Sunday July 25th
It felt really odd when I awoke this morning without the gentle movement of the ship that I had become accustomed to over the past few days because we had remained at dock in St. Petersburg overnight.
Taking my customary early morning stroll on deck 10, even though it was only around 6.00 am it was already feeling quite warm if a little overcast.

We had to be our of bed fairly early this morning as we had booked to do the “City Highlights and Hermitage” tour that departed at 8.00 am, so after a quick breakfast at Topsider`s we went to the Walt Disney Theatre where we met up with Doug , Michelle & Dani ready to start our combined tour.

Again, we had to go through the Immigration formalities before boarding our bus which was waiting outside the terminal building.
Unlike the other tours that we had done on this cruise, this time, the bus made several stops where we could get off for a few minutes to take some photos and soak up the sights.

Our first stop was to view St. Isaac`s Cathedral which is one of the most prominent features of St. Petersburg`s skyline. It has a huge gilded dome which is the 4th largest in the World.
Across the street is the Astoria Hotel, one [if not the ] most expensive hotels in which to stay in the city, and facing the cathedral is a statue of Nicholas 1, with the Mariinsky Palace in the background.

We then travelled past the huge Palace Square containing the tall granite tower of Alexander Column which is surrounded by the Imperial Palace, the General Staff building and the Guards Headquarters all built in 1819-1829, before crossing the bridge over to Vasilievsky Island where we made our second stop at the embankment by the River Neva.
Here we took several photos of the area including the Hermitage, our destination for this afternoon, two large granite columns that used to serve as lighthouses, and the Peter and Paul Fortress located on its own island.

The next stop [also doubling up as a “restroom stop”] was at a fairly large gift emporium recommended by our guide that offered a wide range of items including ornaments, clothing and jewellery. There we bought a couple of Fabergé eggs [sadly copies! ] and a few other bits and bobs of the “tourist” variety.
Across the street from the store is located a brick building which contains the actual wooden house where Peter the Great built this, the first structure in St. Petersburg.

Back on the bus, our journey continued past several palaces [there are over 1,000 palaces in St. Petersburg!] and passing several bridges before we caught a glimpse of our next stop, the magnificent Church of the Spilt Blood which was built at the scene of the assassination of Emperor Alexander 2nd.
This truly is an iconic building with its multi-coloured domes glistening in the sunshine and naturally one of the ship`s photographers was here in attendance.

From here our journey took us across Nevsky Prospekt which is St. Petersburg`s main street containing numerous restaurants, houses and designer shops, and on to Ostrovsky Square, which is dominated by a large statue of Catherine 2nd with the Alexandrinsky Theatre to the rear and surrounded by some magnificent buildings that used to be palaces but now contain offices and swanky apartments.

A complimentary lunch was taken in the banqueting hall of a large tele-communications building.
Here we started the meal in the traditional Russian way….a glass of champagne, followed by a shot of vodka. [We were told to take these drinks in that strict order to avoid some of the harmful effects of the alcohol content!]
We were entertained over lunch by a group of musicians and dancers who occasionally selected members of the DCL guests to join them on stage to join in! Needless to say, I kept on hiding behind my camera at this stage!
On exiting the building I noticed a satellite in the buildings` atrium which I though to be a bit odd!

Lunch over we then drove to the Hermitage Museum where we were to spend some time viewing the exhibits.
There was a naval celebration going on today and our guide told us all about the Russian Navy and the locations of its nuclear submarines etc.
I couldn`t help but reflect upon how things have changed. A few years ago, us westerners wouldn`t even be allowed in Russia, and yet today all of this previously classified information is being freely given, very weird.

Our guide took us around the Hermitage, explaining in detail all of it`s breathtaking exhibits.
We were very impressed with the abundance of our guide`s knowledge, reeling off dates etc. and other information about all of the items on view, especially the paintings by Rubens, Picasso and Van Gogh to name but a few.
Many of the wooden floors in the museum were similar to those we had seen in Catherine`s Palace but here no protective covers for our shoes were required.
You could easily spend a week in this place and still not see all that there is on display ranging from silverware, sculptures [this one is actually an unfinished piece by Michaelangelo] and paintings, not to mention the actual building itself which was spectacular.
I`ve never seen so many priceless artefacts in one building, it even surpasses the museums I`ve visited in London for the sheer variety of items on display and I shudder to think of the collective cost of the contents of the Hermitage.

After around 2½ hours in the museum, fantastic as it was, we were all beginning to suffer from “information overload” despite the fact that we had only really scratched the surface of this huge building, and although it came as a wrench to leave, by now many of the group were looking forward to returning back to the ship after such a hectic, and very hot day. [At some point in our tour, our guide had mentioned that today had been the warmest day in St. Petersburg for 180 years!]

We were back aboard at around 5.00 pm and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around on deck 10.
Before dinner a Russian ensemble were in the atrium playing and dancing to local folk songs for us all to remember Russia by.
Dinner tonight was at a monochrome Animator`s Palate, after which Robert and Margaret joined us in Sessions where en-route we saw that there was a fabulous harvest moon in the sky.

The ship set sail at around 11.30 pm, a little later than scheduled due to the late return of some guests who had been on a tour of the ballet this evening.

Again we had a great sing along with Tim and towards the end of the evening Alfred [who had appeared at the Walt Disney Theatre earlier that evening] came to say “goodbye” to us since he and the other part of his double act [Seymour] would be leaving the ship tomorrow and going on to another gig elsewhere.
He gave us a signed photo, along with his web site details so that we could keep track of his movements in the future.

We retired to bed at about 1.00 am, but thanks to the clocks going back tonight [at last!], then at least we had an extra hour in bed this evening!

Tomorrow we`ll be in Tallinn.