Thursday, June 05, 2008

St. Petersburg warms up to us (June 4, 2008)

The weather for today was clear and warmer. Considering that St Petersburg receives only an average of 76 sunny days per year, we were sure blessed with one of the best days of the year today.

Our tour took us first to Catherine’s Palace. We arrived before the museum was open to the public, but since many tours arrived along with us, it was still quite crowded. Catherine’s Palace was severely damaged during WWII and only recently has been restored. One of the last items to be completed, just 4 years ago was the restoration of the Amber Room. This was a 400 year old room within the palace that is completely lined with panels made from Baltic Amber. Unfortunately, they don’t allow any photos in that room, but some of the other pictures will give you an idea of the magnificence of the baroque style and the extensive gold plating.

We enjoyed another lunch today in the small town of Pushkin where Catherine’s Palace is located. We had more traditional music and caviar with our lunch.

The afternoon was spent at the Peterhoff Palace located Southwest of St. Petersburg on the Finish Sea. This palace was used as the Summer Palace and it enjoys a milder climate and has wonderful gardens and fountains. The gardens were blooming with lilacs, apple blossoms, and tulips of many colors. The fountains were a highlight of the gardens and each one was adorned with gold leaf and had some unique feature or style. I have included photos showing a few examples.

At this point in the tour, the castles start to all look alike on the inside. They all use the baroque style extensively and have unbelievable amounts of gold throughout. Peterhoff was almost completely destroyed during the Nazi occupation of WWII and has been extensively restored just recently to the original glory and style.

Our bus trip back to the harbor was an exercise in traffic brutality. We were supposed to return to the ship by 5PM, but since we were running a bit behind schedule, we ended up in the middle of town at 5PM when the rush hour traffic was at its worst. There was one intersection near the entrance to the harbor that was totally grid-locked with cars and trucks coming the other way. There were so many cars coming the other way, they filled all the lanes of the road we needed to enter the harbor. Our bus driver carefully moved in behind a large truck that forced his way down the road, actually making some of the cars back-up to clear the way. Since we were on a guided tour, the ship was required to wait for us, but we later learned that about 6 passengers who were on their own exploring the city did not make it back before the ship sailed for Tallinn – leaving them stranded in Russia!

All of the Russia Pictures can be found here:

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