My first impression of St. Petersburg, Russia, was anything but grand. As we slowly moved up the Neva River, everything smelled like decay and diesel, and the scenery was anything but scenic.
Our dock was reassigned from a usual cruise ship spot to something much closer to town. We didn't know this at the time, but wow. It may not look beautiful, but we were minutes away from the old city's charm...I mean opulence.
This was the view from the Terrace Cafe, from the stern of the ship. All cranes, everywhere.
But then, there in the distance? What is that catching the sun? I zoomed in with my camera, and wow! This is the dome of a church that survived the Soviets. How did it survive, when most churches were torn down? It was used as an ice skating rink. seriously. An ice skating rink.
We signed up for a "Highlights of St. Petersburg" tour. But first, we had to go through immigration. We can now verify that Russian officials have a stereotype for a reason. One cute little blonde female did NOT like me, and at one point (I came across her 3 times!) I thought she would have slapped me, had there not been a protective glass between us. She did rise up out of her seat to bark at me.
The first stop on our bus tour was a park across from The Hermitage. Can you say, "Photo op?" They say that St. Petersburg has 305 days of rain or snow, and only 60 days without. We were very lucky to see some blue skies during our three days.
Hubby was big on selfies for this trip, though his choices I found to be a bit curious. In this one, I convinced him to let me shift, because originally that communist lighthouse was coming out of the top of my head. Then again, I do have some sort of antenna protruding - his tuft is just hair.
Our next stop was St. Isaac's Cathedral, which is flanked by The Astoria (where US Presidents stay when visiting St. Petersburg) and The Lotte (where the US purchased Alaska from Russia).
There was also a statue, in the middle of the plaza. Directly in back of me was bus parking for dozens of buses. DOZENS. I stopped to take this picture of costumed players - they were everywhere in St Petersburg - and when I did, hubby disappeared. poof!
He's done that to me before, in England. And elsewhere. But this time? Instead of staying put, I hightailed it back to the bus. I knew we had just minutes to board, and I hoped he would do the same thing. Turned out he'd gone back to the bus without me - and then returned to look for me, but by a different route. Long story. Pretty scary.
The next stop was the Church of the Spilled Blood. This is probably the most famous of the Russian churches, and it reminded me of Disneyland. It was built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated. To me one of the saddest things about Russian history is that this church was built and named after the spilled blood of Christ. But when the communists came to power, they erased religion, and it became common knowledge that it was named for the spilled blood of the tsar.
It is beautiful from every angle, a monument to Russian church architecture. If I understood our guide correctly, they have never held a church service inside.
There was a street mall behind the church, and I really wanted to shop, but we'd been repeatedly warned not to purchase anything from street vendors. "Don't pull out your wallet, don't show that you have money, be very careful, pick pockets are EVERYWHERE." The only other country that gave us such warnings was Denmark.
We did not purchase, but I did take a picture:
Our last stop of the bus tour was to St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Of course we took another selfie. We were not looking our best. While we were waiting in line, there was a quartet of musicians playing from the arched window you can see above the entrance. When it hit the top of the hour, they stopped playing and the glockenspiel began. It was lovely. Apparently they have free outdoor concerts here all summer long.
St Peter and Paul Cathedral is where all of the tsars are buried. The interior was completely unexpected. We were told, "If it looks like gold, it is gold." There was a LOT of gold inside this structure.
Interestingly enough, the pillars are painted to look like marble. That's how they got the green and pink. Apparently when the cathedral was built, it was more expensive to paint something to look like marble, than to actually build with the real thing.
Our morning tour came to a close, and it was time to return to the ship to prepare for our evening tour. I don't know if you can tell, but the immigration/customs building is floating alongside our ship. Apparently it is portable. Quite clever, actually. Then again, maybe this is a common occurrence? I haven't done much cruising, so I do not know.
I hope I am not boring you with my pictures. I took literally thousands, so it's a challenge to pick the highlights.