As we were going to spend a good part of the day outside, the brilliant sunshine was a welcome friend this morning for our second day touring St. Petersburg.
Our first stop, Catherine Palace, was about 25 miles southwest of St. Petersburg.
Catherine Palace is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. The original building was commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717, but the Palace owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who in 1743, had the building reconstructed by four different architects, on a scale to rival Versailles.You can really put it in perspective with this aerial view, courtesy of Saint-Petersburg.Com
We arrived early enough to avoid huge lines, but were still able to take advantage of a mini-concert outside the palace specifically for visitors waiting in long queues.
While it took over 100kg of gold to decorate the palace exteriors, the interiors are just as lavish. From the Great Hall and Chinese Room to the Portrait Hall and legendary Amber Room, this palace is extraordinarily magnificent.
Upon completing our tour of the palace, we took a leisurely walk through Catherine Park, complete with a formal garden and landscape park. Absolutely breathtaking.
We took a break for lunch at the Hunting Lodge - the main entree -- Beef Stroganoff!
Our next stop, Peterhof Palace, the Summer Palace of Peter the Great. Here we only visited the exterior gardens, but that was more than enough! From the Lower Gardens to the Grand Cascade, this massive park contains 64 different fountains and over 200 bronze statues and other decorations. The grounds were so lavish, we hardly took notice of the light drizzle that had begun to fall.
Another full day had almost come to an end. Our last stop, the Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral back in St. Petersburg. It is the oldest church in St. Petersburg, and the second-tallest building in the city.
The Cathedral is home to the graves of nearly all the rulers of Russia since Peter the Great. The majority of graves are the same, made of white marble, except for those of Alexander II and his wife Empress Maria. A double eagle head on the stone signifies it is the grave of an emperor.
—Side note— the actual graves are buried on a lower level. The tombs are just a marker.
As our tour came to an end, we had to give special thanks to our guide Katia. Her wealth of knowledge, in both Russian and world history made this tour both enlightening and enjoyable. Her command of the English language made it interesting and engaging - not an easy task. I could barley remember how to say “thank you” in Russian! Спасибо - or “spa-see-ba" if you’re looking for phonetics.
It was a lot to absorb over a short amount of time, but an experience that will stay with me for a lifetime.
До свидания - Da svidahnia St. Petersburg!