St. Petersburg, Russia. We grew up with notions of “Russia” which we were told was our enemy. And there we were with Viking Cruises visiting this far-off city. Would the Russians be friendly? Would it be as modern as our big US cities?
We signed up for an optional excursion during our Viking Homelands trip. “The Ultimate St. Petersburg” two day itinerary included visits to Catherine’s Palace, the Hermitage, The Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the Winter Palace (technically part of the Hermitage), Peterhof – Peter the Great’s extravagant palace, a performance of Swan Lake at the Hermitage, a boat ride on the Gulf of Finland, and bus touring throughout the city. We enjoyed a full fledged Russian lunch in a rustic Russian country setting with costumed staff, entertainment, and Russian Vodka.
The tour was designed to give us a taste of the city’s extensive history as well as a quick look at the modern city it has become. As with most tours, this one offered us samples which whet our appetites, but in an effort to cram so much into so little time, we often wished we had a full day or more at many of the sites. But we came away feeling that we had good glimpses of the grandeur of the Palaces, the talent of some of the historically prominent artists, and a feeling for the present city and its residents.
Our knowledgeable guide Helen told us that St. Petersburg was founded in 1705 – the brainchild of Peter the Great who wanted a major city on the Baltic Sea that mirrored some of the great European Capitols. Wide roadways and multiple bridges recall the looks of Paris or Vienna.
A band greeted us at the entrance Video by Dianne R. Davis
Our tour began at Catherine’s Palace, a magnificent structure filled with ornately decorated rooms which was built by Catherine the First and occupied and expanded by Catherine The Great. The Palace was occupied by the Nazis during World War II when their troops were billeted at there as they bombarded the city. Regretfully, they destroyed much of the Palace, but there’s been enormous ongoing restoration to allow visitors to glimpse this historic time in Russian history.
After a 1½ hour guided tour, we proceeded to the beautiful grounds where Catherine had some “private” rooms for “special” events in a separate building. Helen was a bit more specific about the activities rumored to have taken place
Lunch was ethnic and entertaining. Traditional Russian dishes included beef stroganoff, Russian salads with beets, borscht with sour cream and of course the frozen vodka which made for good spirits.
The entertainment added to the overall atmosphere and ethnicity of the experience. Video by Dianne R. Davis
We stopped at the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood. This classic styled Russian Orthodox Church was commissioned by Czar Nicholas III to honor his father Czar Nicholas II who was assassinated on that spot in 1881.
The magnificent structure opened in 1907, but was closed by Stalin in 1930 and turned into a warehouse. The much needed repairs to the church were completed in 1997. It is now a major attraction and place of worship.
That evening, we attended the ballet. Our tour group and other Viking guests were treated to a performance of Swan Lake held in a private theater in the Winter Palace. This was certainly not a Bolshoi Ballet production, but it was quite enjoyable.
Our second day began with a visit to the famed Hermitage Museum. Viking had arranged an early entry for our group, so we were able to begin our visit to the famed structure before the crowds. The Hermitage was founded by Catherine the Great in 1754 and contains one of the largest museum collections in the world. We were able to view much of the museum in the three hours our tour allowed.
We could have spend days exploring the many works of art in the Hermitage Photo by Dianne R. Davis
We were impressed by the Peacock Clock, which was given as a gift to Empress Catherine the Great and is the only large example of 18th century robotics to have survived unaltered into the 21st century. Helen told us that there is a curator who’s only job is to take care of the clock.
Next we visited Peter the Great’s summer residence, the Peterhof Castle. As we took the nearly hour drive to the country we were again able to see St. Petersburg’s lovely boulevards and well maintained highways.The interior of the palace is exquisite. The throne room was one of the highlights
We walked down the beautiful path leading to the Gulf of Finland where a high speed hydrofoil ship awaited our group to take us for a short ride on the Gulf of Finland Photo by Burt Davis
As we rode the bus the short distance back to our 930 passenger ship, the Viking Star, Helen recapped our two day adventure in the magnificent city of Saint Petersburg.
This detailed optional tour was definitely worth taking. Viking Cruises did an excellent job of providing a local guide with a depth of knowledge and willingness to share her knowledge and opinions to help create a memorable tour.