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13th August, 2013

St. Petersburg part 2

St. Petersburg

Our third and final day in this great city was blessed with fine warm weather. A clutch of very large cruise ships had arrived by breakfast time and by the time we had quickly proceeded through the immigration terminal there was a massive queue at the one for the ship berthed ahead.

Built in the early 18th century, the palace at Peterhof was originally built for Peter the Great, but was altered by the architect Rastrelli for Peter’s daughter Elizabeth between 1747 – 56. Regrettably it was left as a ruin by the retreating fascist armies during the Second World War, but now it is back to its original magnificence. The White dining room has a display of Wedgewood on the table and the carved oak study has survived intact. Our guide was a delightful lady who spoke perfect English without the deep guttural tones that might be expected, but then she was a teacher of English and this was just her seven day a week holiday job. Some holiday.

We emerged from the Palace to find the terraces above the lower gardens full of tourists waiting in anticipation for the moment when all the 150 fountains were expected to erupt into life. Bang on eleven o’clock loud piped music heralded the waters arrival and for the next few minutes the gravity fed spectacle gathered to full force. In the bright sunlight, rainbows were forming over the gold leaf statues, a scene of magnificent visual excess, now at least enjoyed by the thousands of tourists that visit every day during the short summer months.

Lunch was taken at a smart hotel just opposite the cathedral of Peterhof, another classic example of religious architecture from the period. As we took our photos a little shabbily dressed lady was standing with her hand out by the gates. She smiled warmly and gave the sign of the cross when one of our group offered a coin. Reality for some is not so far away here.

After spending an hour at the charming Cottage Palace in Alexandria Park, the home of Nicolas 1st and Alexandra, we headed back, taking the new motorway recently opened, another symbol of how Russia is catching up very quickly with the rest of Europe. We sailed on schedule, just managing to lift ourselves off the white iceberg ahead of us. Kotlin Island and the naval station of Kronstadt passed less than two hours later. The pilot disembarked and the course was set to the west, into the receding light over the Gulf of Finland. 

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