We got up so early this morning. I practically had to drag Jake and Bruce out of bed. Jake was out pretty late, I think he might have had 2 hours of sleep, while Bruce slept and I wrote my blog last post and read until about midnight. We knew customs/immigration was going to be slow so we had already planned to be up and at it early. We had a private tour set up with a local tour company (DenRus) and we were scheduled to meet them as early as possible – our customized itinerary was really packed in.
We were one of the first people off the boat, even before they announced disembarkation, and we were through the immigration line in just over 30 minutes. Our guide (Tsania, “tsAYnya”) and driver (I can say it but I don’t dare spell it) met us and quickly covered our itinerary for the day as we drove out of the port and into town.
I’ll say this now, Tsania was very knowledgeable and extremely friendly. She was awesome. She has a Master’s in Art History and knows a ton about the city. Before we even left the port (which is HUGE) we knew we were going to be covering a ton of Russian history.
We spent the first couple of hours hitting some city highlights. The first stop was St. Isaac’s Cathedral. I’m disappointed I didn’t get a better picture, but at least I got one.
Shortly after that we went to a cafe recommended by Tsania for some food. We were all starving after skipping breakfast to get off the boat quickly. And J needed to feed his hangover. 😉 We ordered a sample of all different kinds of pies, meat pie (beef), salmon pie, cream cheese pie, cherry pie, and apricot pie. I liked them all, Jake and Bruce ordered themselves more meat pie. Bruce absolutely loved it, but none of the others.
Then we drove over to visit the sphinxes on one of the canals. I thought she said they were created in 1832, but she actually meant 1832 BC. There were also two gryphons there that, supposedly, if you rub one of the heads and make a wish, it will come true.
Here’s one of the sphinxes:
We visited a church (I need to look up the name when I have an internet connection, it’s not on our itinerary) with an actual ceremony going on. I felt a bit like I was intruding, but Bruce and Jake seemed to like it. It was pretty cool to see.
This cathedral was stunning.
Our next stop was the Peter-and-Paul Fortress and the Trubetskoy Bastion Prison. Apparently Peter the Great built the fortress first when he built the city, and it has never been attacked. This was taken just inside the fortress:
Then we toured the prison. Surprisingly, the prison cells were actually larger than we expected they would be. They were probably the size of a master bedroom (12x14ish?) and didn’t hold more than one person. We also went into the solitary confinement room, just for fun.
After the prison, we got some food at a local restaurant recommended by Tsania, again. We were relying on her for a lot! We had no idea what we wanted, we just wanted some traditional food. She picked perfectly. Bruce chowed down on some pork ribs and Jake and I got meat soup. My God it was good.
Next up was the Hermitage. We knew we didn’t have enough time to see everything, the Hermitage is enormous, but Tsania got us through the highlights and some of the cool stuff we wanted to see (the Egyptian and Roman exhibits) in about 2 hours. It didn’t feel like we were there for very long. There were tons of picture taking opportunities, and Bruce even took about 100 pictures of his own. My only regret is that I wish I had taken my wide angle lens in, but you couldn’t take backpacks so I stuck with my Tamron 28-75. Still, I got enough good pictures that it’s hard to pick just one for this post! 🙂
One of the monuments we requested to see was the Tsar and Carpenter monument, not far from the Hermitage. Jake and I play a board game called, funnily enough, St. Petersburg quite frequently. The Czar and Carpenter card in the game is his favorite.
Our final stop was the Church of the Spilled Blood. On the way we walked through the park that was built in honor of all the deceased as a result of WWI and WWII. In the center of the park is a flame that has been burning for years (1952?).
Between the park and the church was a short bridge. Apparently newlyweds frequently come to the bridge because the custom is for the groom to carry the bride across the bridge, and sometimes they leave a padlock attached to the bridge to symbolize their wanting to be together forever. Also, they picked that bridge to do the carrying because, well…it’s the shortest. 😉
As you can see, the Church of the Spilled Blood is being restored a bit. Apparently Stalin wanted to blow it up, but the day it was scheduled to be demolished, the Soviets were invaded.
That was it! Bruce and Jake were exhausted and I think I was just getting my second wind. We headed back to the boat.
Tomorrow we’re going to the Peterhof, having lunch with a Russian family, and touring the Cruiser Aurora. Time for me to go grab a few minutes on the internet and upload this so I can get some sleep!