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25th May, 2014

St. Petersburg

The ship arrived this morning bright and early at the pilot station at 5:00am. The day was another one with calm seas and clear skies. Soon the pilot was on board and we sailed the 28 miles to the port. On our way we passed Krohnstad, which is the historical navy base of St. Petersburg. Not much left of the feared North Atlantic Fleet. We weaved our way to the port, where we arrived shortly after 7:00am and were berthed just before 8:00am. St. Petersburg, just like Amsterdam and Venice, is a floating city, crouching on the water, crisscrossed by rivers and canals, sewn together by hundreds of bridges; ceremonial, quaint or humdrum. The principal waterway is the river Neva. This town was built to be a capital fit for an imperial power. This resulted in pleasing squares, parks, boulevards, palaces and monuments designed by architects imported from Western Europe.

We are scheduled to stay here for two days, so lots of time to do tours and visit this interesting city over two days. The tours were.

Splendours of St. Petersburg. A mixture of a panoramic tour seeing some of the highlights of St. Petersburg such as Decembrists Square, the Bronze Horseman ( a monument to Peter the Great), St. Isaacc’s Cathedral, Palace Square, the Winter Palace, the Rostral Columns, the Neva River, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cathedral of Peter and Paul, and Nevsky Prospect. After lunch an enjoyable afternoon is spent exploring the magnificent halls and staterooms of the Hermitage Museum.

Royal Palaces and Parks of Peterhof. This tour visits the beautiful Peterhof, built to rival Versailles. The tour of the palace reveals staterooms, dancing and audience halls, a suite designed by Rastrelli, the white dining room and the oak study. This is followed with a tour of the Lower Gardens featuring 150 fountains, four cascades, pavilions and palaces. After lunch the tour proceeded to the nearby Cottage Palace, the private home of Nicolas 1 and Alexandra. Visited are Alexandra’s study, the Grand Drawing room and private rooms.

Hermitage and the Gold Room. This tour visits different parts of the museum, including staterooms and throne Room of the Winter Palace. The Gold room has a significant collection including jewellery collected over two centuries and works by famous jewellers including Faberge.

Glimpse of St. Petersburg Part 1. This easy tour gives a view of the Academy of Fine Arts, the 3500 year old sphinxes on the Neva River Embankment, the Rostral Columns, the Stock Exchange, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the log cabin of Peter the Great ( where he lived during the construction of the new imperial city) and the Smolny Cathedral, which is a master piece by the Italian architect Rastrelli.

Glimpse of St. Petersburg Part 2. This tour picks up, where part 1 left off by driving along the embankment to Decembrists Square, location of the Bronze Horseman, St. Isaac’s Square, St. Nicolas Naval, the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood, , Nevsky Prospect, Kazan Cathedral (insprired by the Basilica of St. Peters in Rome), Palace Square, Alexander Column, the Hermitage and the Admiralty.of St. Petersburg. This tour visits and passes by many of the sights mentioned before and include a lunch in a local restaurant.

Menshikov & Yusupov. With so many palaces to choose from this tour visits two. Menshikov palace, located on Visilievski Island, was the first palace to be completed in the newly founded capita and was the most luxurious mansions at that time. Visited are the hall, the gala staircase and some rooms decorated in the Dutch style with tiles covering the walls and the ceilings. The second palace. The Yususpov, was built by the Yusupov family, who were as wealthy and influential as the Tsar himself and for this reason tells a story of wealth and conspiracy. During the visit one will see the famous white marble staircase into the sumptuous rococo-style theatre. The family bought a whole Italian palace just for this staircase. The family was involved in plotting the grisly murder of the peasant Rasputin in the cellar of this palace.

A Taste of the Hermitage. This tour gives you the opportunity to explore the magnificent halls and staterooms of the elegant winter palace. This tour concentrates mainly on the works of 14-19th century European artists. A choice has to be made as there are 3.000.pieces of art displayed covering more than a thousand rooms.

Peter and Paul Fortress and Canal Cruise. This tour takes one to the oldest structure in St. Petersburg, located on a small island in the Neva River delta. It consists of the fort and houses the cities second tallest structure, Peter and Paul Cathedral. The cathedral features an ornate gilded interior and 18th century paintings and houses the remains of almost all the Russian Emperors and Empresses. This visit is followed by a cruise along the Neva, Fontanka and Moika rivers of St. Petersburg, offering a view of the exteriors of many of St. Petersburg’s beautiful buildings as the boat passes under numerous picturesque bridges.

Exclusive Hermitage. A once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the Hermitage in the evening, when it is closed to the general public. After a guided tour as described in a taste of the Hermitage one is entertained in one of the Ceremonial Halls by the full symphonic orchestra of the Hermitage Academy of Music, while sipping champagne.

An evening at the ballet. A must for the ballet lover and anybody who would like to have this experience. The performance takes place in the Aurora Hall. The ballet is performed by the Russian Ballet Theatre and features soloists from well-known St. Petersburg theatres. Of course bubbly is served during the interval.

An evening of Folklore. This tour offers an evening of lively Russian folkloric dance and music at the Carnival Concert Hall in the heart of St. Petersburg. As can be expected a glass of bubbly awaits the spectators during the interval.

Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. After about an hour’s drive, passing the monument to the glorious Defenders of Leninggrad, along the Pulkovo Highway and the limit of the German army’s advances in 1941, one arrives at Catherine Palace. Viewed are the opulent de or, the grand staircase, the Great Hall, the Blue Drawing Room and the famous and exquisite Amber Room. The Amber Room, looted by the Nazis, but since restored to its warm tones, was once known as the eighth wonder of the world.

Essence of St. Petersburg. This is a day tour covering most of the famous sights with some free time to shop and enjoying a lunch. Catherine Palace and Pavlovsk. This tour visits the palace as described above and also, after a traditional lunch, the Great Palace, sat in one of the most beautiful landscaped parks in Europe.

Park of Alexandria and Road Train. A more in depth tour of the 300 acre park at Peterhof Palace, most famous for its Grand Cascade, with its gold statue of Samson prying open the jaws of a lion. After the lower garden an excursion train takes one to the Park of Alexandria, where one can admire the Gothic Chapel, Gothic Well, the Farm Palace and the Cottage Palace.

Peterhof Parks and Fountains. This tour concentrates on the parks of Peterhof Palace offering beautiful statues, fountains (which are considered the most impressive in the world) and cascades. The palace and grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Petersburg Cathedrals. This tour visits three famous cathedrals. The magnificent St. Isaac’s Cathedral, designed by the French Architect August Montferrant, in St. Isaac’s Square. It’s vast opulent interior covers 43000 square feet and is filled with hundreds of impressive 19th century art. Kazan Cathedral, named after a ‘miracle making’ icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Inside are 5 red granite monolithic columns and a multi-coloured Karelian marble mosaic floor. The third is the Spilled Blood Cathedral, the multi-coloured Russian- styled onion-domed church, built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated.

Spilled Blood Cathedral and Canal Cruise. A relaxing river cruise that gives the passenger a chance to enjoy the golden domes and fairy tale palaces, while sailing the Neva, Fontaka and Moika rivers. A special stop will be made the visit The Spilled Blood Cathedral, reputed to be one of St. |Petersburg’s most beautiful churches, which opened to the public again after 25 years of renovation.

As one can see no time to get bored in beautiful St. Petersburg.

Of course life went on as usual on board the ship in the meantime. In the day time the cruise staff organised and hosted activities, breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and a late Russian buffet were taken during the day, evening entertainment was provided for and the bar staff was on hand for the well-deserved cocktails and other drinks till the small hours. In the meantime My staff and I were busy carrying out required maintenance and caught up with a lot of paperwork. On 26 May at 5.30 it was all on board. There was a strong wind blowing, so with the assistance of two tug boats we left the port and set off towards the pilot station 28 miles away. We retraced the courses we followed going to the port. We passed Krohmstad again and were soon outside and on the pilot station where we disembarked the pilot. In the meantime the passengers enjoyed a cocktail and dinner, after which show time featured a performance of the Rosina Quartet in the Britannia Lounge. This was followed by music for dancing by The Perfect Mood Duo in the Drawing Room and late night musical melodies by Lloyd Hulme at the piano in the Cooper’s Bar.

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.