July 26, 2018
This morning we woke up and were eating breakfast as we docked in St. Petersburg, Russia. The disembarkation process was a little different. Those who had booked excursions with the cruise line were able to get off first. We had to wait in the theater until they all had gotten past Russian emigration. They said it was a requirement of Russia, but who knows?
We disembarked the ship around 8:15 and got in the emigration line. The lines were pretty slow as they went through the process of checking to make sure you are not an American spy. They also had to check our visas and tickets. After checking in, we went outside and met our tour guide Iwna. She spoke very well English. We were in a tour group of 15 others from the ship. There were 7 Chinese Americans from across the country, a couple from Canada, a couple from Northern Ireland and one last couple, but I never heard where they were from. We stayed with this group for the two days in Russia, and some of there were with us in Finland and Sweden.
Our first stop that day was at the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island. The is the smallest of the 43 islands that make up St. Petersburg. They had a military fort with a big church, the St Peter and St. Paul Cathedral. The inside of the church was ornate, but it was nothing, compared to the other churches we visited. It was interesting that the people of Russia are mostly atheist, but the government spends a lot of money maintaining the old Russian Orthodox churches. The churches were Nationalized during the Russian revolution, so today they government owns them. After the world wars and the Soviet era, they were all in pretty bad shape, but many have been remodeled in the past 25 years.
The next stop was the city of Peterhof, which was about 45 minutes away. This was on the southern side of the Gulf of Finland. This is were we saw the Peterhof palace. This was the summer palace, built by Peter the Great, starting in 1705. The palace and the gardens are recognized a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace and fountains were mostly destroyed in WW2, but it has been rebuilt since the war. The grounds has 150 fountains. We walked through about half of the property. The main fountain area was pretty impressive. The have secret fountains throughout the gardens that have existed since the czars lived there. These are hidden fountains do not normally have water, but they have someone hiding and watch the people. When someone is close they will turn on the fountain and get people wet. They really like to do this with the kids.
After the Palace, we stopped at a restaurant for an authentic Russian lunch. It was nothing too exotic, but it was good. After driving back to St. Petersburg we stopped at Catherine’s Palace and the Church of the Spilt Blood. The palace was very ornate and large. We spent about 2 hours there, and most of the time was waiting in the rooms for the crowds to file through. The Church of the Spilt Blood was in the older part of St. Petersburg. The church was built to honor one of the Czar’s that was killed in the streets of St. Petersburg. It was built above the spot where the Czar was mortally wounded by a terrorist. After those two stops we rode back to the dock and got on the ship around 8:30 pm.