Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the high-point of our cruise

the high-point of our cruise shore excursions has to be the visit to st petersburg in russia. we not only spent two days in this wonderful city, we also had a great local guide in victoria. a russian, educated in the united states. she was not only knowledgeable but also a very dedicated and responsible guide.

before the cruise, i had heard about st petersburg from a friend who has gone on more than 10 fly-cruises. he had painted a glorious picture of the place and i must say i have not been disappointed.

st petersburg, the cultural heart of modern day russia, was renamed petrograd in 1904. from 1924 to 1991, it was known by the name leningrad. the city, built on swampland, was founded by the russian tsar peter the great.

at the hermitage - the largest art museum in the world - we had time only for the highlights of the highlights. if you plan to spend time viewing each and every object in the hermitage, you will need a number of years to complete the task. even for those wonderful art pieces, we managed to see only some of the works done by the world's greats like rembrandt, leonardo da vinci and caravaggio.

the russians are mainly orthodox christians and the domes of their churches are usually in the shape of an onion. you can afford to miss all the other churches but not this one - the church of our saviour on the spilled blood. the church was built on the spot where emperor alexander ii was assassinated in 1881. it is claimed that this church uses more mosaics than any other church in the world.

in the words of our tour guide: if you think the exterior is beautiful, wait till you see the inside. that increased our anticipation. however, although we find the interior breathtaking, many of us prefer the stunning outside view.

another must visit place in st petersburg is catherine palace. this palace was not built by catherine the great. it was actually named after catherine i, the wife of peter the great. our tour guide mentioned that the russians wasted a lot of gold. after our visit to peterhof and to this palace, we were inclined to agree. about 100kg of gold was used to decorate the exterior of this palace during the reign of elizabeth (catherine's daughter).

this place, peterhof, was literally glittering and glistening in gold, the metal. the buildings and the many statues in the park were plastered with gold. we had taken the hovercraft on the neva river to get to peterhof, which is located just outside st petersburg. most tourists arrive there in time, just before 11 a.m., to witness the spectacular fountain display, especially that of the grand cascade.

peterhof is well-known not just for its gardens and parks but also for its wide variety of fountains. apart from the grand cascade, there are others like the samson fountain and the chessboard cascade. there is even a trick fountain; many an unsuspecting visitor have been sprayed with jets of water when they stepped on a certain stone along a foot path. we were told by our guide that no mechanical pump was used to operate any of the fountains in peterhof.

another place of visit you should not miss when you are in st petersburg is the peter and paul fortress. inside the cathedral are the royal tombs of all the russian tsars from peter the great to nicholas ii.

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