Thursday, July 1, 2010

From Russia With Love

If it's Tuesday, it must be Russia, to be exact, St. Petersburg, Russia. It was built in 1703 by Czar Peter the Great who was bored with Moscow and made it his new capital. It is currently the fourth largest city in Europe.

Named after St. Peter, its name was changed in 1914 as Russia entered World War I to Petrograd to make it sound more Russian and less Germanic, then renamed Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin's death and was returned to its original name after the fall of Communism in 1991 by a vote of the people.

Mysterious Russia was now ours to see except for one small problem. I knew that if we were on our own we would have needed to get a visa months in advance to enter this still somewhat closed society. I was led to believe that since we were on a cruise, the visa would not be needed. We found out that I was dead wrong, no visa, no disembarking from the ship in St. Petersburg!

Unless you bought an onshore excursion through Royal Caribbean. $278 later we were both booked on a 9 hour tour of Europe's fourth largest city! It could have been much worse, there was a private tour that cost $1650/car, YIKES!

Eric Slivoskey was the one who had told us about this cruise a few months ago. They took this same cruise in 2009 but had one problem. St. Petersburg did not have a pier for cruise ships and bad weather forced all of his boat's passengers to stay on the boat because it was deemed too risky to use the tenders to ferry people ashore.

I was concerned but the weather was good and guess what, St. Petersburg now has a brand spanking new cruise ship pier!

Mother Russia here we come!!!

Happy, peppy people at customs

I got a couple of grunts from my Russian customs man, having Washington as a middle name on my passport probably didn't help his mood.

The Hermitage Museum

What you see here is the old Winter Palace, which was the official residence of the imperial family, that started out "modestly" housing Catherine the Great's private collection. It now has over 3 million pieces of art!

This is easily one of the four best museums we have visited in Europe ranking right up there with the Paris' Louvre, Rome's Vatican and Madrid's Prado Museums.

Ornate Ceilings, not a problem

The Czar's Throne Room

This is where Russia's Czars and Czarinas met visiting dignitaries.

An art student working on her craft

Of course her craft might be art forgery. We saw several students around the museum who were all taking their turns at copying the Masters.

The Hermitage's Central Square

The Hermitage is actually made up of four separate buildings (the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage and the New Hermitage) that surround this obligatory obelisk.

Boy on a Dolphin

Myhtology says that these two were playmates. The boy dies and the dolphin carries him to shore, lays next to his corpse and dies as well.

Great story if you like mahi-mahi.

A room for REALLY big art pieces

Are you looking at me?

A simple desk

That does it, a new ceiling for
Casa Contreras when we get home!

The Church of Our Savior on the
Spilled Blood

Dazzling is a good word. Modeled after St. Basil's in Moscow, it was built between 1883 and 1907 on the spot where Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, hence the gruesome name.

Old times die hard in St. Petersburg

Cyrillic Subway, I'm getting hungry

The perfect place for a
traditional Russian meal!

They started us off with shots of vodka and Russian singers and dancers. What more do you need for your first Russian dining experience? It was a solid meal and the entertainment was interesting.

The outside of our restaurant

St. Isaac's Cathedral

The two Rostral Columns

They originally served as oil-fire navigation beacons.

The instant Russian Chick Magnet

This young man popped the cork and women attacked him . . . nice ploy.

We also saw countless wedding parties all over the city's great sights having their pictures taken.

Gold Domes R Us

As you can tell, Europe in general loves Golden Domes, sorry ND fans you're not the only ones with one of these babies. This one is part of the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral again

Intense Security at Peter and Paul Fortress

St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral

I'm thinking a pastel ceiling in the TV room.

The tomb of Czar Alexander II's wife

St. Petersburg's Neva River

Peter and Paul Fortress Sun Worshippers

The Neva River is the place to hang out.

I guess the wall is warm

Nice outfit on the guy strolling down the shore.

REALLY warm!

Fashion Status

One thing really struck me today, Russian girls all seem to have short skirts, long legs and . . .

. . . spiked heels.

I'm not against this at all!

Well, maybe not all Russian girls

Russian Architecture

One thing is so very striking in this city, the contrast between opulent Czarist architecture and the austere architecture from the Soviet Period.

I tried to find a pamphlet on "Great Architects of Soviet Russia" but could not find one.

The Battleship Aurora

This historic ship fired a blank shot at the Winter Palace signaling the start of the Russian Revolution in 1917 as peasants assaulted the Palace and thus began nearly 80 years of the Communist domination over the USSR.

White Nights

This time of the year is known as White Nights in St. Petersburg because it stays light almost the whole day. I took this picture at 11:30 p.m. just before we sailed out of St. Petesburg's harbor.

Some final thoughts on St. Petersburg, it is a beautiful city with lots of history both good and bad. I am so glad to have come here and visited.

It is so hard to imagine that during World War II, the Nazis surrounded Leningrad, as it was called then, and held it under siege for over 900 days, nearly three years! It is estimated that over 1 million inhabitants of this great city died in the siege, mostly due to starvation and freezing weather.

How could things like this happen in what is now such a fascinating, upbeat city?

Do Svidaniya!!!

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