Saturday July 24th.
St Petersburg is located on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Finland, in the delta of the River Neva, approx. 400 miles NW of Moscow.It is built on a series of islands that spread over a wide area with approx. 60 rivers and canals that criss-cross the city and are spanned by around 400 bridges.
St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and much of his inspiration came from his years of touring other parts of Europe.
In 1712, St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia and Catherine the Great [1762-1796] continued to build the city into a major European capital, importing many foreign architects and artists to assist. She founded the Hermitage Museum and bought vast treasures of art work from all over Europe.
Moscow became the new capital of Russia and the city`s name was changed to Leningrad, however following Perestrioka, in 1991 following a referendum, it reverted back to its original name.
Following last night`s revelries, it was 9.30 am before I surfaced this morning!
It was raining, mixed with some thunder, so my usual visit to deck 10 was not on the cards at this stage.
We had breakfast at Topsider`s before watching the ship dock at around 12.00 pm, and by now the weather had changed quite dramatically and it looked like it was going to be a pleasant day after all.
Despite this, my DW had started with a cold so we went to the “Treasure Ketch” store to purchase a sweater for her just in case the weather changed again.
Our excursion for today was the “Catherine`s Palace in Pushkin” tour which was due to depart at 12.45 pm so we went to our assembly point in Diversions where the CM`s checked that we all had our passports with us. [No one is allowed off the ship in Russia unless they have a visa or are going on an organised DCL tour, and the passports and tour tickets had to be shown to the immigration authorities in the terminal.]
Michelle and Dani had opted for a later tour, the “Backstage Experience at the Russian Ballet”, which Doug had reluctantly agreed to do also!
Soon we were off the ship and after our passports were stamped at Immigration, we boarded the bus to begin our tour and we were given headsets so we could listen to our guide`s commentary throughout the tour.
Yet again, I could only manage to take any photos from inside a moving bus, listening to our guides` commentary as we made our way to Catherine`s Palace where we disembarked and walked towards the main entrance.
By now it was beginning to get really hot as we stood in line waiting to enter the palace.
Catherine`s Palace looked spectacular from the outside and you could only speculate on it`s build cost.
As we waited outside we saw a couple of folk in period costume leave the palace and stood with their backs to us a short distance away. They are among the “living attractions” at the palace and had just nipped out for their “cigarette break” which made me giggle.
We then noticed Warwick, one of the ship`s photographers who we had got to know quite well by now. He is a young English guy with a great [dry] sense of humour, so we hit it off right away.
Warwick mentioned that not many folks had asked him to take their photos today, probably because they all had cameras with them so he suggested that he tagged along with us, especially as even he was not allowed to use his camera flash inside the palace!
After what seemed like an eternity standing in line, one by one we entered a small room where we had to don protective plastic overshoes in order to protect the magnificent wooden floors throughout the palace, some of which used 17 different type of wood inlays.
As we were led through the palace, we were overwhelmed with the interior décor and history of the place and Warwick carried out some experimental photography with us.
At one stage he got my DW to pose in front of one of the hundreds of walled mirrors and took her photo in the reflection which was rather unique. It was almost as though we had our own personal photographer with us throughout the tour!
Room after room of opulence were visited, many of which had fantastic ceiling paintings, and the views from some of the windows also made for some good shots.
Naturally I took loads of photos, but I can only post a fraction of them here.
After the tour and the discarding of our overshoes we were led outside for a brief walk through the magnificent gardens and at one stage we entered a small building where a small male voice choir sang unaccompanied just to our group. The acoustics in the building were spot on and my only regret is that they didn`t perform for a longer period of time.
It was sometimes hard to keep up with our guide. We would stop to take a photo, and then have to run like mad to catch up with her! This was further exacerbated by Warwick`s determination to take shots of my DW and I at every opportunity!
We then had an all too brief walk through a touristy street market, to re-board our bus that was waiting for us at the end of the street.
I managed to find time to put my bargaining skills to the test and purchase a nest of Russian Dolls, a couple of hand fans and a guide book though!
All too soon our tour was over and we drove back to the ship, re-boarding at around 5.30 pm.
Dinner this evening was at Lumiere`s where there were only us and our dining partners from Edmonton as Doug, Michelle & Dani were having dinner as part of their ballet experience tour, and would not be back on board until 11.00 pm.
Over dinner, Robert and Margaret told us that they had finally decided to bite the bullet and to become DVC members following our earlier discussions with them, and they had signed up with DVC earlier in the day….so “Welcome Home” to our new friends!
We had vowed not to have a late night this evening as we had another long day ahead of us.
We just had to visit Tim at Sessions though for a “nightcap” along with Robert and Margaret.
We introduced our friends to him and he dedicated a couple of songs to Margaret which was a nice gesture. It later turned out that Margaret knew one of Tim`s brothers [Joey] who lives in Canada so it is a small world after all!
During his break, he thanked us again for celebrating his birthday yesterday, and we bade him “Goodnight” at around 10.30 pm or so.
No cruising tonight as tomorrow it`s still Russia!