Sunday, 6 July 2008

From Russia With Love...

We'd spent the vast majority of the build up to the cruise being quite excited about going to St Petersburg, Russia - Kent's brother lived there for a year on an AFS exchange in 1995/96, so he's always been interested, and while it's becoming more touristy, it's still a bit further off the radar of most travellers, so it felt a bit more adventurous... especially when we realise we were the only people on the cruise who weren't going on organised excursions (out of over 2000 people) and were braving public transport with our Russian visas in tow.
We weren't disappointed... here's a few of our pics:

After getting off the boat and getting one of the free busses to the other side of the port (three miles) we got our visas checked by the seven year old looking conscript girl doing the border control. Then, with no idea where we were or where we were going, we started walking and managed to get a bus into town for 16 rubles each (30p or 70c) into town. We did spend the entire trip trying to figure out with the bus lady (who spoke perfect Russian, but alas, no English) how we were going to split our 1000 ruble note. She was just lovely though, as was everybody we met in Russia - apart from the information centre girl, ironically.
That first morning we did all the centre city bits having a look at the General Staff Building, St Isaacs Cathedral, Nevsky Prospekt, Bronze Horseman, Alexander Column, The Metro and the Church On The Spilled Blood... the spires of which look like some kid of lolly - it's so yummy looking! We made the bold decision not to go into the 1057 room museum and art gallery in the Hermitage/Winter Palace, one of the worlds greatest art galleries. But with the organised trips from the boat spending the whole day there we wanted to spread ourselves a bit thinner.
For the afternoon we took a hydrofoil boat thing over to Peterhof which was intended to be one of Peter the Great's palaces...he died while they were building it. The 1 km2 lower gardens were beautiful, as was the Grand Palace, which Peter wanted to be known as the 'Versailles of the East' By this stage we were starting to get the impression Russian money allocation was not particularly wise, no wonder they had a revolution.
We then a what felt like a never-ending walk back to the ship for our five course dinner.
The Peter and Paul Fortress was the second day's highlight. It's over the river from the majority of town, and is the fortress built in 1703 to defend the new city, although it's never been attacked. There are at least five different museums in the complex, along with the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral where all the Romanovs are buried, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas, his family and some of their servants, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 - they weren't buried at the Cathedral until 1997 though.
We saw and felt the noon cannon firing from the Bastion...then bolted inside to the museums in the complex on various artistic, historical and general life in Russia exhibits; we couldn’t go far as it was raining and Eryn had just washed her hair - had Kent just proposed to the queen of high maintenance?!
We loved it - one of the places we could easily spend another week... maybe next time in the snow, so it looks like the Russia we've seen in James Bond movies!
Do svidaniya!
Kent & Eryn xx

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