Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia: 144 Nautical Miles
A most unusually beautiful day in St. Petersburg…
We are docked here along side the Costa Luminosa and the AIDA sol (a German Ship).
St. Petersburg, population 5 million, is located on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Finland in the Neva River Delta. It is built on a series of islands and in the 17th and 18th centuries are sported canals similar to those in Venice (how many “Venice’s of the North” do we need). These canals were later filled in and are now main boulevards. The Neva River has granite banks and is the site of many of the important attractions of St. Petersburg.
This city, founded in 1703 by Peter I (Peter the Great) was the home of the Imperial Family and the origin of the Russian Revolution. It became the capital of Russia in 1712. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the city changed its name from Leningrad back to St. Petersburg and the capital was moved back to Moscow.
We are at a totally new pier terminal – completely opposite from the commercial pier we docked at in 2001. In fact, not only is the pier terminal new but the area is completely filled with condos and apartments. A lot has happened in the last few years.
We can relax this morning (no wake up call) since we are not due to leave on our tour - “The Hermitage” – until 2:20 PM. The morning was spent in the Solarium catching up on blogging and reading. After a series of morning excursions, it was great not to have to rush in the morning – especially since we had another forward time change last night.
We had lunch with new friends, Tom and Irene, in the Windjammer and decided to meet them for dinner here when we both got back from our tours. We both have the same evening tour - “Neva Boat Ride with Folkloric Show – so we planned to go on the same bus and boat.
Jewel of the Seas docked at new Cruise Terminal
Russia is the first country on this cruise that had immigration control – we needed to carry both our passport and fill out a landing form. Going through immigration was slow even though they did not ask any questions. At least, we got a Russian stamp on our passport.
The busses – brand new - for the excursion are parked neatly in their numbered spaces. Our tour guide is Anton and he speaks perfect and upper class English.
On our way – Jewel of the Seas docked
Driving away from the pier, we get a good view of all of the new housing structures built since our last visit (below).
The ride to the Neva River was only about 15 minutes. Along the river, we spotted a submarine (below top) and some of the buildings lining the river banks (below bottom).
We were lucky as we approached the Hermitage (below) as there were no other busses in queue. In a few minutes, we had our tickets and we were off to explore the world famous museum.
The Hermitage is the largest museum in Russia and the second largest in Europe (The Louvre is number 1). It consists of four sections: The Winter Palace (its original purpose), the Old Hermitage, the Small Hermitage, and the Large Hermitage. These are all connected (good idea for the Winter). The Hermitage’s collection consists not only of fine art but also various artifacts (even some sarcophagi from Egypt). All in all, there are three million items in the museum (many procured by Catherine the Great) and you are not allowed to touch any one them.
We were given very nice wireless headsets so we could follow Anton’s narration. There were scores of groups in the museum all with headsets operating on different frequencies.
This tour would focus on Art works so we climbed the main stairway (the “Jordan Staircase”) to the second floor. Lining the stairway were ornate columns and sconces (three pictures below).
Among the artifacts present was large vase – Ellen is there as a size reference.
We were told that the interior walls of the Hermitage are not real Marble but actually an artificial marble (powdered marble, water, plaster, and some other goodies). The artificial marble keeps the building warmer in the winter.
The chandelier below weighs two tons and has fallen in the past. No one was in the museum at the time but I imagine that both the floor and the chandelier had to be extensively repaired.
Next stop: Armorial Hall (three pictures below). The name comes from the fact that the coats of arms of all of the Russian provinces are represented in this room. The room was used for balls and receptions.
Up next, the Hall of Generals (below). This room contains the portraits of all of the generals who fought against Napoleon. Some of the portraits are blank (no portraits of those generals existed) and have only the name of the general at the bottom. A very impressive room.
The next room visited was the St. George Greater Throne Room (below). When this was the Imperial Residence, this room was the center of all activities: Imperial Ball, political events, state visits, and proclamations. The room was consecrated on St. George’s Day, hence the name.
We continued our tour through rooms with ornate columns. Ellen is in that picture somewhere.
One room contained an interesting artifact – a clock commissioned by Catherine the Great. The Peacock would open its tail feathers on the hour. Nowadays, it is run occasionally to keep its mechanism in working order.
The Italian Art Room was next with its two centerpiece works by Leonardo Da Vinci. The two “Madonna and Child” paintings are shown below. The first painting was in oil and very detailed; the second painting was done in tempera (an egg white based paint) so the detail is not as crisp.
We then stopped in a long ornate hall (below) containing numerous small paintings. These small paintings are based on the “Rafaelologies” (Guide’s words) found in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Catherine the Great had those frescos copied and rendered as paintings for this large halls ceiling and walls.
Another jewel of the Hermitage is “The Crouching Man” by Michelangelo; it is the only work by Michelangelo and it is unfinished.
We then visited the “Spotlight” rooms (there are several). Actually, I think the guide meant skylight rooms because they all contain large skylights that bring natural light into the rooms.
The vase in the picture below looks like it was carved from a large block of malachite. It is actually a malachite mosaic, put together from smaller pieces of stone. Even up close, you can’t tell it is not one piece.
The final masterwork we saw was Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” (below). I was worried that the painting was being exposed to sunlight coming in from the window at the right. I hope that the protective cover is UV proof.
At this point, we decided to leave our tour and look around the museum by ourselves. I wanted to find the bloodied shirt of Tsar Nicholas II that is supposedly on display at the Hermitage but no one we spoke to knew anything about it. It is probably in the Russian Heritage Section, which we did not find. We did, however, find an interesting exhibit featuring knights on armored horses (below).
After some meandering, we did find the pre-arranged meeting point. It took some time for our bus to arrive so we were back on the ship about 30 minutes late. A hurried meal in the Windjammer with Irene and Tom and we were on our way back out to Immigration and our evening tour, “Neva River Tour and Folkloric Show”.
Our guide was nearly unintelligible so we had little idea what we were seeing on this tour. We boarded a two deck boat that was docked behind a very fancy “Schooner”-themed restaurant. Soon we were on our way on the Neva. We started off inside the boat, where we were treated to bottled water, vodka, champagne, smoked salmon and caviar (not the pricey kind) hors d’oevres. The folkloric show consisted of a three person group (below). They sang Russian songs and tried to get passengers involved. It was OK but soon we were on the upper deck.
The top deck afford great views of the river and the building along the shore.
The battleship Aurora (above) fired a blank round at the Winter Palace that started the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The Hermitage and St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The Customs House and Lighthouse Monuments
The Hermitage Museum Complex
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The Armory Building
After the boat tour, the bus took us a “shopping stop” adjacent to the first home of Peter the Great. The best part of the stop (besides the washrooms), was the free snacks (pretzels) and drinks (vodka and cranberry schnapps).
The nested dolls were everywhere but we found a very unusual one. Who knew there were UCLA football fans in Russia. This doll even had the name of the current UCLA Quarterback, Kevin Prince, painted on the outside. Would have bought it but it was pricey.
At first, I had my doubts that the house below was the first home of Peter the Great, the founder of St. Petersburg. But a later tour confirmed that Peter stayed here while his palace was being constructed at the Hermitage.
A long day but a very nice one in St. Petersburg.
We plan to see more tomorrow.
Seas are smooth because we are docked…