Like Venice and Amsterdam, St. Petersburg is a floating city, crouching on the water, criss-crossed by rivers and canals, sewn together by hundreds of bridges, ceremonial, quaint or humdrum. The principal waterway is the River Neva, leading eventually to the Gulf of Finland. Inside St. Petersburg, the Neva is contained within granite banks, but its influence on the city is constant. When the long winter’s ice suddenly shudders and cracks, the river rejuvenates the city. On the light nights of summer, when night never really falls, the twilight sky meets the grey murky waters of the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland almost seamlessly.
Much of St. Petersburg’s charm stems from the grand architectural plan of squares, parks, boulevards, palaces and monuments that was begun by 18th Century architects imported from Western Europe. The rules of the game rarely wavered: the object was to design a capital fit for an imperial power, self-explanatory in its nobility and grace.
Arrival into St Petersburg involves a long pilotage of 30 nautical miles across the Nevskaya Inlet between the cities of Kronshtadt and St Petersburg. This large expanse of water gives the illusion of a vast bay, but the reality is that most of it is merely a couple of metres deep and that the only navigable waters are the narrow canal ways marked by stick buoys that are maintained by dredgers and crisscross the Inlet. Arriving at 0415 and third in line behind the Jewel of the Seas and the Mein Schiff 2, evidently on similar itineraries given the number of times we’ve seen them, we proceeded inward past the almost finished sea defences at Kronshtadt and onward towards the new cruise ship terminal. The sea defences although operational apparently will be fully completed at the end of this year. The encompassing barrier that connects Kronshtadt with the mainland has only the one opening to the south of the island, with two large gates that can close to prevent flooding in the event of persistent westerly winds. Passing Kronshtadt, still a base for the Russian Navy but somewhat in a dilapidated state, the morning sun reflected off of the dome of the Cathedral like a beacon, marking the way and ensuring that the island didn’t go unnoticed as we made our way towards the former capitol city and home to the Tsar’s.
For our two day stay in St Petersburg there were numerous tours available, too numerous to list in a short blog and certainly too numerous to cover in only two days, hopefully leaving something “for next time”. It was hard to imagine in the hot sun during both days of our stay, that only 3-4 weeks ago ice up to 3 feet thick was still chocking the waterways here, and that icebreakers would have been in use to maintain the main routes.
Sailing again, was to be something of a precession of cruise ships, as we carefully manoeuvred sideways away from our berth, tightly sandwiched between the Jewel of the Sea’s and a ferry ramp in the corner of the new terminal. We followed the Mein Schiff 2 once more with the Jewel of the Sea’s following us back along the narrow canals, past Kronshtadt and back into the Gulf of Finland.