Norwegian GETAWAY Baltic Cruise: Part III
My bucket list has always included a visit to Saint Petersburg, Russia. So it was the chance to spend two whole days there that hooked me and I booked my nine day Baltic cruise on the NCL GETAWAY. My trusted travel agent, Scott Moster and his husband Dustin were coming on this trip and suggested we hire a private guide for the two days we would be there. Along with them and our friend John we met our guide Larissa and driver Misha at the pier our first morning in Saint Petersburg. Over two days and eighteen hours they shared the wonders of Saint Petersburg with us including one of the best museums in the world, the Hermitage, opulent Palaces and churches. Larissa was a font of information able to answer every question we had.
Saint Petersburg is a beautiful, well-kept modern city. On day one we headed directly to the Hermitage and on the way Larissa gave us a running history lesson which continued as we toured the museum. It is the second largest art museum in the world and was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great wanted a place to exhibit her art collection. It has been open to the public since 1852. Its total collection comprises over three million items. There are six buildings, five open to the public that comprise the museum including the opulent Winter Palace.
Catherine was a smart lady and purchased or was gifted paintings now in the galleries along the southern facade and in the western wing of the New Hermitage including collections of Van Dyck, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Then there is the magnificent golden peacock clock made up of three life-sized mechanical birds. Larissa told us the clock is shown daily on a Russian TV channel as the Peacock spreads its feathers when the clock is wound. We saw the gold and the diamond treasuries with artifacts unearthed in archaeological digs and gifts given to the czars. It boggled the mind to see all the diamond and other precious jewel encrusted sabers and watches; crowns of gold thorns, jewelry of all sorts all really quite breathtaking. After many hours in the Hermitage we drove through the city and stopped at a number of other beautiful churches and parks.
Day two dawned sunny and warm and we had asked to see the orthodox Jewish Synagogue. Today in Russia one can practice many different religions. The Synagogue was quite beautiful and we were there during morning services. We then headed to the main shopping street in Saint Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect, and walked along until we reached a metro stop. Larissa took us on the metro for two stops where Misha again met us with the van. The Metro stations are beautiful with marble carvings, incredible mosaics and glass columns with lots of gold leaf.
Then a forty-five minute drive to Peterhof (also known as Petrodvorets) which is often referred to as "the Russian Versailles". Actually a series of palaces and gardens commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to his seeing the Palace of Versailles which had been built by Louis XIV of France. I have been to Versailles and Peterhof is even be more impressive with its fountains and gardens. Once again Larissa was a fount of information on all the rooms and how the gardens were set up and how the fountains worked.
Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great's desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city. It was Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade. Larissa told us Peterhof was ravaged by German troops during the Second World War but was rebuilt thanks to the work of military engineers as well as over 1,000 volunteers. The Lower Park opened to the public in 1945 and the facades of the Grand Palace were restored in 1952. The name was also de-Germanicized in 1944, becoming Petrodvorets, the name under which the surrounding town is still known. However the palace and park are once again known as Peterhof.
The most famous ensemble of fountains, the Grand Cascade, which runs from the northern facade of the Grand Palace to the Marine Canal, comprises 64 different fountains, and over 200 bronze statues, bas-reliefs, and other decorations. At the center stands Rastrelli's spectacular statue of Samson wrestling the jaws of a lion. The Grotto behind the Grand Cascade, which was once used for small parties, contains the enormous pipes, originally wooden, that feed the fountains.
After hours in Peterhof we headed back to the city and toured the Church of the Resurrection, also known as the "Savior on Spilled Blood". It was built in memory of Alexander II who was assassinated in 1881 on the spot where the church now stands. Alexander II is considered among the greatest Russian Czars. He actually emancipated Russian serfs in 1861, which brought an end to the de facto slavery of the Russian peasantry. That was five years before the emancipation of slaves in the US.
Having a little time left before we needed to return to the ship Misha drove us through the city while Larissa gave us a running commentary on all we were seeing. Our two days in Saint Petersburg were magical.