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Sept. 4, 2017

Our cruise spent 3 full days in port in St. Petersburg. Through the Cruise Critic web site, we found a fellow passenger who had arranged a 3 day private tour of the city and was looking for people to join her. We jumped at the opportunity as the tour was more comprehensive and alot cheaper than anything offered by Oceania. It was with a company called TJ Travels. They were easy to work with before hand via email and obtained the Russian Visas as part of the package. Our guide met us at the cruise terminal the first day and we joined the other tour members including Colleen and Mark in the 16 passenger van.

First a little history. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great who ruled Russia from 1682-1725. He transferred the government from Moscow and St. Petersburg became the capital of all of Russia. The capital was moved back to Moscow in 1918 and in 1924, when Lenin died, St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad in his honor. In 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, the people voted to change the name back to St. Petersburg.

The city is huge and spread out. It is built on a series of islands. A network of 60 rivers and canals criss-cross the city and are spanned by about 400 bridges. It has a population of over 5 million people. Currency is the Russian Roble. The native language is Russian which uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

The city center was about a 30 minute drive from the port. After a brief stop along the Neva River we crossed a bridge to the island which is home to Peter and Paul Fortress. This was the first thing Peter the Great built to defend the waterways. The fortress includes a history museum, prison, and a gorgeous cathedral. The church is the final resting place of the Romanov czars who ruled Russia from 1613 through 1917. Peter had his own son jailed in the fortress prison where he later died.



St. Petersburg is home to over 400 palaces. Many of these were restored after WWII and house various museums. We visited the beautifully restored Shuvalov Palace which contains the world's biggest collection of works by Carl Faberge. Opened in 2013, the Faberge Museum is built around the collection of Malcolm Forbes and later purchased by one of Russia's wealthy oligarchs. In addition to the Blue Room with its 14 magnificent Faberge eggs, the museum contains many other precious collections and art. But the highlight was the eggs. The eggs were commissioned by Czar Alexander III as a present for his wife. The variety of eggs and the surprises they hold is stunning. Please see photos of many of these in the Photo Gallery.

Following lunch at an authentic Russian restaurant (delicious Borscht soup), our last stop for the day was to the Catherine Palace. The palace is located about an hour's drive south of the city. This was the summer palace built by Peter I for his wife Catherine starting in 1717. In the following decades, the palace was rebuilt and expanded many times, most notably by their daughter Elizabeth. She wanted to make it Russia's answer to Versailles. The palace had been turned into a museum and carefully documented after the Bolshevik Revolution. It suffered major damage during WWII but has been authentically restored based on the documents. This is a massive structure with opulent rooms and galleries that are adorned in gold and filled with original furniture, chandeliers and paintings. The Amber Room was originally a gift to the Romanovs from Frederick the Great but it was looted and lost in the war. It has now been painstakingly restored and is an accurate replica of the lavish original. After touring the inside, we walked back to our van through the beautiful park that surrounds the palace.

Our first day in the city has been a mind boggling experience, seeing the opulence and grandeur of the restored palaces and churches, as well as a body numbing experience with all the walking through the same. We were given headsets so our guide could tell us about everything we were seeing. There were crowds of tourists in all the main attractions so we were glad to have a great guide to lead us through.

To view more photos from our first day in St. Petersburg, please go to St. Petersburg Photo Gallery I . To read about our second day in St. Petersburg, go to St. Petersburg II.

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