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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cruisin' the Baltic: St. Petersburg, Russia

When you arrive in St. Petersburg, Russia, via a cruise ship, with limited time on land, you are allowed to enter Russia without a visa, which is no small thing, given that visas to visit Russia are expensive and kind of hard to get.  So this being able to visit St. Petersburg was one of the main reasons for our giving this cruise a try.  This was actually Doug's 3rd visit to this town, his first being when it was still Leningrad.  The first time we visited together was back in 2001 with a friend who spoke Russian and was able to help us fix our visas.  So it was lovely to have yet another chance on a gorgeous spring day to see this amazing place.
Not much English is spoken here even today the signs are written in Cyrillic so it was kind of challenging at times figuring out where we were and upon what street we were standing! 
The architecture of this town is breathtaking.  One gorgeous building after another adorn every inch of this city.  The color scheme of soft pastels was kept throughout.  Green, yellow, pink and light blue were seen everywhere!  An architectural highlight is Orthodox church, Church of the Spilled Blood.  It's a dazzling church with it's multi-colored facade.  A small market place was just down the street and here we literally saw east meeting west as we saw the Matryoshka dolls in all manner of American sports team!
While we didn't go over to the island that houses the fortress of St. Peter and Paul, the gleaming gold spires are a sight to behold and we enjoyed seeing the locals using the beach that surrounded the fortress walls as a swimming hole.  The water of the Neva must surely be quite chilly at this time of year however.  Gold domes do abound in this town! 
A visit to St. Petersburg would not be complete without a visit to the bronze horseman.  Peter the Great sits proudly upon his horse ready to conquer the world!  The huge, looming dome of St. Isak's cathedral sits behind him.  
After walking for miles and miles through this dazzling city, we decided that the very best way to experience the full essence of St. Petersburg was by boat.  We were not wrong.  One part Venice, one part Stockholm, a boat ride through the city gives you a wonderfully close look at all of its dazzling features.  The commentary was only in Russia so we had to make up our own story as we floated along.
One a way day stop, you cannot do everything and we did not return to Peterhof, the summer palace that Peter built as a tribute to victory over Sweden!  We did get there on our previous trip and I would say that trying to figure out how to see it should be a priority.  It is a crazy, opulent, fantastic place filled with playful fountains and more frills that thrill.
All in all we had a wonderful day in this Russian jewel of a city.  One day is not long enough but it's till better than never at all.