This morning, we docked at the recently opened cruise ship terminal in Saint Petersburg, which is the second largest metro area in Russia – second to Moscow. The city has a population of 4.7 million, and including the outskirts, they total 6 million. That makes it the same size as the Delaware Valley / greater Philadelphia area.
It is an industrial city with large port facilities, has been the capital of Russia in the past, is a cultural hub, was home of the Romanovs, and was site of the siege in World War II when the Germans tried to capture St. Petersburg and break the spirit of the Russian army. So, it has relevant history and is yet meaningful in current times.
It was a bit cooler and a bit overcast today, but still seasonably warm – and dry. They only get 66 days of dry / nicer weather in a year, so we count ourselves lucky. After breakfast, we assembled our things and checked in for the “Highlights of Saint Petersburg” excursion – scheduled to last 4 hours. Whereas we never went through immigration in Sweden or Finland, unfortunately, getting into Russia is a bit more challenging. The queues were long in the port terminal, where we had to individually show our passport, immigration forms, and excursion ticket. All-in-all, it took us about 45 minutes. Our relatively small group was assigned to a bus, and our guide was Vladimir.
If you picture a highlights tour of Philadelphia or New York City, you have an image of what we were seeing. Churches that were taken from the church years ago – and are being petitioned for return, the odd cannon or horse with rider statues as tribute to one leader or another, an early naval destroyer, launched in 1903, a mobile ICBM launch crew that we were debating whether it was part of a museum – or viable. We went into the Fortress of Peter and Paul, which housed the chapel of Peter and Paul, which had lots of gold leaf artistry, and was the burial site of much of the Romanov family and heirs. There are many beautiful crypts in the church, but they are all currently empty – as the bodies were relocated to “safer” situations due to turbulent periods in their history.
Our driver did find us free bathrooms – at the price of being co-located with a gift shop. Isn’t that the way it works?
We got back, ate lunch – walking up from deck 5 to deck 12 – then Alison and I went up to deck 14 (there is no deck 13) for some pictures. Naps were very welcome, after that. We woke up and did a few odds and ends before dressing for dinner – reservations at Jaques, the on-board French restaurant, which was very good. Our waiters and sommelier happened to be Indian that had a great sense of humor. That was down on Deck 5. We walked around a bit after dinner, and returned to our cabin to prepare for a very early morning.
Tomorrow, the alarm goes off at 4:45am, and we have to check in for our excursion to Moscow by 5:30. It involves going through immigration again (but reportedly easier), getting to the public train station, taking the 4 hour high speed train station to Moscow, touring, taking the subway, having dinner, and returning to St Petersburg and the ship. Overall, we are looking at an 18 hour day. I strongly doubt that I will be publishing much of an entry for tomorrow until, at least, the day after.