Saturday, November 24, 2018

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 – St. Petersburg, Russia – Day 1 – Sunny – 85F

An absolutely beautiful day in St. Petersburg.

We are doing something exciting today – a 17 hour day trip to Moscow. It cost a bundle but it was something we had to do.

The day started at around 5:30 AM – I had set my bracelet alarm to go off at 5 AM but I slept through that and the snooze five minutes later. We had stockpiled food for breakfast but also ordered a little something from room service for 6 AM (the earliest option). A knock on the door at 5:30 AM scared the snot out of me – room service came early with our food. By 6:45 AM, we were in Celebrity Central with our fellow adventurers.  In Russia, you have to carry your passport and your Russian Immigration Card.

IMG_20180731_Russian Immigration Card

IMG_20180731_pre Moscow selfie Celebrity Central

Pre-Departure Selfie – Celebrity Central

The ship is docked at the beautiful Marina Façade about 20 minutes outside the City Center. A new tower, one of the tallest in the world and built by Gasprom (state owned natural gas company), is situated across the harbor and is magnificent.

IMG_20180801_Gasprom Tower

Gasprom Tower

Immigration is always tricky in St. Petersburg but this time it was badda bing badda boom. The n is small but all the times I have gone through passport control a female officer (and usually in their 20s) has been at the window. There must be a reason for this that I cannot figure out. She spent a lot of time checking stuff on her computer before hitting the stamp hard and permitting me to enter the land of Putin.

Our St. Petersburg guide is Russ, an energetic and helpful young guy. Herding everyone cannot be easy. We boarded a very nice bus to the train station in the City Center.

IMG_20180802_bus to train station

ET on Bus to Train Station

The St. Petersburg Train Station, as expected, is a huge building

IMG_20180731_St. Petersburg ttain station

View from Entrance to St. Petersburg Train Station

and we followed Russ and Paddle 1 through the station and onto the platforms. We were on Platform 11 and in Car 8. Some folks had arranged to be together so they had assigned seats. For the rest of us, it was run for your seats. Our seats were comfortable but we had only a partial window.

The train, run by Sansa, is a high speed bullet train with a top speed of 230 km/hr – the fastest this train achieved was 200 km/hr or about 120 miles/hr. When the train was at speed, the ride was very smooth. The only bumpiness we experienced was when the train either went over some chunky tracks or was switching to another track. There was a temperature and speed indicator at the front of every car

IMG_20180731_Bullet Train

Status Indicator on Train

and washrooms (pretty nice) at both ends of each car. There were train attendants in uniforms (land based flight attendants), who delivered food and drinks. It was like being in a plane but with reasonable leg room and nearby washrooms. I checked the price and the lowest fair between St. Petersburg and Moscow ran about 80 Euros/pp each way. So that chunk of our trip was about 320 Euros or $360.

The cars are noisy with everyone chatting away (noisier than a plane) and there was a movie (seemed silly) playing on the overhead screen. With supplied earbuds, you could catch the Russian flick.

We had pre-ordered vegetarian lunches, which turned out to be a very small salad and two panna cottas made from cottage cheese. Water was distributed on the bus going to the train station. The food was strange but we were hungry.

From the train in Moscow, we were divided into two groups and we wound up with Marina (born and raised in Moscow but she sounded Italian). We boarded our bus – there were plenty of seats so everyone had their own almost – and headed for the Moscow subway.

On our way to the Subway Station, we did get a look at the Lubyanka the popular name for the headquarters of the FSB (successor to the KGB).  The building also houses the Lubyanka Prison.

IMG_20180731_KGB HQ

FSB Headquarters

We descended a very long escalator and waited for our train. Each subway station has a different motif – this one was populated by bronze statues (each weighing about a ton) depicting either the Revolution or WWII – lots of armed soldiers.  Our departing station was adorned with very interesting chandeliers.

IMG_20091231_one of many bronze statues 1 ton

IMG_20091231_Moscow Kremlin Metro stationIMG_20091231_Moscow MetroIMG_20091231_ET Moscow Metro

Moscow Subway

We all hustled into the car and went one stop to the Kremlin/Red Square Exit. The train was extremely fast and there was no courtesy used on entrance and exit. The guide said to be like a Muscovite and be pushy.

Once we got off the subway, the excursion turned into a walking tour. We walked past Revolution Square, which now contained restaurants and a carousel.

IMG_20091231_Revolution Square carousel

Revolution Square

Our destination, The Moscow Kremlin, is one of many Kremlins around Russia. Kremlin actually means “Fortress in a City”, and is a complex of churches, office buildings, gardens, and museums. Vladimir Putin works here but lives in a place outside the city.

We entered the Kremlin complex through the Spasskaya Gate.

IMG_20091231_Kremlin Spasskaya Gate

One of the first buildings we saw was the Kremlin Palace of Congress constructed by Nikita Khrushchev in 1962. This was the building I thought was the Kremlin since it is often used as a location shot.

IMG_20091231_Palace of Congress 1962

Palace of Congress

Our next stop was Cathedral Square.

IMG_20091231_Cathedral Square

There are several Cathedrals each with their own particular style. There is the Dormition Cathedral, where all of the Royal Coronations took place.

IMG_20091231_Dormition Cathedral

Dormition Cathedral

One of the largest structures is the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

IMG_20091231_Ivan the Great bell towerIMG_20091231_Ivan the Great Bell Tower 1

The Cathedral of the Annunciation has the largest number of cupolas – six.

IMG_20091231_Cathedral of the Archangel - Cath of Annunciati

The Cathedral of the Archangel Michael

IMG_20091231_Cathedral of Archangel Michael

is the burial spot of all of the early Muscovite Rulers up to the Reign of Peter the Great (the others are buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral on the Neva). Tsar Boris Godunov is the exception – his remains were moved to Trinity Monastery. I snuck a picture of the tombs in the Cathedral (no pics allowed) (the remains are actually underneath the floor) and was nudged by a security guy – “No pictures”. OK.

IMG_20091231_Tsar gravesIMG_20091231_Archangel Michael - Tsar grave

Tombs of the Early Tsars

Our next destination was the Armory. The Armory is a multi story museum containing some amazing items from Russian History. No pictures allowed. One room was devoted to Coronation Gowns of the Tsarinas. Tsarina Alexandra’s coronation gown was there as was that worn by Catherine the Great. Even though the capital of Russia during Nicholas II’s reign was St. Petersburg, all of the Coronations took place in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow. A long carriage ride but tradition is tradition.

Another room was full of carriages going back hundreds of years.

Peter the Great’s boots (made by himself) were on display.

There were rooms full of china and serving sets.

Finally, there were lots of diamonds and emeralds on crowns and other regal items as well as the remaining Faberge Eggs (some of the 93 authentic eggs are now in private and unknown hands).

The Armory was difficult for some people because of the stairs – Marina never indicated that there were lifts anywhere so everyone climbed the three stories to see the exhibits. It was also very warm in the rooms even though each of the exhibits was enclosed in a temperate and humidity controlled environment.

Finally, we were back outside in the fresh air again.  There were some interesting items just outside the Armory.

The Tsar Cannon (of course, the largest cannon in the World – never fired)

IMG_20091231_Tsar Cannon biggest in world

and the Tsar Bell.

IMG_20091231_Tsar Bell biggest in world never rung

The Tsar Bell – again, the largest in the World – was never rung. It was damaged in a fire – while the bell was hot from the flames, people threw water on it causing it to crack. Today, there is a large jagged hole in the side of the bell.

From the Bell, we were able to get a long distance shot of where Vladimir Putin works.

IMG_20091231_Putins Office

Putin’s Office

We also walked by the Grand Kremlin Palace,

IMG_20091231_Grand Kremlin Palace

where all of the State Functions are held.

Across the street from the Palace, you could get a view of the Moscow River down the embankment.

IMG_20091231_Moscow River from Kremlin

We exited the Kremlin via another gate, the Troitskaya Gate, which led onto Red Square.

IMG_20180731_GUM mall Red SquareIMG_20180731_Kremlin WallIMG_20180731_Red Square toward State Historical Museum

Red Square

The most striking feature of Red Square was St. Basil’s Cathedral, with its colorful design.

IMG_20180801_St Basil Church Moscow 1

We managed to find someone willing to take our picture in front of the Cathedral.  There were so many people gathered in front of the Cathedral that we were lucky to get one of us with minimum random people.

IMG_20180731_we at St. Basil Cathedral

Lenin’s Tomb is still there but today it was covered up with some kind of construction netting. As you looked down the square from the Cathedral, you could see the brick red State Historical Museum.

The Kremlin wall continued down the left side of the square and you could see the buildings of the Kremlin over the top of the wall.

IMG_20180731_Kremlin from Red Square

The Kremlin behind the Wall

GUM, the huge shopping center, took up a square block on the right side of Red Square.

IMG_20180731_GUM mall Red Square


IMG_20180731_Red Square

St. Basil’s Cathedral from the Historical Museum

Even though the weather was perfect, he square was not crowded. We walked down the square and gathered alongside the State Historical Museum

IMG_20180731_State Historical Museum Red Square

State Historical Museum

and another famous church, The Kazan Cathedral. This would be our meeting place after an hour or so of free time.

I was really looking for some Russian beer and our first attempt was inside the GUM complex. We found no beer there (there were plenty of ice creams shops) so we went into a small restaurant complex  – no A/C and park bench type seating. The Russian kid tending the counter spoke enough English to recommend a beer.

 IMG_20180731_Russian Beer

A beer in Moscow

I ordered the Russian beer on tap – it ran about $4.00 and it came semi cold and it was bitter. The taste did grow on me and I finished it. After doing so, we noticed another little food place, in the same complex, that displayed a menorah and some Hebrew words. Turns out it was an Israeli restaurant offering falafel and the like. I could have had my beer there but didn’t notice it. We spoke to the girl behind the counter and told her how happy we were to see the place. She was nice.

We looked at some of the stores across the street from GUM. We wound up buying a nested doll magnet and I got a nice shot of the guy in the WH – he was in a group of Russian politicians so I think that was probably appropriate.

IMG_20180731_whos this

The Name Escapes Me

The street between GUM and the Church still had Christmas Lights up for the length of the street. It gave the street an interesting look.

IMG_20180731_Side Street near Red Square 1IMG_20180731_Side Street near Red Square

While we were waiting for our group, I noticed some Russian Police (men and women) questioning a group of older kids/young adults and checking their papers.  The police apparently didn’t like the answers because they escorted them away to who knows where.  Russia is still Russia.

Everyone was back on time and we walked back to the train station. In a little while, we were back on the Sansa Bullet Train – we had better seats and a better window this time. Before dinner was served, Russ asked us if salmon would be OK for dinner.  Of course, we said yes.  However, no salmon arrived (something about running out – it was confusing).  The veggie meals were simply awful – some kind of marinated vegetables – so we didn’t eat it. Instead, we had some of the cheese and rolls taken from the ship along with the dessert from the train.

Four semi-tedious hours later, we were back in St. Petersburg at the train station.

IMG_20180731_Back from the train ride

It was after midnight now and our bus was not there.

We had a chance to walk around the area while our guide went looking for our bus.  There was a Galleria Mall still open and busy at that hour.

IMG_20180731_Galleria Mall after midnight

Galleria Mall

Russ found the bus and we headed back to the pier.  We took Nevsky Prospekt part of the way – the main shopping street was still abuzz with night folk.

IMG_20180801_Nevsky Prospekt after midnight

We arrived at the pier about 1 AM and soon we were back on the ship.

What a tiring but incredible day in the Capital of Russia.

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