City of the White Nights
A gentle mist rises from the Neva River as Crystal Harmony slices through the grey-blue waters of the outgoing tide. Stand on deck as the morning sun lights the dachi, or summer houses, that dot the countryside. Further on, the riverbanks are lined with large apartment blocks and factories. Inside, the people face the day which includes, for many, studies at the University, work at the plant, or the daily ritual of tending to the family. As they consider this day nothing more than routine, for you it's something you've waited for perhaps for a lifetime...certainly since you'd read about the Czars and Czarinas, Peter the Great, the Hermitage, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the ballet and Barishnikov. Today, you shall see Russia.
St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, is a beautiful city befitting a Czar with impressive squares, beautifully-maintained parks, broad boulevards or prospekts, and palaces and monuments that depict a previous regal life. Architects and city planners constructed a jewel of a city that reflects its imperial beginnings. It is mirrored in every gilded spire, each massive column, and ornate facade of windows. Unless you stick to a well-thought out plan, you might be tempted to just wander through the city streets. A formal sightseeing itinerary or guided tour will provide you with the best use of your precious hours ashore.
The Peter and Paul Fortress looms up on the banks of the Neva River just across the Kirov Bridge. Within the fortress walls is the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral with its famous sarcophagi of Russian Emperors from the days of Peter the Great. Peter's tomb can be found within the Cathedral.
St. Isaac's Cathedral, the third-largest domed church in the world, is topped off with a massive gilded cupola supported by 60-foot high pillars of solid stone. It is said that there are more than 200 pounds of pure gold decorating the structure.
The battleship Aurora is tied up along the Great Neva River, a testimonial to her crew who went over to the side of the Bolsheviks in early 1917. Later that year, the Aurora fired the shot which ordered the revolutionaries to attack the Winter Palace and the Provisional Government which had retreated onto the Palace grounds. This ship's cannon shot literally signaled the beginning of Lenin's rule and the taking over of the government by the Bolsheviks. Today, visitors can see the Aurora where she has been moored since 1948.
Across the river, on the south side of the Neva, is Palace Square which is acclaimed as one of the world's most spectacular. Here you'll find the lovely, baroque Winter Palace which was built in the mid-1700s, and the Hermitage Museum which houses close to three million pieces acquired over the years by seven czars. Within the Hermitage Museum is the Gold Room, or Treasury Room, which exhibits elegant gold pieces from Scythian tombs and jewelry from the private collections of Czarist nobility. Works by Gauguin, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Titian, and Rembrandt are all displayed here. In the center of the square is the Alexander Column, dedicated to those Russians who triumphed over Napoleon.
Nevsky Prospekt is lined with impressive 18th- and 19th-century architecture. At the Alexander Nevsky Monastery you can visit the graves of Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky.
Beyond the City
Traveling outside the city proper is an interesting experience. Along the route you'll see a bit of the countryside and her rural people who tend this land. Near Pavlovsk is Czar Paul's elegant summer palace built by Catherine the Great for her son in 1777. In Pushkin, travelers visit Catherine Palace. Commissioned to create something on the scale of St. Petersburg's Winter Palace, the architect of Catherine Palace designed a 1000-foot long facade that is painted a beautiful blue. Also in Pushkin is Alexander Palace, surrounded by manicured gardens, where Czar Nicholas II lived with his family during the final days of Imperial Russia.
Petrodvorets is the site of Peter the Great's Palace. Its most famous feature is the Great Cascade, one of the world's most spectacular fountain complexes. Here, water flows through a series of fountains designed as water games to entertain the Czars.
Memories of Russia
Whether you spend your time sampling Russia's finest caviar and smoked salmon, shopping for matryoshka (or nesting) dolls and fur hats, or simply striking up a conversation with a local schoolboy on a park bench, your impressions of Russia shall be etched forever in your mind. It's a country that has long held a fascination for Westerners who now view her citizens as friends in a friendlier world. Be prepared to photograph or video, sketch or simply remember your very special day ashore in Russia.
A short blast of the ship's whistle and the glow of the White Nights of St. Petersburg will signal the close of this memorable day.