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5th June, 2013

St Petersburg, 4th and 5th June

Church of the Spilt Blood
With Finland having once been a Duchy of Russia, it was only a short distance from Helsinki to St Petersburg, thus ensuring that Saga Sapphire was on time to pick up the pilot at 5am.

It’s approximately 3 hours from the pilot station, just west of Kotlin Island, to St Petersburg’s new passenger port. It used to take an hour longer to go to the older passenger terminal due to the extra time spent navigating part of the Neva River.

Kotlin Island, which was annexed by Russia from Sweden in 1703, is home to the naval city of Kronstadt as well as the barrier gates for the St Petersburg flood defences. Sailing between these gates, and past the old harbour that once was home to the Soviet Baltic Fleet, provided some interest to those passengers whom had decided to get up early to watch the sail in.

Beyond the island, the expanse of the Neva Bay lay between Saga Sapphire and the former Russian Capital. Neva Bay, looks like a large expanse of navigable water but is deceptively shallow except for a narrow channel marked by spar buoys. Outside of this channel, which averages about 3 ship breadths wide, the depth of water is just 3-4 metres or 9-12 ft, and is far too shallow for Saga Sapphire.

Once alongside in the new (if 3 years old counts as new) passenger port it was time for the tours to set off. The first stage is getting through immigration, and much like an airport this involves standing at a booth while the very serious immigration officials check your paperwork before letting you across the border into Mother Russia. It is possible to obtain a smile from such officials, though rare, by saying thank you in Russian on being given a nod and your passport back (at least I think I said thank you?).

St Isaac's Cathedral

On this occasion I’d volunteered to escort a tour to see the splendours of St. Petersburg (and yes I did wear the maroon uniform). First stop was at St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg’s largest orthodox cathedral named for the Saint that shared Peter the Great’s birthday.

Next up was the Peter and Paul Fortress with another cathedral (the Russians seemed to like their cathedrals).  This cathedral dedicated to St Peter and St Paul is also the final resting place of many of the Russian Royal Family from Peter the Great to Nicolas II as well as Catherine the Great. The fortress itself is also home to the St Petersburg Mint where Russia’s coinage is minted (apparently the notes are all printed in Moscow though).

We then moved on to stop at the Rostral Columns for a photo opportunity of the Neva River at its architecturally most decadent point. Further stops incorporated the Church of the Spilt Blood as well as the Russian Cruiser, Aurora.

The Aurora

The Aurora was built in 1900 as one of three sister ships and although she had an illustrious military career, it is her part in the Great October Socialist Revolution where she fired a blank charge as a signal to commence the uprising, for which she is most remembered.

By this stage it was evident that something more substantial than the Werther’s Originals was going to be needed to keep everyone’s energy levels up (I’d been liberally dishing them out when back on the coach between stops), so we stopped for lunch.

Finally we stopped at the magnificent Hermitage Museum where there is so much to see, listing it on what is supposed to be a short blog would turn it into the size of War and Peace.

Hermitage Palace

Having successfully rounded up all the passengers I’d set off with in coach mumber 1 this morning, and dishing out the last of the Werther’s, we headed back to the ship.  If you think of the history of the 20th century, it is quite ironic that a group of tourists primarily from Britain, but including a couple from Japan and a couple from Australia, could be sat in a coach having toured Russia’s second largest city all eating sweets from Germany (Werther’s Originals were previously called Werthers Echte after the town Werther where they were originally made)!

It would not be until the following evening that Saga Sapphire set sail from St Petersburg, once again navigating the narrow channels dredged into Neva Bay, and out into the Gulf of Finland and past Kotlin Island once again.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.