I don't think we could have jammed any more sightseeing in this day if we tried! St. Petersburg is a fascinating city, filled with history, art, and culture.
We began by going through immigration, straight from the ship. The experience was a little nerve wracking, with the stoic agents who didn't say much as they processed our passports. Once we made it outside, the nervousness turned to excitement, anticipating everything we were about to see and learn in this once forbidden country.
Out first stop was Yusupov Palace, built in 1776. From 1830 to 1917, it belonged to the Yusupov family, of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of imperial Russia.
It is now a historic and cultural center, home to an amazing collection of art, majestic stairwells, ornate decor, ballrooms and concert chambers - it even has a home theatre - everything is kept in its original setting.
The palace also has some creepy history - it was the site of the assassination of Grigori Rasputin, an eccentric religious mystic, who had gotten too close for comfort to the Yusupov family. Rooms on the lower level tell the story with wax figures.
According to our guide, Katia, Rasputin was invited to dinner in December, 1916. A group that included Prince Felix Yusuzov poisoned Rasputin’s wine. As the affects of the poison took place, Yusupov shot him, but Rasputin escaped. He was chased, shot several more times, finally fatally. The body was wrapped in cloth and thrown into the Neva River.
Our next stop was more upbeat, and took us along several of St. Petersburg’s waterways, including the Moyka, Neva, and Fontanka Rivers. Built on water, with over 80 river and canals, St. Petersburg has been called the “Venice of the North.” As far as we were concerned, in this city of over five million people, it was a great way to see the variety of architecture, from palaces and universities, to residential and government buildings.
We stopped for lunch, complete with Russian folkloric dancing, had 30 minutes to power shop, then onto St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest in St. Petersburg and the fourth largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the world. It is dedicated to St. Issac of Dalmatia, the patron saint of Peter the Great. It took 40 years to build - from 1818 to 1858 and features a dome plated with pure gold on the outside — beautiful paintings and columns of malachite and lazurite on the inside.
Our tour continued at The Hermitage Museum. This art museum is made up of six buildings; we barely had time to scratch the surface of one! The Hermitage began as Catherine the Great’s art collection in 1764.
As it grew, it remained private. In her lifetime Catherine acquired hundreds of thousands of items - enough to fill two galleries. Today, the Hermitage Museum, open to the public, contains over 3.5 million items!
Our final stop, the Spilled Blood Church, so named because it was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was killed in 1881.
The walls and ceilings of the church are completely covered with mosaics - 7500 square meters worth. Today the church functions as a museum and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.
After nine hours of touring, we were beat! Back to the ship for dinner, and off to bed for round two of St. Petersburg tomorrow!