To Russia With Love…Day One

Of all the ports we were scheduled to visit, I was most interested in St. Petersburg, also named Petrograd in 1914, Leningrad in 1924 and back to St. Petersburg in 1991. Maybe it’s growing up during the cold war period, but Russia has always seemed so foreign.  But again, no matter where I travel, people are all so much alike. Language, however, is certainly different.  How harsz_img_0781ppy I was not to drive!

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The Cyrillic alphabet looks like Greek to me.  Ha ha, it was invented by a Greek monk named Cyril. While traveling in Europe, there are many countries I have been able to figure out signs because of the similarities of Romance languages.  But not Russian. Though there are many signs that are recognizable anywhere:

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The best decision of the entire trip was to hire a private guide in Russia.  I did have a moment’s hesitation as I wired money to a travel company I could find very little about online.  In Russia you need a Visa to be unaccompanied. Without one you must be with a licensed guide. After pouring over the excursions offered by the tour ship, I mentioned to my Aunt Mari that I was in a quandary.  She recommended a tourrsz_img_0196 guide she had traveled with in St. Petersburg. Long story short, we found another guide through Mari’s contact. After a long wait in line, we handed the custom officer our printed form, all in Cyrillic except our names, and hoped it stated that we were ok to exit the ship. After close scrutiny we exited to find Natalia holding a sign with our names. Relief. So, we had Natalia and Alexander, our driver for two days. An exhausting, but fascinating time.

In the early 1700s, Peter the Great captured the area from the Swedes and built the Peter and Paul fortress.

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day one we headed for Peterhof, the Russian version of Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After about an hour drive from the dock, we arrived. The palace was opened in 1723 and is beautiful.

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Photos show the burying of treasures to hide from Nazi destruction or theft.

  The gardens are exceptional. Down in the lower gardens we found the Monplaisir Palace, situated right on the Gulf of Finland.  Natalia told us this was Peter’s favorite place, smaller and on the sea.

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The original palace didn’t look as it does today.Peter’s granddaughter, the empress Elizabeth expanded the palace and the park, including the Grand Cascade. Catherine the Great also made changes, but moved the location of her court to Pushkin. Nicholas I made it his residence. So much of the palace was destroyed during WWII, but it was fully restored by 1947.  That is hard to imagine considering the state of Russia after the war.

We returned to St. Petersburg by hydrofoil and ate lunch at a small restaurant featuring “stuffed breads.” You could get a piece stuffed with meat, fish, vegetables or sweet fillings.  The breads were beautifully decorated. We also tried the borscht and sorrel soups. Yum.

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The churches…the sheer immensity!

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built on the place where Alexander II was wounded and died in 1881. The building began in 1883 and was completed in 1907.

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St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Russian Orthodox, was constructed from 1818 to 1858. During WWII, the dome was painted gray to not attract the attention of enemy aircraft.

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We walked along the Nevsky Prospect, the major street in St. Petersburg. We visited the oldest delicatessen and window shopped.  We did buy a couple of T-shirts at a souvenir kiosk.

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We returned to the ship for a quick meal and headed out with an excursion group to an evening of Russian folk music and dance. It was a very enjoyable evening. The entertainers are mainly part of the military, either lifers or young people doing their mandatory service.

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Back to the ship after a very full day!

 

 

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