Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013 – St. Petersburg, Russia (Day 2) – Mostly Cloudy - 70F

Local Information: St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 after reclaiming the territory from Sweden.  The city was started on the site of the Peter and Paul Fortress.  Peter forced 1000 families to come and live in St. Petersburg, which was a swamp at the time.  The citadel holds the former mint and the Peter and Paul Cathedral, burial site of the Russian Tsars.

Day 2 in St. Petersburg and the weather is still very nice.

We are both on tour again today.  I am on “Rivers and Canals of St. Petersburg and Peter and Paul Fortress”.   Irina is our guide.  Today, we are on a big bus (no van).  Ellen’s tour itinerary is essentially identical to mine.  In fact, we met up at our first stop, the banks of the Fontanka River, where our canal boats were moored.

Very close to the boat pier, I was able to see the Lomonosov Bridge – this stone drawbridge - finished in 1787 – no longer raises to allow river traffic to pass.  However, its four Doric Pavilions attest to the uniqueness of the design.

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Lomonosov Bridge

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Our River Boats await passengers

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Ellen on her boat

Although it was a reasonably pleasant day weather-wise, it was cool and breezy up on the top deck of the boat.  I sat on the upper deck because I wanted to get some good pictures.  Irina narrated from the comfort of the boat’s covered lower deck.  Because the clearance between the upper deck and the bridges is a few feet, there was no standing as the boats approached the bridges.  I think you only make that mistake once.

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Approaching the Anichkov Bridge

The Anichkov Bridge is the first and most famous bridge spanning the Fontanka River.  It was built in 1842 and incorporates four sculptures known as the Horse Tamers.  During the war, the sculptures were buried in the garden of a nearby palace to protect them from German artillery shelling.

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Horse Tamer Statue – Anichkov Bridge

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Not much clearance

The mansion below – according to Irina – is the oldest one on the Fontanka River.

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The Circus on Fontanka is the home of the Bolshoi St. Petersburg State Circus.

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The Circus Building

Paul I, only son of Catherine the Great and Peter III, was assassinated in St. Michael’s Castle in his bedroom by dismissed Russian Officers. Apparently, the moat constructed to protect St. Michael’s Palace from intruders (and assassins) did not do the job.  The Palace can be easily seen from the Fontanka River.

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St. Michael’s Palace

Our boat left the Fontanka River and passed into the Neva River.  One of the first sites we saw was the “Big House” or the old KGB Headquarters.

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KGB Headquarters

One of the most iconic sites on the Neva River is the Cruiser Aurora (commissioned in 1903).  The ship played a role in the October Revolution when it shot a blank round from one of its large forward guns toward the Winter Palace – this signaled the overthrow of the Provisional Government by the Bolsheviks.  The crew of the Aurora was made up mostly of Bolsheviks and it is thought that Lenin drew up many of his decrees while on the Aurora.  Today, the Aurora is a museum.

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The Cruiser Aurora

Before we headed back to the boat pier, we got a nice look at our next destination, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral.

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Peter and Paul Fortress

We met our bus at another pier and headed through St. Petersburg to the Peter and Paul Fortress.  On the way, we passed Palace Square and the Alexander Column.

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Palace Square and Alexander Column

Just prior to arriving at the Fortress, the bus passed by the Flying Dutchman;  there are three posh restaurants in this model of an 18th century ship.

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Rostral Columns and Flying Dutchman

The bus made its way onto the island containing the Peter and Paul Fortress – the access road to the island is very narrow and I think only one vehicle can pass at any one time.

I waited with the group until Irina purchased the group tickets.

I asked Irina if she could get me a souvenir entry ticket for the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral and she did.

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The Cathedral

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral was finished in 1733 and stands 404 feet tall.  It is the tallest Orthodox Cathedral in the world and one of the tallest structures in St. Petersburg.

The tour group entered the Cathedral and stayed with Irina as she attempted to point out the sights and give us some information on what we were seeing.  It was crowded but not wall to wall people.

Russian rulers from Peter I to Nicolas II (except Peter II and Ivan VI) and their families are buried in the Cathedral.

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The Ornate Ceiling

Some of the coffins are in groups and others stand alone.  Almost all of them have some kind of iron fencing around them.  They are all identical except for some embellishment (crosses and plaques) with some notable exceptions.  The actual remains are buried beneath the cathedral floor – the sarcophagus like coffins serve as headstones.

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Typical Coffins

Two of the best known and important Emperors of Russia are located side by side at one end of the Cathedral.  Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are interred near the altar.

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Peter the Great and Catherine the Great Coffins

Tsar Nicholas II and his family are buried in the St. Catherine Chapel.  Irina told us that the whole family was buried there after being identified by DNA testing (not quite correct).  There is only one crypt in the room.  The Romanovs were killed along with their doctor, chef, butler, and a maid.  The coffins containing the non-royals were placed in the lower half of the “common” crypt and the imperial family in the upper half of the crypt.  Plaques on the walls indicated the names of those in the crypt.

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St. Catherine Chapel – Tsar Nicholas II and Family

There is a small museum area in the Cathedral – this is what the Russians had to say about the execution and internment of Tsar Nicholas II and his family and servants. 

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Maria Fedorovna, the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, was buried here in 2006 (having died in exile in her native Denmark in 1928).  She is the last Romanov to be buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral – the two recently identified Romanov children have yet to be interred in the Cathedral.

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Grave of Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna

All of the coffins in the Cathedral are identical (made from Carrara Marble) except for the coffins of the assassinated Tsar Alexander II and his wife, Maria Alexandrovna.  These sarcophagi were replaced by those made of green Altai jasper and pink Urals rhodonite, respectively, in 1906.

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Graves of assassinated Tsar Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna

Irina pointed out one coffin that she said had been recently opened so that samples could be taken for DNA testing (in this case recent was back in 1998).  This coffin belongs to Grand Duke Georgij (George) Alexandrovich Romanov – the brother of Tsar Nicholas II. 

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Coffin of Grand Duke Georgij Romanov

After our visit to the Cathedral we headed back to the pier. 

As you can see, the weather improved going from a cloudy gray day to a sunny one.  Our timing on the weather was just a bit off.

On the way, took a picture of a hydrofoil really moving along the Neva River.

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The ride back – a different route than our previous tours - also took us past a new shopping area – restaurants and shops – mostly populated by young Russians.  A stark contrast to St. Petersburg proper.

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Shopping Area – Close to Cruise Terminal

Back on-board the Constellation, I noticed that the Cruise Terminal had a new visitor – the Cunard Cruiser, Queen Victoria – docked across the harbor.

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The Queen Victoria

We had dinner in the San Marco Dining Room and watched the amazing sail away from the Reflections Lounge.

I checked into the structure below.  Apparently, it was built by the Russians to prevent flooding of St. Petersburg (by closing off the channel).  The Russians eventually found out that flooding was not due to the height of the water.  It also looked like cars were able to go under the channel is a tunnel of sorts (the cars just disappeared from view).

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Flood Control Russian Style

Another interesting site was a deserted Soviet Era top secret Naval Base and former home of the Baltic Fleet. 

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St. Petersburg Sail Away and Naval Base

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Some quality quiet time was had in the Rendezvous Lounge where the Jazz Quartet treated us to some smooth and low volume tunes. 

Just a hop, skip, and a jump to Tallinn, Estonia.

Pedometer: 3900 steps; 1.85 miles; 21 5 calories; 40 min

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