Friday, September 13, 2013

St. Petersburg, Russia

The second stop on our Baltic Sea Cruise was St. Petersburg, Russia. 

"I spent a day in Russia."

I might as well be saying "I spent a day on Mars." That's how unbelievable that is to me.
It is still very surreal.  Of all the places I've visited so far on my quest to go EveRywHere,
this one is the most fantastical.

I think it's because being American and a child of the 60's, the USSR played such a prominent role in life.  It's not even a place, as much as a character.

I have to sift through the crazy pop culture references of my impressionable teen years to even get to the reality of Russia.  Red Dawn (quite the dream cast for a 16 year old girl).  Rocky IV (Ivan Drago.  Man or machine? Discuss.)

The threat of the Cold War and a nuclear showdown infiltrated everything when I was growing up.
I just Googled 80's music and the Cold War.  The list of songs is long. 
(Remember 99 Luftballons?  A peppy little tune about a nuclear war.)

Once I sift through all of that, I get to the Russian history and literature that has always intrigued me.  Catherine the Great (Do you remember the miniseries Young Catherine with Juila Ormond?  Loved it.)  Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago.  The mystery of Anastasia and the tragic demise of the Romanovs.  And so much more.

All of these little pieces of information floating around in my head that make up my idea of this massive thing that is (air quotes) Russia.

You can imagine how hard it was to wrap my head around the idea of spending even 15 hours in the second largest city in Russia.  And now I'm more intrigued than ever!  I'm not even sure what I really expected, but St. Petersburg was mesmerizing.  And a complete surprise.

St. Petersburg, Russia

*We received complimentary day tours from TJ Travel for the purposes of review.

The boat docked early and we had read that it can take some time to get through passport control, so we were up first thing, raced off the boat and were through in less than 15 minutes.  We didn't get a smile but we did get a stamp in our passports.  We were in Russia!

In Russia, you can't just get off the ship and wander around on your own.  You must be booked for a guided tour through a travel agency.  We booked with TJ Travel and they took care of everything for us.  Our guide Irina and our driver Sergei were there and waiting for us.  They tucked us into a Mercedes, handed us each a bottle of water and whisked us away well ahead of the massive tour buses.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Our first stop was along the Neva River to see the sun rising over this inspiring and beautiful city.  It was dreamlike and I was just trying to reconcile the fact that this was Russia.  The larger than life character in my head?  Poof.  Suddenly, just little pieces of information floating above the water, sparkling in the reflection of the sun.
This is Russia.

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Since we were there, I've been reading more about St. Petersburg and its dramatic history.
It was the starting point of the Russian Revolution of 1905.  In 1917, Lenin stormed the Winter Palace in the October Revolution which marked the beginning of the Soviet reign.  It was known as Leningrad from 1924 to 1991.  During WWII, this city was also the the place of one of the longest and deadliest sieges in modern history.  For 872 days the people of Leningrad were closed off from rest of the world and starved out by the Germans.
Over 1.5 million citizens died during the Siege of Leningrad.

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Again, who knows what I expected to see, but I was really surprised by the architecture of this city.
Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as his capital city, St. Petersburg is full of beautiful architecture, canals, bridges and monuments.  We saw some stark Soviet Era architecture, but the city is full of Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau as well.  The Eliseyev Emporium was a perfect example.  It wasn't on the itinerary but when we expressed an interest they made time for a quick visit.

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Over the next week, I'll be showing you some photo essays of all of our other stops throughout the day.  We knew we were only there for a short time, so we squeezed in as much as possible, only stopping once during the day for a quick lunch at Stolle.  It's a chain eatery that serves wonderful pies.  I had beef and Matt had rabbit.  We shared a lemon pastry for dessert.  It was wonderful.

St. Petersburg, Russia

I'm sure it was much better than the Carl's Jr. (although I admit, I was tempted.)

St. Petersburg, Russia

There are some incredible women who have left their mark on St. Petersburg.  Peter the Great's daughter, Elizabeth I with her love of Baroque and Catherine the Great. Both, were strong, intelligent women that made history and left their mark on this great city. 

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

There were about four cruise ships in port that day.  St. Petersburg is becoming more and more of a tourist destination.  Luckily, it's a massive city and it's able to handle the influx.  We did run into huge crowds at some of the places that we visited, particularly the Hermitage.   But Irina has been leading tour groups for about eight years and knows all of the little tricks.  Plus, since it was just us along with our guide and driver, we were able to get around quickly and easily.  The luxury of asking questions and having their undivided attention was a major bonus. 

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

After reading reviews on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, and reviewing the various websites, we decided to contact TJ Travel for their 1 day Shore Excursion TourTatyana, the owner and CEO, responded within 24 hours with all of the information that we needed to book our tour.  Every email that I sent was responded to promptly and professionally.  And everything was like clockwork on the day of our visit.  I really can't say enough about them.  They made our day so special and took great care of us.  

If you book a shore excursion through an officially licensed and authorized tour operator, then you can visit without a Visa.  TJ Travel handled all of the paperwork we needed to get through passport control.  Admission to the various museums and attractions is included in the price of the ticket.  (We also ended up booking an Optional Evening Tour with them which I'll tell you about in another post.)

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

 I still don't know Russia.  Fifteen hours is obviously never going to be enough.  A lifetime wouldn't be enough.  And we just saw parts of one city in a massive country.  (Did you know that St. Petersburg is over 400 miles from Moscow?)  But, I'm so glad that I was able to replace some of those old ideas with a little taste of the current reality.

I'm so thankful that now I have a different foundation to build on as I read about Russia and in particular, St. Petersburg.  I have the words and stories of Irina, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg who guided us all day and spoke perfect English.  And the smiles and jokes from Sergei that Irina translated for us.  And I have the amazing sites of St. Petersburg.

It was an absolutely fascinating 15 hours.  I think I will be processing it for some time to come.

Have you visited someplace that you never dreamed you would?



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  *I received two complimentary 1 day shore excursions with TJ Travel for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are 100% my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.



A Compass Rose

14 comments:

  1. OH! That sounds so lovely :) Me and my fiancee wanna go there one day :D

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  2. So interesting! Lovely photos!

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  3. I visited Leningrad, as it was then, on a school trip back in the 80's. We had 3 days there and 4 days in Moscow, after an all day train journey between the two. The things that stand out most in my memory are:
    The cold - it was minus 32 degrees when we were there. The Neva was, obviously, frozen.
    The severe lack of food - the shelves in the shops were empty. We obviously had meals provided in our hotels, but what we were given was awful. Luckily our teachers had warned us to take plenty of snacks and packets of biscuits in our suitcases.
    How dour the people were - but they were living under strict communist rule.
    I love your photos. Although I took a few, I think I only had one roll of film for the whole trip (we weren't as snap-happy back then were we?) I was too young - and too cold - to fully appreciate all of the architectural delights. I'm really looking forward to your upcoming posts.

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  4. I really want to make it to Russia, and this post reminds me of how interesting the culture would be to experience!

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  5. St, Pete is one of my favourite cities in the world. Living in Moscow, we visited a few times; taking the night train from Moscow to arrive in this amazing city which is just so different from the capital. Much more European, but still a world apart. You've taken some amazing pictures, and now my little heart is aching to go back. If you do ever make it back, let me know. One of my good friends is a tour guide there, and she is just amazing at her job. If you go in summer, you get to experience the white nights which are just awesome.

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  6. Looks like an incredible visit. I can't wait to see more!

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  7. Jessica {lovely jubbly london}September 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Your pictures are amazing! This is one of my dream trips as my great grandfather had to flee in the revolution.

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  8. I only made it to St. Pete on two quick trips while living in Moscow. It is such a different feel than the rest of the country. It has it's own charm that we just loved. It's been 12 years since we were last there. I'm sure it's changed a lot! So glad you got a chance to see it, even though it was short.

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  9. These pictures are great - you really get a sense of the place.

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  10. This looks beautiful - so jealous! I would love to go to Russia...even just for a day!


    www.thehassanity.com

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  11. St. Petersburg is on my MUST must-see list! The history pulls me in.
    While I haven't been to Russia, I've been to Romania and it had that same bizarre, forbidden vibe to it for me since I grew up during the Cold War. I remember landing in Bucharest and knowing that I definitely wasn't in Texas anymore!

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  12. This is an awesome post. I have always wanted to travel to Russia and can't wait till the day that dream comes true. Thanks for sharing your trip in such detail. I look forward to reading more about it!

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  13. My husband has St Petersburg on the top of his list but I'm a little hesitant. You've made me feel a little more comfortable with the idea now :) If we go for a few days to stay, will booking a tour suffice for entry or will we need a visa still since we will be staying over night? The whole process of getting a visa seems like so much work. Maybe that's why I'm hesitant, since its me, not the hubs, who will be doing all I that work. Thanks!

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