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11th July, 2013

St Petersburg, 11th-13th July


Having picked up the pilot at 5am the course was set towards Kronstadt and what is unofficially called the St Petersburg Dam. Kronstadt is a city in its own right, located on Kotlin Island some 19 miles west of St Petersburg. The city was founded by Peter the Great in 1704 after taking the island from the Swedes the year before. The traditional home of the Russian Baltic Fleet, Kronstadt has guarded the approaches to St Petersburg for over 300 years against the threat of an invading naval force. Now it is also home to the flood gates of the 'Saint Petersburg Flood Prevention Facility Complex (St Petersburg Dam)'. The dam was built to guard against a rise in water levels in the eastern Baltic due to meteorological conditions, such as a strong prolonged westerly wind or a large pressure differential between the east and the west Baltic with the east experiencing the lower pressure.  The St Petersburg Dam was only completed in August 2011 and was used in earnest for the first time in November the same year, preventing what would have been St Petersburg’s 309th flood.

Peterhof Palace

Fortunately for us the weather didn’t warrant the closing of the gates, and reducing speed, we passed between two large lock gates as we entered the waters of Neva Bay. Passing the port of Kronstadt there were several warships and a couple of submarines, all moored in rows “Mediterranean style" with their sterns fast to the shore whilst an anchor held the bow in position. The most dominating building on the island is the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral with its golden coloured dome reflecting the rays of the rising sun.

Crossing Neva Bay, sometimes called the Gulf of Kronstadt, you have to keep to the narrow channels dredged in the naturally shallow expanse that marks the merging of the waters of the river Neva with that of the Gulf of Finland. The stick-like spar buoys that mark the deep water like narrow roads lead off to several destinations within the Bay, but for us the new passenger terminal on Vasilyevskiy Island was where we were headed.

The new passenger terminal can easily accommodate seven large cruise ships and ahead of us the “Empress” headed for one of two empty berths either side of the “Balmoral”, leaving us to complete a full house by docking at berth No.3 on the other side.

Staying in St Petersburg for 3 days ensured that passengers had plenty of time to go on tours, enabling them to get the most out of their visit to Russia’s second city. On the second day I joined in, escorting the tour to the Royal Palaces and Parks of Peterhof.

Peterhof Palace

As you can probably discern from the name Peterhof was originally built by Peter the Great, though subsequent Tsar’s and Tsarinas added their own palaces, pavilions and ideas later. The site of the Peterhof, first mentioned in Peter’s journals as a good place to construct a landing for use to and from the fortress island of Kronstadt, began being developed in 1714 with the building of the “Monplaisir Palace” on the shoreline, a relatively modest building that Peter used as Summer Palace and Maritime Study. The Grand Palace with the Grand Cascade fountain and its gardens was inspired by Peter’s visits to Western Europe and modelled on Versailles. This was later augmented by Peter’s successors and added to well into the 19th century.

Peterhof was captured by Nazi Germany in 1941 and held until 1944. Consequently much was destroyed by the occupying force. A lot of what is seen today is the result of on-going restoration work which started almost immediately after the end of the Second World War.

Departing on the evening of the 3rd day having seen many other cruise ships come and go since our arrival Saga Sapphire moved off of the berth and turned to port to align with the first two buoys marking the narrow navigable channel. Once clear of the passenger terminal Saga Sapphire started to retrace the journey in, back out towards Kronshtadt and the Baltic Sea beyond.M.p<

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