By land and by sea in two days – that’s how we experience St. Petersburg, considered as one of the most magically beautiful places on the planet. Built over 42 islands with 5 million people, the city known as the “Venice of the North” because of its canals crossed by 342 bridges, is surrounded by water and therefore getting out in a boat to cruise its rivers and canals is a must otherwise you won’t see its greater vistas.
Our day – 2 guided tour started with an hour drive to the town of Pushkin formerly called “Tsarskoye Selo” (Tsar’s Village) to visit Catherine Palace, one of the masterpieces of the world architecture. Built from 1752 to 1756 this lavish imperial palace was designed by an architect named Rastrelli for Russian Empress Elizabeth who named it Catherine Palace in honour of her mother Catherine. It’s also a summer retreat for the Romanov tsars and Russian nobility. You’ll be amazed by the palace grand baroque facade trimmed in gold and adorned with a profusion of atlantes (sculptural figures of man used as columns), pilasters and ornamental window framings.
The palace contains a series of magnificent rooms including the famous Portrait Hall, the Throne Room and the gem of the palace, the Amber Room. The Portrait Hall displays formal depictions of Russian rulers and also features a number of paintings of Empress Catherine and Empress Elizabeth and the jaw-dropping Throne Room, the principal stateroom, is the official venue for imperial and high-society receptions.
The Amber Room, sometimes dubbed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” due to its singular beauty with extraordinary architectural features such as the gilded carvings, amber panels (boasts 6 tons of precious amber from lemony yellow colour to deep red (worth about $142 million US dollars today), gold leafs, gemstones, and mirrors all highlighted with candle lights. Other design features are statues of angels and children.
At noon time of the glorious sunny day in august long daylight hour, we take a leisurely walk through the Landscape Park gardens of the palace animated with neo-gothic Admiralty (a complex of three pavilions), Chesme Column (a reminder of Russian naval war victories), Turkish Bath (memorial to Russian-Turkish war), Marble Bridge, and Hermitage Pavilion (much like a miniature palace) set around the central lake.
Then it’s time for traditional Russian lunch which consists of black bread (dark coarse bread of rye flour), hot soup and meat and potatoes and of course with Russian vodka.
Our busy day ended with a relaxing cruise around St. Petersburg’s network of canals and rivers including the main waterway of the city, the Neva River, taking in different perspective on its architecture and sights. We sail past the historical buildings of the Academy of Arts, the English and University Embankments lined with palaces of the nobility and the Senate Square.
You should know: If you go ashore from the cruise ship with an organized shore excursion with a licensed tour guide you need only carry your passport. You don’t need a visa, however if you want to do independent touring of St. Petersburg or any other Russian city you’re required to have a visa. Russian is the official language but English is widely spoken. Local currency is the Russian ruble (one $US is equivalent to 52.108 Russian ruble (Russian ruble = .0192000 $US) Major cards are widely accepted and most souvenir shops accept US dollars. However some restaurants and other shops require the use of rubles.