Day 6 - St. Petersburg, Russia

July 6th

Cruise Ship Log

July 6, 2007 - St. Petersburg: At 1805 with all passangers and all crew on board, the Star Princess was ready to sail. Once all lines were clear of the water at 1813, we commenced navigation inside the St. Petersburg harbour channel toward the breakwaters. We cleared the breakwaters at 1853. Once clear from the channel, the Star Pricness set various westerly courses throughout the night toward Tallin.

Noon Position:
Alongside in St. Petersburg

Pressure: 998.5 kPa

Wind: NE Force 1

Temperature: 18° C

Sky: Cloudy

Our morning began once again with room service. We prepared to leave the ship to have our second day in St. Petersburg. It appeared that customs was a little smoother on day two. Our group made it quickly through the customs trailer with new plastic cards, but no new stamps in our passport. Once again, officially in Russia we met up with our guide Kate. There was a problem at the port check point and all the vehicles entering the port were backed up at the main gate. Because of the backup Kate and many of the other tour group leaders had to walk to meet their groups, while the drivers like Yuri, waited to be allowed into the port. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long because he was on his way just as Kate made her way to us.

Again, we started our day outside of the city at Peterhof, or Peter’s Palace. Prior to planning this trip it was not a place I had ever heard of, but as we started to look at the travel guides and I saw the images of the gardens, it was a place I really looked forward to visiting. The ride out of the city took about 45 minutes, along the way we passed by a former “minor” palace that had been updated by Putin to be used as the Presidential Palace in St. Petersburg. Not only did he use the palace when he was in town, but other important visitors, like Sir Paul McCartney stayed in the cottages when they visited the area.

We parked a distance from the palace, barely able to make out the tops of the chapel through the rows of trees. The weather was overcast and it was raining on and off. The rows of trees opened to a grass garden crossed with dirt walkways and dotted with a few fountains and low round pruned shrubs. It was early and the fountains weren’t on yet, but there was a feeling of calmness we had not experienced the previous day. The façade of the palace was similar to Catherine’s or even the Hermitage, a long building with two levels of windows in a repetitive style. The paint was yellow with the trim and details all in white. At another end the chapel you could see the multiple gold spires.

There was a small line at the door along with a band that played music. The three musicians were dressed in what looked to me to be George Washington era costumes with the “powdered” wigs. The leader would ask a tourist where they were from and then break into the visitor’s national anthem.

It was rather surreal to be standing on Russian soil listening to our national anthem performed by three costumed men. Kate had us stand in line while she walked around looking for another DenRus group for us to “join” in line and skip ahead. Lucky for us, she found a group and we were in the palace putting on our booties after only a short wait.

It appeared that only tour groups were allowed in the palace in the mornings, so it was a little more controlled than the previous day. We had our photo permissions and Kate told us about the grand stairway while we waited for our turn to walk up the steps. We were told we could use a flash in most of the rooms, apparently the main stairway was ne of the no flash zones. I managed to get yelled at twice -- once for the flash and then when I was trying to get as far in the corner as I could to capture the whole stairway, when my back touched the wall. A few minutes later Chris got yelled at for touching the wall with his back. Actually the woman just clapped her hands at him. The walls were decorated with gold leafed carvings so it was understandable, but they were oddly jumpy about the stairway.

The stairs were originally made of wood, but when they were redone they were made of marble. Only some of the statues were original, many were destroyed during WWII along with other buildings. It was obvious which statues were the originals because they were a darker gold than the new ones. From the stairway we walked through several other rooms. Like the palaces the day before, each was slightly different and only intended for one use. One of the very interesting rooms was “wall papered” much like one of the rooms in Catherine’s Palace, but with portraits all done by one painter and only a handful of different models. There were two Chinese rooms; these were made after Catherine received a Chinese screen that she liked. The screen was taken apart and used as panels to decorate the rooms.

Another room had silk covered walls. The silk depicted the porcelain making process which the Tsar had been very interested in learning. Because of this, he had purchased a large quantity of the silk, far more than what was needed to cover the walls of the relatively small room. The extra silk had been stored away and when the room we redone after the war they were able to use that silk to replace all the damaged silk.

We were able to go through these rooms fairly easily compared to the day before. After visiting the rooms along the back of the palace we returned to the main level to exit the into the back gardens.the grand cascase at Peterhof The line to enter the gardens and palace was very long, entering from this side of the palace. It appeared that anyone who was not part of a pre-booked tour group had to come in the afternoon and wait in this line to tour the palace. There were vendors all along the top terrace selling “authentic” gifts, almost obstructing the view of the fountains.

Even with the vendors, the overcast weather and the insane number of tourists, the view was impressive. From the top terrace you could look straight out to the Gulf of Finland, one part of the Baltic Sea. The Grand Cascade of fountains all lead from the top terrace, down to the pool with the Samson Fountain and the Sea Channel beyond that cuts through the forest to the open sea.

While the size and design of the fountains were impressive, the ultimate wow factor was that they totally run on natural force -- no pumps are used to feed the giant sprays. During the Tsars time these were always “on”, however as people have become more concerned with water conservation they have blocked off the water that feeds them in the evening, only to release the water later during tourist time. They were truly incredible to see, the gold statues with flowing water and marble terracing down from the palace. We walked through the crowds, down the terrace steps to the path leading into the wooded area alongside the canal. At the bridge across the canal we stopped to get a family photo with the palace and fountains as a backdrop. As we all lined up and gave Kate our cameras, a street sweeper type of machine came along to clean the bridge. This was bizarre because the ground is mostly dirt, so cleaning the bridge was not going to accomplish much on a rainy day and the drivers had no regard for the tourists, they just drove the vehicle along spraying water at anyone that did not move. We were able to have a few quick photos taken before getting sprayed.

On either side of the Sea Channel are the Adam and Eve Fountains. We headed into the gardens to the east where eight paths meet at the Adam Fountain. At this junction there were other structures, but really it was just an opening with a fountain. We did not stay here very long, heading back toward the palace by way of the Parterre Garden where there were two recently renovated Roman Fountains and the Dragon Cascade. This is also known as Chessboard Fountain due to the black and white sloping cascade steps. It was mid-day at this point and we hoped to eat in the garden, rather than wait to get back to St. Petersburg.

Off one of the pathways heading back to the palace was a green house, or orangey, that had been turned into a restaurant. Unfortunately, many large groups had booked lunch there. The only items we could order were pies, so it was out of the garden on the path leading back up the hill. Outside the garden complex we found a place to eat, a small café attached to the main palace. We got a table, I ordered tortellini with salmon, which was very good, made with fresh pasta and listed on the “traditional” side of the menu.