Tuesday, 21 July 2015

St Petersburg, here we are!

Apart from the learning opportunities a major point for this cruise was the fact that the ship would be visiting St Petersburg.

St Petersburg the home of the Russian Royal family, the place of many history books I have read, the Hermitage Museum, Catherine's Palace, the many other Royal Buildings, the 1917 Revolution, the Siege of Leningrad and the Soviet Era.

Over the years it has taken on an air of mystique. The fact travel in was restricted for so long also added to this. Even today it isn't that easy to visit and being on a cruise ship was easier as you did not need a visa but you were not allowed to leave the ship unless you were on an escorted tour.

Buses all in a way!
I signed up for the two day St Petersburg tour and a full two days it was with us docking at 7am on day one and leaving 6pm the following day.


So we headed off through the Russian passport control where we were given an entry permit and a passport stamp, not sure why it had to be on the last page of my passport! So far the first seven pages of my passport are clear with intermittent stamps from various countries scattered throughout and most countries there is no evidence you were ever there! When I think of all the colourful stamps in my grandmother's passport it seems a little unfair.

We assembled at the bus and met our guide Svetlana and we were off. The sound system in use off the bus was very good as each person had a receiver and Svetlana was able to speak normally and we could all hear and if you got more than around 40 metres away it faded out so you could always find her. A bit like the old childrens game of "Hotter, Colder"

Opposite the port were banks of apartment buildings all looking drab, grey and utilitarian.

When I asked about these I was told they were built in the 1970s and were part of the "Soviet Era" and you could hear the capitals.

Apparently some of these were not built with kitchens as you were fed all meals at the factories in which you worked and they were more a place to sleep rather than to live and some even now do not have kitchens.

There were quite the variation in buildings particularly in closer to the centre. Many of the historic buildings showed evidence of need of repair although there were quite a number of buildings encased in a shade-cloth style of material that were undergoing "reconstruction" in Svetlana's words.  I am sure this is at a great cost but with so many still to do to retain their heritage it must be a concern.

There were quite a few flower boxes and gardens in public spaces which did make it look pretty.

St Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great 27 May 1703 on the Neva River in the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It  was the imperial capital of Russia during this time and is still considered the cultural capital. It was renamed Petrograd in 1918, then Leningrad in 1924 then back to St Petersburg in 1991. Moscow became the capital in 1918.

Many of the original buildings were constructed of timber so very few of these survive today. Many of the buildings were rebuilt in stone and as these were the Royal residences and are the beautiful buildings we admire today. There is a strong European influence and in fact the Royal family did not speak Russian but instead spoke French as a language of culture.

Academy of Fine Arts



Gold Straw Anyone?
Rostral Column



Gold Statue on top of the Academy of Arts
Admiralty and St Isaacs Cathedral
Lots of photos on the way to the Hermitage which was our point of call this morning. The sun hid from us and we had grey skies but no rain at this time.

Even with this limited amount of sun the gold domes are quite visible.

There were so many things to see on every side and so much history.
Eric and Rosemary Kopittke beside the Sphinx

Sphinx on the bank of the Neva



















There were two sphinxes facing each other on the bank of the Neva River. The sphinxes were collected by the Royal family.



Taken from the bus, unknown church
Burger King
He looks a fairly hungry lion, seen near the Burger King

We stopped next at the Church of the Spilled Blood but I am going to put that in a new post.