During our first day in the Russian port of St. Petersburg, we embarked on our journey via the City by Double-Decker excursion. We found that visiting Russia on your own requires a US citizen to first obtain a VISA and a sponsor unless partaking in tours offered by the cruise line. We had, however, been told in advance that the City by Double-Decker excursion was the only excursion that generally would allow you some free-time in Russia on your own.
We first started out on a sightseeing tour around the city passing many historical sights. The buildings in St. Petersburg were simply amazing. We drove past the Kazan Cathedral which resembles St. Peter’s Basilica and also saw the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps. Next we had a quick photo stop at the Monument to Nicholas I, famed for having the first equestrian statue in Europe having only two support points, the rear hooves of the horse. Our next stop was in front of the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. We took a few photos of the church from the outside and then proceeded to walk a few blocks to Onegin Art Galereya, the designated meeting point. Then we were left on our own for approximately 3 hours.
We wondered around to Nevsky Avenue where we were hoping to get something to eat. Suffice it to say, we were in Russia and unlike many other countries we had visited, English speaking people were not aplenty. We ended up finding a young woman who was selling tickets to the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The girl said she was unable to give us directions to the eating establishment we were looking for because it was just too difficult to translate the Russian into English. She did point in the direction of another restaurant that she said had good food. We walked a few blocks to the establishment known as чайная ложка (or Tea Spoon) at 44 Nevsky Avenue and decided to try it out. After digging behind the counter for several minutes, the employees found a menu with a Russian to English translation of the items available. Then a couple minutes later they found someone who spoke English and we were able to order our meal. We decided to try out the Russian Blini. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly what type of Blini was ordered other than it contained chicken and was very tasty.
We walked about the streets and alleyways of Saint Petersburg beginning at The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood and ending at the State University of Economics. We stopped at this point and began making our way back as the neighborhoods had begun to slowly deteriorate and we were on our own. On the way back we saw many painters practicing their craft out of doors. We also observed structures of amazing architecture everywhere. What struck us most notably was the number of actual paintings that hung on the exteriors of buildings along sidewalks on our route. They apparently have so much art in Russia that they have to display it on the outside of buildings. Incredible!
The most interesting experience during our walk was using the on-street Russian bathroom which involved paying 10 kopeks to the lady at the window between the two stalls. Inside was a single latrine, and in my case lacking toilet paper. I knocked on the small window inside my stall and the lady I paid earlier handed me a new roll of bath tissue.
Making our way back to the meeting point now known as Onegin Art Galereya we purchased some intricate Matryoshka nesting dolls and other memento’s inside. The nesting dolls are available in all price ranges and are a staple souvenir of Russia. What we found is that Matryoshka nesting dolls often pay homage to Russia’s political history or have fairy tale themes. As was the case of the Matryoshka nesting dolls that we purchased, the clerk kindly found and printed the fairytale that was associated with our doll.
After our group was gathered, the double-decker bus took us to the Hermitage Museum which is known as one of the most prestigious museums in the world. We waded through an hour long line in stifling heat to get inside. Once inside there was no air conditioning, just open windows to let the breeze blow through. I found this amazing for a museum of such magnitude but soon realized many Russian buildings have no air conditioning.
We visited the State Rooms of the Winter Palace which were amazingly elegant. We also saw a collection of Western European art featuring Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Madonna and Child’ and Dutch and Flemish Art collections, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck. In each room we visited, sat Russia’s Lady Museum Guards, which is common practice in many of the visitor attractions in the country. She is there to protect the art and to keep you from taking pictures in restricted areas. There are many restrictions in the museums and in some cases; a fee must be paid in order to take photographs.
After our amazing Hermitage visit we headed to back to the pier tired and exhausted from a long day. We later learned that we should have taken the time to enter the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood for the many amazing wall and ceiling mosaics inside. If you go to St. Petersburg, don’t make the same mistake. Now we have to go back.
In the evening, we went back out into the city of St. Petersburg to attend the evening performance of Swan Lake at the Palace Theater, Norwegian Cruise Lines Tour – A Night of Russian Ballet, presented by the Russian Ballet. The theater was gorgeous and the performance was unbelievable, as you would expect from a troupe in this region of the world. The performance ran late into the evening and we were returned to our ship around midnight.
Cruise Port: St. Petersburg, Russia
Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Lines
Tour Name: The City by Double Decker
Tour Operator: Baltic ?
Steps logged: unknown