We arose extra early for a 7 a.m. port call. Our day began with a 6 a.m. room-service breakfast delivered by a cheerful Filipino dining steward. We so appreciate this delightful daily treat!
With everyone disembarking at once, it took almost an hour to get off the ship and through Russia’s stringent immigration.
We used a highly-recommended local tour company for a 2-day deluxe St. Petersburg tour, and boarded a 16-passenger minibus. Our first major stop was Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral where we toured the Russian Orthodox Church and adjacent Peter and Paul Fortress built by Peter the Great in 1703.
Then it was off to the onion-domed Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, so named because it was built on the site of Czar Alexander II’s assassination. The interior is filled with scores of Russian Orthodox mosaic icons created with thousands of tiny stones. Completed in 1907, this former church was heavily bombed during WW II when it was used as a temporary morgue. Later it was used as a potato warehouse. Restored and reopened in 1997, Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood has become a major tourist attraction, but no longer functions as a house of worship.
Next we rode a hydrofoil boat across the Gulf of Finland to Peter the Great’s massive Peterhof summer palaces and surrounding gardens, where we did a lengthy walking tour through the forest among the scores of fountains and flower gardens on different levels. Master landscapers and garden designers who worked on the estate at Peterhof managed to overcome the extremely inclement conditions of the northern climate to create a wonderland of greenery and flowers, sweeping vistas and ornate architectural decorations. (will send 3 Peterhof images in a subsequent email)
During the entire day, our English-speaking guide did a running commentary on details of the royal family’s history. At every stop, she reminded us to be wary of highly skilled pickpockets. It appeared nearly every tour operator went to the same sites, creating huge crowds everywhere. During Russia’s “White Nights” in June, the sun does not completely descend far enough below the horizon for the sky to be totally dark. Thus June is the busiest tourist season.
By the time we stopped for lunch at 2:45 pm, we were famished. After lunch we visited Catherine’s Palace, summer residence of the Russian Czars, in the town of Pushkin.
In late afternoon, our bus was caught in a typical weekday traffic jam complicated by a thunderstorm and pouring rain. We returned to the ship at 6:30 p.m. Our group was too exhausted to attend the evening Russian ballet or folk dancing performances.