After weaving our way east along the Gulf of Finland, around the islands of Ostrov Gogland and O Seskar, and having been called by the Russian Coastguard persistently through the night for reporting purposes, we arrived at the Pilot station at 0500.The nights were drawing in and Autumn was approaching as it was pitch black. Only a few months ago on my last call it was pleasantly light!! We made our way down the channel, passing Khroshdadt, the old Harbour for the once proud Baltic Fleet, who have since been relocated. There is a number of rusting ships, trawlers and a few submarines but it is in a sorry state sadly. However after the many years of sailing into St Petersburg, they are now putting the finishing touches to their once dormant lock gate system. Now it is very impressive, built to keep the water levels at a constant in the harbour. Today’s transit was going to be a little more challenging than normal. I had been contacted by our Agent, when I was still on leave to tell me that the Port had stationed 2 wooden floating pontoons at the approach to our berth at the English Embankment. This is a trial as they want to build a new bridge across the river and these pontoons are situated where the more permanent concrete parapets are going to be. I was told it was a 70 metres wide gap, but it turned out to be somewhat narrower, being about 40 metres so we didn’t have much room.
Anyway conditions were favourable and the river was not running at strength and there was no wind so we sailed through but it is angled at the most awkward direction as you end up going across the river, with the current on your starboard bow rather than keeping the bow into the river stream as would be the norm. Because of the manoeuvrability of this ship I was able to adjust but with the pilots we all agreed this was not a good idea and they wanted me to give feedback to the port about this. Anyway, we approached our berth, the best berth in town, right at English Embankment and were soon all fast alongside the pontoons on a beautiful crisp morning at 0830. For most of our passengers this port was one of the highlights of this cruise. We will be spending 3 days here so this gives our passengers enough time to explore St Petersburg and really experience all the city has to offer. St Petersburg is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city was originally called Petrograd from 1914 to 1924 and Leningrad from 1924 to 1991. It is often referred to as Petersburg and is informally known as Piter. This relatively young city has packed a lot into its 300 years, and is brimming with historic treasures including ornate palaces, beautiful gardens and world-renowned museums. The city is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ as it has many bridges over the River Neva, an important part of the city.
With three days to explore the wonders of St. Petersburg our passengers could choose from 18 tours as well as the option of an exclusive bespoke car service which was a perfect way for our independent travellers not taking part in a tour to see the sights. Some of the most popular tours were the all day and evening tours which really gave our guests the chance to experience St Petersburg and Russia at its finest.
One of the most spectacular tours was the ‘Splendours of St. Petersburg’. This a 9 hour full day Panoramic guided tour starting with a short drive to the historical centre of the city. A slow drive along the embankment which took them to Decembrists’ Square, dominated by the ‘Bronze Horseman’ monument to Peter the Great. A photo stop at St Isaac’s Cathedral brought our passengers to Palace Square and past the Winter Palace. After, there was a photo stop at the Rostral Columns to photograph the beautiful panorama of the Neva River and Peter and Paul Fortress. The next stop on the tour was at Peter and Pauls Fortress, the prison which was home to a roll-call of Revolutionists from Dostoevsky to Trotsky, and within the wall on the fortress is the Cathedral of Peter and Paul. Next, as they drove along the Nevsky Prospect Boulevard, they could really feel the city’s contemporary pulse. For lunch they stopped at one of the best downtown restaurants, it included a glass of Russian Champagne and a great lunch. After lunch they then spent the rest of the afternoon wondering around and exploring the magnificent halls and staterooms of the Winter Palace on a guided tour.
We also offered something different for our passengers with the ‘Gulf of Finland Panoramic Drive’ a chance for them to get out of the city and see something different. This panoramic tour took our passengers off the beaten track, and introduced them to one of the most picturesque areas outside St. Petersburg: the Resort District. This is located on the Karelian Isthmus along the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The first part of the tour took them on a journey through St. Petersburg towards its north western boundary on the Lower Highway that lies along the Gulf coast. They pasted through the resort areas of Sestroretsk, Solnechnoye, Komarovo, Repino and Zelenogorsk. Before 1917 this whole area was part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, ruled by the Grand Dukes. Even though Finland was at the time part of the Russian Empire, there was a state boarder and a valid passport was needed to cross. One of the highlights of Zelenogorsk was the beautiful Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan; a photo stop was made her before making their way back to the ship.
We also offered a variety of half day tours, such as Peterhof Parks & Fountains, Spilled Blood Cathedral, Shopping & Canal Cruise and Peter & Paul Fortress & Canal Cruise.
As we had two nights here in St Petersburg we offered two evening tours. One each night which was perfect for those passengers who wanted to experience it all.
On the first night our guests were able to enjoy ‘An Evening of Ballet’ which was the more popular of the two evening tours. Recognised around the world, the Russian Classical Ballet was able to be enjoyed by our passengers on this mesmerising tour. Our guests made their way the Aurora Hall, a well-equipped and comfortable theatre with excellent views for every spectator. Accompanied by the State Symphony Orchestra, the dancers wowed our passengers and impressed with their skill, poise and talent during the course of an unforgettable evening.
On the second evening our guests spent ‘An Evening of Folklore’. Our guests travelled to the Carnival Concert Hall in the heart of St Petersburg to enjoy a wonderful evening of lively Russian folkloric song and dance. The magnificent performance was made up from traditional songs and dances used during celebrations from all over Russia, combined with classical aspects of ballet and modern dance. During the interval our guests were treated to champagne, vodka and snacks to help make this an evening to remember.
Looking at the evening and daytime activities our passengers had the choice of lots to do if they didn’t go ashore with Resty our Cruise Staff organising play throughout the day with games such as shuffleboard, golf putting and the Wii game to name but a few. In the evening after an early dinner passengers could enjoy ‘The King’s Speech’ in the Discovery Lounge or join in with a fun Name that tune quiz with our Cruise Director Jo Boase and our Cocktail pianist Adam Reece at the piano. For those returning later on in the evening a Special Late Night Buffet was provided in the Dining Room.
For our Second night in St. Petersburg we invited the The Landolfi Trio to perform “A Classical Selection” including works by Tchaikovsky, Monti & Copland in the Discovery Lounge. The evening’s entertainment did not end there with a night to remember out on the open deck dancing the night away with the cruise staff under the Stars. Once again for those passengers returning from the Folklore excursion a Special Late Night Buffet was provided in the Dining Room.
As we approached our final day in St. Petersburg Cruise Staff Charlotte hosted all kinds of daytime activities onboard for those who chose to stay with us and we asked that all passengers were aboard for 5.30pm. For sailing, we had some guests on the bridge who had won a bridge visit in our auction. This cruise we have been raising money for the Saga Charitable Trust and our passengers have been very generous in their donations. We swung off the berth, back through the “trial bridge” and down the river. A straight forward procedure and after 3 hours we had disembarked the pilots and set course for Tallin., Estonia.
For this evening’s entertainment we began with Easy Listening from our cocktail pianist Adam Reece.
Following dinner guests could enjoy a general knowledge quiz at tonight’s Team Trivia hosted in Shackletons by our assistant cruise director Kayleigh.
Showtime this evening began with a Classical Recital from our cocktail pianist Adam Reece including works by Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy & Grieg as well as a few surprises. The evening’s entertainment carried on with Variety Showtime presenting entertainers Geoff Taylor and Suzanne Godfrey before inviting back the Saga Pearl II Orchestra and the gentlemen hosts to dance the night away until late.
For those wanting a nightcap they could join Adam Reece our cocktail pianist in Shackleton’s Bar for Late Night Cabaret & Cocktails.