St. Petersburg, pet project of Czar Peter The Great, was the capitol of Russia through several czars. Built on a series of islands where the river Neva meets the Gulf of Finland, the city has 500 bridges and a wealth of Czarist architecture. It is the second largest city in Russia, with a population of 5 Million. Site of an 872-day siege by the Nazis in WWII, the city lost some 1 million inhabitants through starvation and shelling.
Largely rebuilt during the Soviet era, the effort resulted in some grimly functional buildings not much admired by locals. Our guide told us that in 1990 when she worked for a hotel as an English teacher, her other duty was to teach employees how to smile; it wan't something they'd had much reason to do for a long time. Damage to most of the significant historical buildings (there are about 8000 of them) has been repaired and the city now sparkles with the ostentatious splendor of Czarist excess.
First off, one needs to clear Immigration. This involves lining up for 20 minutes or so on the ship until Russian clearance is received and passengers can be assigned buses, then a further 30 minutes to clear Passport Control where, if you were on a Royal Caribbean tour, you were issued with visas by agents who know very little of any other language. If you weren't on a Royal tour, best of luck. Then another wait on the bus for the rest of the attendees to clear Passport Control. Our 8:30 tour left at 9:30.
Our tour took place on a grey day, with the first stop on one of the many bridges for a photo op of the Hermitage Palace. Located on the Neva River, it is really 4 or 5 palaces linked together. We'll visit it tomorrow. Near the bridge our guide pointed out two red towers garlanded with statures. Apparently they are frequently the site of all-night parties by young people who get caught by that particular island's draw bridges. They move out of the way for navigation overnight, starting around 10 PM, and then there is no way off the island until the next day.
Then on to St. Peter and St. Paul church in it's compound where the Russian coin mint still resides. There were only two cruise ships in port today but tour buses thronged the streets and tourist congestion was particularly high at all the gilded churches.
Then a pee-break at what our guide assured us were the only clean toilets in town. They just happened to be inside a souvenir-department store. In only 30 minutes we were back on the road seeing random important buildings, lots of cannons and missiles, a submarine museum and finally stopping at the onion-domed Church of The Spilt Blood. Splendiferous and congested, we got another 10-minute photo op, reembarked and headed back to the ship for a nice steak-and-kidney pie lunch. A half-empty ship is really quite delightful.
Some of the Hermitage Palace
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
Statue honoring the fabulous Czar Peter the Great
Church of the Spilt Blood