you 6 years to look through it all. She had picked certain areas to see – the most popular items. We saw a lot of paintings by Rembrandt, paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci and the artefacts from Russia’s past, including the rooms themselves -especially in the Winter Palace (which forms part of the Hermitage Museum). There was also a sculpture by Michelangelo titled ‘Boy Crouching’ and was just exquisite, considering it was created from one block of marble.
One of the pieces that stood out for me was a mechanical clock, that when it is wound would have several different things happen simultaneously. It was gold in colour and very detailed. Unfortunately, the museum was VERY crowded. There were several large cruise ships in and the World Cup Celebrations were happening too. The museum was quite crowded and at different points was uncomfortable with so many people there.
We made it out of the Hermitage and headed to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. It was also hosting a fan site for the World Cup right next to it.
This church stands on the site where, on March 1 1881, Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded whilst walking on the Embankment. The church has a special monument to this event and actually has an area where he was mortally wounded separated. Elena was explaining that he was a very forward thinking Emperor who had brought in great reforms for all Russians. He was well loved. The rest of the church was amazing as well, however, once again, it was very crowded. It was so beautiful with mosaic art works everywhere.
Our next stop was lunch at a ‘Stolle pie shop’. This was not that great. We had some kind of Greek salad to start, borscht (which was served warm unusually), then we had this kind of dough on the outside with minced meat inside (which surprisingly was served cold). For dessert was the same kind of dough with apple inside (served warm). It was okay except for the dessert – that was great.
After this stop, we headed to a stop for Starbucks as some of the Americans wanted to get coffee mugs from Starbucks that had St Petersburg. Next stop was the Faberge museum. After learning about the history behind the eggs, I was looking forward to this museum. Elena explained that Malcolm Forbes was a massive collector of Faberge artefacts and especially his eggs. When he passed away, his children sold the collection to a Russian oligarch. He then donated the entire collection to the Russian people. This museum only allowed a certain number of people in at a time to stagger the number of people.
We got up into the museum with Elena. The museum is housed in the Shuvalov Palace. When you walked in and looked up there was a dome. We felt that it looked like an egg, but we aren’t sure if that is a coincidence.
We walked through some rooms to see some of the items that Faberge designed, but all of us were wanting to see the eggs. Elena had explained that there were could have been 69 created for the Tsars of Russia between 1885 – 1917, however there are only 57 that are known of today. This museum has 9 of these original eggs housed in one area. They were amazingly exquisite. Carl Faberge used enamel (with many different colours that he could create – over 100 from memory) and then used small pieces of precious stones to decorate and create these stunning works of art.
After we were finished looking at the eggs, we had a look at the other pieces housed in the Museum. These were the pieces that Faberge actually made his money from, although this was due to making his name through his creation of the exquisite eggs for the Tsar.
After we finished at the Faberge Museum (with our heads bursting with information overload), we headed to a reasonably priced souvenir shop to finish our shopping. To my surprise, Phil bought me a replica of the egg commissioned by the Emperor representing the love for his new wife. Yes, I got a little emotional – as those who know me well would expect. It is exquisite.
After this stop, it was back to the cruise ship. We had a stop at Alla Tours offices to pick up some paperwork and had a photo with Elena.
We then had to farewell our Mother Elena and our driver. It was much harder than I thought it would be. She had touched my heart and was so passionate about St Petersburg and Russia. We won’t ever forget her. She was one of the best things about St Petersburg. Us sputniks (travellers) then went back to the ship.
We had a great time in St Petersburg although it was definitely a whirlwind 36 hours. We made the most of our time in this unexpectedly pretty city that is full of history. We both feel as though we would like to come back and explore this city more fully, when there aren’t 5 massive cruise ships in port and a whole swathe of World Cup fans in the city. Also when there isn’t any scaffolding around The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.
Farewell St Petersburg – for now!