The city founded by Tsar Peter the Great

For all time, our first lasting impression of St Petersburg will be that one we experienced as we woke at about 6:30am: the smell. It was a pungent sulphur smell. When we drew back the curtains we found that Azamara Journey was travelling through a busy industrial port. The passage was fairly narrow, so we got a close-up view of cargo ships docked along the port as we passed them.

Before the ship reached Blagoveshchensky Bridge on the Neva River, it turned 180 and then made its way to the Lieutenant Schmidt embankment. We noticed that the ship was heading to dock right next to an old Soviet submarine. This early Cold-War Soviet project 613 (Nato designation Whiskey class) patrol submarine is now a museum, manned by retired Soviet/Russian sailors. Felt somewhat strange to pull up next to it. After watching our ship dock we made our way up to Windows Café for breakfast. We had an excursion scheduled to start at 8:30am. It was, actually, the first day of a three day excursion to maximize the touring and minimize any overlapping sightseeing. Our initial meeting point was the Cabaret Lounge on Deck 5. We didn’t need to wait too long before our group was called and we made our way to the gangway and off the ship.

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  • Monday July 5, 2010

    Catherine Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, Canal Tour and Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

    Once off the ship we did have to wait a while - standing in a lengthly line along Lieutenant Schmidt embankment. Ours was not the only ship that had arrived at this location, so that added to our 400 or so people trying to get into St Petersburg. The line led to a small passport control building that we all needed to pass through. We had been given landing cards to fill out while on the ship and were told that half of it would be taken immediately and the other half we'd retain until our final departure from St Petersburg on the third day. With this setup, Russia was one of the locations that it was necessary for us to travel with our passports. It was a slow process, and one we could understand once we finally made into the passport control shack. Only two officials were processing people, and they were very slow and very serious at it. When we finally reached the official, our passports were stamped and half of our landing cards were taken in exchange for a red laminated cards that we were instructed to carry with us. Finally, we were cleared.

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      We walked out of the passport control shack to where the buses were parked and we met up with our tour guide Natasha. Fitting name for a Russian tour guide. We are sure we weren’t the only people wondering if the bus driver was Boris (it wasn’t, by the way).

      Our first stop for the day was the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin). To get there, we drove through part of St Petersburg. While travelling through the city it was easy to see the many canals there were to create the myriad of islands that make up the city. It was also easy to see how much of the city was in disrepair. Some iconic buildings are very close to what would be considered near condemnable. Certainly some of these areas looked like places to avoid, especially at night. A number of the roads were in either poor condition or being ripped up. It looked to us like the city needed a massive effort to improve its infrastructure and some of its buildings. Tourism dollars didn’t seem to be making its way to that...or maybe it had; is possible we were seeing the improved version of the city. It still needed much more to be on par with other European tourist destinations. The drive to the Catherine Palace gave us glimpse of Soviet life as we passed through some housing developments built under Soviet rule - the look was accordingly utilitarian. We also passed a building known as the House of the Soviets with a tall and impressive statue of Lenin in front of it. Our guide also pointed out some of the key battle lines in this area from the 872 day German siege of Leningrad during World War II. The town of Pushkin is located about 25 km south of St Petersburg and was founded in the 18th century as the summer residence of the Russian tsars under the name of Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar’s Village). From our bus we walked to near the front entrance to the Catherine Palace and joined a fairly long line that had already formed. The scene was very disorganized to say the least - and our guide was unsure of what to do. It turned out that tour groups were allowed to enter in advance of the official opening time, but it required some aggressiveness on the part of the guides to make that happen. Our guide seemed to be lacking in that department, so we waited longer than was necessary. With the prompting of another guide our group moved forward, and it was a bit of a free for all scramble as we got closer to the gate. Very disorganized, indeed.

      Once safely inside the gate we had some room to breath and wait while the remainder of our group made it though. From this vantage point we got our first unobstructed view of the palace. We were looking at the north side of the building that was finished in 1756 for Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine I. The current building replaced the original residence built for Catherine I in 1717. The Rococo style building reportedly took over 100kg of gold to gild the exterior domes and statues in the roof. We had to join another line to get into the palace - but this one was shorter and far more orderly. It wasn’t too long before we were inside. As we walked in through a cloak room it was identified that larger bags needed to be check. One stern older woman identified Gary’s camera bag and wanted it checked. The bag check did not look secure at all. In the confusion inside the cloakroom, the woman’s attention was diverted and we walked through the cloakroom. We were in the next room putting little sock things over our shoes when the woman reappeared to collect the camera bag in exchange for a tag. Gary didn’t feel to comfortable with parting with the bag full of camera components, but there wasn’t much option at this point. Inside the palace proper we were almost immediately surrounded by the opulent Rococo style with its abundance of gold gilding inside the many rooms. Not sure of the weight of gold used inside, but can you say over the top? The “highlight” of the tour of the Catherine Palace is the Amber Room. What stands today is a reconstruction because the 1700s original Amber Room had been looted by the Nazis during World War II. A massive and expensive reconstruction effort from 1979 to 2003 brought the room back to its former glory based on the black and white images of the original room. We have no photographic evidence of the Amber Room from our visit - they wouldn’t allow photography inside the room. We could go on about the tour of the palace, but suffice to say it is an interesting place with plenty to see. It was also quite crowded during our visit there. In each of the rooms there was a least one person regulating the flow of traffic - makes one feel like being in a herd. That detracted somewhat from the overall experience inside the Catherine Palace. All was fine with the camera bag collection, and the stern Russian woman was now all smiles as Gary collected it.

      The day was beautifully warm and sunny as we left the interior of the palace on the south side. Passing the elaborate French style garden, we walked back around to the location that we’d meet back with our bus to make the trip back to St Petersburg and the next item on the agenda: lunch. Our lunch destination was the Radisson on Nevskey Prospect. We were served a traditional Russian lunch starting with smoked salmon, caviar and vodka followed by a chicken stroganoff main course. It was decent enough and we got to know some fellow Canadians on the tour with us - three couples from Alberta who were part of a group of dentists on the cruise. We had seen signs onboard the ship identifying some of their group’s activities on the last at sea day. Anyway, it was an enjoyable lunch with pleasant conversation.

      After lunch, we made our way to the Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel of St Petersburg established by Peter the Great in 1703 and built between then and 1740. Do you think first impressions are important? Well, our first impressions of the fortress came from where the bus parked and we walked into the fortress - through a section of fortress buildings that were quite rundown. Not quite the grand entrance one would expect to a fortress of such renown.

      The impression did change once we made our way into the heart of the fortress with its central and dominant structure of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Much better impression. The bell tower stands 123 metres tall and can be clearly seen from most parts of the city. We ventured inside a took in the lavish decoration of the cathedral. The Peter and Paul Cathedral is the burial place of almost every Russian Tsar from Peter the Great to Alexander III, with the only exceptions being that of Peter II (who, incidentally, is the only Russian royal buried in the Kremlin in Moscow) and Ivan VI (who was never really a Tsar - coronated at the ripe age of 2 months old and overthrown by Elizabeth just over a year later). Today, it is fascinating to wander through the rows of tombs of the Romanov Tsars. None more so than that of Peter the Great. In St Catherine’s Chapel on the side is a memorial to the murdered Nicholas II and his family. The remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra and three of their daughters were brought to the Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998, eighty years after they were murdered. The bodies of their son (the heir Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia - and that was the family connection to Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin) and another daughter were at the time missing but have since been identified by forensic scientists. One would assume those remains will be brought to the Peter and Paul Cathedral on a significant upcoming anniversary.

      Next on the day’s agenda was a river and canal tour. We boarded the tour boat on the Neva River, not too far from the Peter and Paul Fortress. We sat near the back of the open deck to give ourselves the best chance of unobstructed views of what we’d be seeing on the tour. The boat tour was a terrific way to see St Petersburg. First, the boat traveled along the Neva River, passing under a few of the impressive bridges that cross the river. From this vantage point we could see some of the main attractions that the city had to offer. About half way through this stretch we passed close by the cruiser Aurora. In 1917, the crew of this ship launched the October Revolution by refusing to put to sea as ordered, and later it was a single blank shot fired from the Aurora that signalled the start of the attack led by Lenin on the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum). The cruiser, now a museum, is clearly a symbol of the Communist Revolution. The Hermitage itself was not too far away on the other side of the river, and we passed that after seeing the Aurora. It was then that the boat turned off the river into one of the many canals that weave through the city. The boat passed under some very low bridges, so the headroom was very limited. Those standing to take photographs, such as Gary, needed to sit as we passed under them. This was a more intimate look of the city, and a very enjoyable way to travel through St Petersburg. We slowly passed by the canal entrance to the summer home of Peter the Great with its beautifully green garden setting. We also passed by the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood - which would be our final stop for the day. Before getting off there, though, we meandered through the canals a bit more to take in the last few drops of flavour of this city. For us, we’d say this was truly the highlight of the day and the city so far. The boat tour was very enjoyable and the day was beautifully sunny and warm. Great combination.

      From the boat we walked a short distance to reach the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. We took a brief look at the church from the outside before venturing inside. The design of this building is quite different from most building we had seen so far in St Petersburg - this church was designed in the older medieval Russian style rather than the dominant Baroque and Neoclassical city styles. The church was built on the spot that Tsar Alexander II and his family were assassinated in 1881. Inside the church we were confronted with wall to wall people. Our guide wasn’t too attentive, and with the crowd inside the church it has occurred to us that unless we paid close attention it would be very easy to get separated from her. She was also short, so not easy to see in the throng and her saying in the audio system we each had “this way” was of no use unless you could see which way she was pointing. The Azamara representative on this tour was clearly concerned about this guide, and not for the first time - we had seen that earlier in the day as well. There were some interesting features inside the church, including some art on the inside of one of the onion domes that was an image of Christ as a youth. Our guide said it was the only one in the world - that seemed a bit of a stretch, but it is certainly true that we had never seen a depiction of Christ at this age. Following our time inside the church we walked across the busy street to check out an open market. We wandered up and down the stalls, but never really saw anything we'd like to purchase as a keepsake. We did, though, need to get something to drink - so we found a vendor from whom to buy some refreshing cold drinks. We were glad we had a supply of Russian Rubles, the guy selling the drinks wasn't interested in American Dollars. We had read in preparing for this trip that the American currency isn't what it once was in Russia, and we witnessed that and the indignation of American tourists who only had their own currency that should be accepted "everywhere".

      That was the end of the day's touring, so it was time to re board the bus and head back to the ship. When we reached the passport control, the official on duty took all of the paperwork that we had, even though we had been told that the one portion was to be handed in at the end of the three day visit. We questioned this, but the official was intent on keeping the paperwork and waving us through. Still puzzled, we asked some of the ship's personnel who were posted at the gangway to the ship. Apparently, the rules change just about every time they come to St Petersburg, so this time they wanted all the paperwork on the first day. Lots of rules in Russia, and the official seem to make them up and change them as they go. We were assured that we wouldn't need to provide additional documentation for the remaining two days.

      We arrived back on the ship around 6:00pm, and after a quick stop in the room we decided to head to the Sunset Bar for a drink and for good measure we took along a city map so we could retrace the day's touring and try to get our bearings for St Petersburg - with the way we had traveled around, neither of us had a good sense yet of the city layout. From the Sunset Bar we had a good view of the city with some of the dominant landmarks, so the view together with the map and our memories of where we had been gave us the necessary information. Before leaving the bar, we ended up helping another couple seated at the table with the same task at hand. At about 8:00pm we went to dinner in the Discoveries Dining Room, and we both enjoyed wonderfully prepared Chilean Sea Bass as our main course. We were continuing to be pleased with the food and service in the main dining room on Azamara Journey. Following dinner we made our way to the Cabaret Lounge to see local Russian performers “Sadaruska”. The show had already started when we arrived, and it was to this point in the trip the biggest audience we had seen for any performance. Sadaruska were Russian folk singers and dancers, and the show was entertaining, albeit we had no idea of the words/topics of the folk songs. We made our way to Mosaic Café after the show for some late night espressos, and then went up to Deck 10 to take a look outside at the rather bright St Petersburg evening - it was past 11:00pm and there was still good light. We needed to be up fairly early for the second day’s touring in St Petersburg so we weren’t planning to make this too late of a night, so after a stroll around the open deck to take in the sights and take a few more photographs we made our way back to our room. Day 1 had been a full day of touring, and we were looking forward to what else St Petersburg had to offer in the upcoming two days.

  • Tuesday July 6, 2010

    St Isaac’s Cathedral and Hermitage Museum

    Day 2 in St Petersburg started at 6:15am for us so that we’d have enough time for breakfast at Window’s Café before heading out for the second day of touring St Petersburg. After breakfast we met back with our group at the Cabaret Lounge, and once everyone had arrived we walked down to the gangway and back though passport control at the pier. That process was much easier and faster compared to the first time. The line moved quickly and the official that we saw only confirmed the ship we came from while she looked at our passports and then handed them back together with the laminated cards that we were to carry for the day. We clearly didn’t need the paperwork.

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      On the pier past the passport control we looked for our bus number among the assembled busses and it was then that we got a pleasant surprise - we’d have a new guide for the day. The intention was to have the same guide for all three days so we though we were stuck with Natasha. We were told she was sick, and we met up with our new guide Helen. We also had a new bus and driver, but we had been told that those would likely change each day. It is possible that Day 1 guide Natasha was actually sick, but we think it more likely that the Azamara representative on our tour had the change made. Whatever the reason, we were glad - just a few moments of talking to Helen before we got on the bus we sensed we now had a much better guide for the day. The day was turning out quite nicely under a blue sunny sky. Already warm in the early morning, the forecast was for a high of 29ºC. First up on the agenda was a trip to St Isaac’s Cathedral. We had seen the dome of the church from our ship, so we had a pretty good sense of where we were heading. The Russian Orthodox church was initiated Tsar Alexander I and built between 1818 and 1858. Under the Soviets, it was turned into a museum until the fall of communism when it was reinstated to its intended use as a church. St Isaac’s Cathedral anchors one end of a square aptly named St Isaac’s Square, with the opposite end featuring Mariinsky Palace. On one side of the square sits an interesting reminder of the past - the former Embassy of Germany, consulate of Weirmar Republic and then later of Nazi Germany. Today it houses Russian government offices. On the other side of the square is Hotel Astoria, a five star hotel that has seen many world leaders and other famous people stay there. Near the elevators inside the hotel are a number of small brass plaques with the names of their famous guests. The centre of St Isaac’s Square has an impressive bronze equestrian statue of Nicholas I. When built in 1859 it was a marvel of that era’s technology - for its size and that the statue has only two points of contact (the rear hooves of the horse).

      Our next destination was the main one for the day - The State Hermitage Museum, more often just called The Hermitage. It was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and now houses somewhere in the range of 3 million pieces of art. The museum is comprised of six buildings, including the former royal residence of the Winter Palace. It was this building that we’d first enter - but before that we had to wait a short time outside for the museum to open. It was far better organized than what we experienced at the Catherine Palace. Here, too, it was necessary to part with the camera bag, but we anticipated it this time so we were better prepared. The first truly memorable impression of the Hermitage was that of the Pavilion Hall of the Small Hermitage. Built in the mid 19th century, it shines with white marble columns, gold gilt stucco walls and an impressive 28 crystal chandeliers that gives the room sparkle. A portion of the hall has a copy of the original ancient Roman floor mosaic that had been found north of Rome in 1780. Most impressive in the hall is an 18th century clock, known as the Peacock Clock. It is an amazing piece of craftsmanship that required a fair bit of time to see all of the elements that make up the massive and ornate clock. In our time in St Petersburg so so far we had already seen evidence of the borrowed ideas throughout the city from other famous places in Europe. As we wandered through the Hermitage we saw the Hermitage copy of the Vatican’s 16th century Raphael Loggias. The Hermitage version was made in the 19th century and today still displays a bullet hole in one of the hall’s mirrors - a shot fired during the 1917 Russian Revolution. Similar to what we had experienced at the Vatican Museum, there is just so much to see inside the Hermitage that it is difficult to absorb in one visit. To experience it fully, one would need a number of days among the fast array of artwork and artifacts. It is impressive and well worth the visit. There were two temporary exhibits at the Hermitage while we were there - a Picasso exhibit (from the National Picasso Museum in Paris) and an exhibit of recovered masterpieces that had been taken by the Nazis during World War II. We particularly enjoyed the latter - with some works of Matisse and Passaro standing out for us. Not to say that the Picasso exhibit was a dud, though - it, too, was good. Following the inside tour of the Hermitage, we did take a look outside - from the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace to the large Palace Square with its central Alexander Column. The column stands 47.5 metres tall and was erected in honour of the Russian victory of 1812 over Napoleon's French Empire. It is named for Alexander I, the then Russian Emperor. Interestingly, the column was designed by a French architect - the same fellow who had made the equestrian statue of Nicholas I that we had seen earlier in the day in the centre of St Isaac's Square.

      By this point the day had now blossomed into a beautiful one - warm and sunny. From the Hermitage we made a short walk to an area with some shops. We found a nice print here to purchase - something that we always liked to purchase on our travels. Was good to find one we liked here in St Petersburg. In the other locations we had been so far on this trip we hadn’t been able to find one we liked. Our next stop was for lunch at local restaurant very close to the Neva River. The lunch fare was very similar to the lunch we’d had on the first day in St Petersburg, although we’d say the Day 1 lunch was of better quality. Following lunch we travelled to Yusupov Palace (or Moika Palace) - location of the infamous poisoning of the even more infamous Grigori Rasputin. We had seen the palace before from the boat cruise we had taken on Day 1, but for the tour inside our group was split into two more manageable group sizes within the confines of the rooms within the palace. The palace has been restored to its 1916 glory, and it set as a reenactment of the murder of Rasputin, complete with was displays of the conspiratory dinner on the main floor and the basement poisoning of Rasputin. Rasputin’s death, like his life, is a mysterious matter...poisoned with enough cyanide they say to kill five people yet he survived that but was subsequently shot 4 times and drown. Drowning is listed as the official cause of his death. Whatever the exact sequence of his death, his murder left no doubt of the fear of his influence over the Russian royal family.

      Before heading back to the ship we had another shopping stop - this time we found a few items to take home as gifts. At about 4:30 pm the day’s touring was complete and we took the bus back to Azamara Journey. Our plan originally had been to have an evening at the Catherine Palace - a night of champagne, classical music and exclusive access to the palace followed by a late dinner. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough interest in this event to cover the cost and it had been cancelled. We had found out about this earlier and made a reservation for Prime C for dinner instead. It was a bit disappointing that our evening event in St Petersburg had been cancelled, but we did enjoying being back on the ship for a bit of relaxation in the late afternoon after the day’s touring in warm and sunny conditions. First stop was at our favourite ship location of Mosaic Café on Deck 5 for a couple of cappuccinos and some tasty treats. Following that, Gary took the opportunity to do a bit of photo maintenance while Linda opted to rest up before dinner. We had an 8:30pm reservation for dinner at Prime C and we found that the restaurant wasn’t very busy this evening. The dinner, from appetizers to desserts was again excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The disappointment over the evening’s original plans had certainly faded away. Something about the dessert is worth mentioning - on our first Signature Dining experience onboard at Aqualina, we had heard a man at a nearby table going on and on and on about his dessert - which was a serving of small warmed donuts accompanied by warmed chocolate, caramel and vanilla dipping sauces. Did we say he went on about it? It didn’t really seem like a dessert worth that much praise, but here at Prime C Gary gave the donuts a try. Okay, the guy had a point - they were surprisingly delicious. Perhaps not much to look at served in an escargot dish and did make one feel a bit like Homer Simpson ordering donuts for dessert, but looks can be deceiving.

      After dinner we made our way to the Cabaret Lounge - not for a show, but to watch some of the World Cup coverage on the large screens they had in the lounge. With the time difference, the games were on quite late while we were in St Petersburg. The game this time was semi-final match between Uruguay and Netherlands - won by Netherlands 3-2. Linda only made it to half-time (at which point it was 1-1), but Gary stayed to watch the incident-filled match to its conclusion. This evening was the last opportunity to see the bridges raised during the few hours of darkness in St Petersburg, so Gary went back to the room to collect the camera after the soccer game had finished. We had heard that the bridges usually open at 1:00am, but they were open already when Gary reached the open deck just after 12:30am. It looked pretty with the bridges lit and raised against the dark sky.

      With that, our second day of St Petersburg was done...well, technically the start of our third day - and the touring for the last day would start early, so it was time to get to bed. It had been a good day, and the visit to the Hermitage is certainly something we will long and fondly remember.

  • Wednesday July 7, 2010

    Peterhof Palace and sail away from St Petersburg

    It was a 6:00am start for us for Day 3 in St Petersburg with breakfast at Window’s Café before heading out for our final tour of St Petersburg. We met back with our group at the Cabaret Lounge once again and then made our way to the gangway and back though passport control at the pier. Each day going through passport control was easier and faster than the time before, so this time was almost like marching straight through. Even though it was warm, the forecast for the day had called for rain and it did look grey and hazy as we met up with our guide Helen on the pier and waited for the bus that was a bit delayed. We felt pleased that Helen was our guide for this last day. The bus, though, was different - this time a much older and not as well appointed as we’d had the previous two days.

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      The destination for this day’s touring was Peterhof Palace, known as the Russian Versailles, located about 30km south of St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. To get to Peterhof we passed some truly Soviet era housing developments and Helen shared some of her experiences growing up as a child under communist rule. Sounded terrible. We couldn’t really imagine what it would have been like to live is such conditions. By the time we had reached Peterhof, the sky had gotten a bit more cloudy so it really did appear like rain was a possibility. For the time being, though, we were dry and it was quite warm. Peterhof Palace is really a complex of palaces and gardens - the design of which was directed by Peter the Great to be as grand as Versailles after he had visited the French original in 1697. We started with an interior tour of the Grand Peterhof Palace - the most central and dominant building in the complex. Our guide Helen had been keen to make sure we arrived early to Peterhof and were finished the interior tour with time to find a good position outside to watch the fountains as they were started - which happened daily at 11:00am just outside the Grand Peterhof Palace. The style of the palace was very much French with flavours of Chinese. It is impressive, but not as big as one would first think from looking at it from the outside. When we left the palace, there was a large line-up of people waiting to get inside - we had certainly timed the tour right. As with all tour guides, Helen knew the absolute “best” place to stand to view the fountains. We had a few minutes to spare as we made our way down to the lower gardens to find a place to stand to see the fountains. On cue at 11:00am, the fountain started, with the first flow coming from the mouth of a golden lion at the hands of a golden Samson at the centre of a pool at the base of the Grand Cascade that ran from the Grand Palace down to the lower gardens. The symbolism of Samson opening the jaws of the lion was intended to represent Russian victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War of 1700-1721. The fountain was built in 1730 and a 20 meter high jet of water bursts out of the lion’s mouth. With all the water that flows to the sounds of classical musical, it is easy to forget the technical marvel that these fountains represent. All of the water flow is done naturally - no water is pumped. The water is collected in the upper gardens and the elevation difference between the upper and lower gardens is how the water pressure is achieved. It is an amazing fountain display, and an impressive piece of 1700s engineering. The Samson and Lion that now stands in the centre of the fountain complex is a 1947 copy to replace the original one stolen by the Germans during World War II.

      After watching the fountains along the Grand Cascade we met back up with our tour group and toured the equally impressive gardens with more fountains dotted around the large parkland at Peterhof. The entire grounds are quite beautiful and make for an enjoyable stroll. The rain was holding off, only the threat of rain held in the clouds over the day’s touring. A few of the fountains were classified as joke fountain - and plenty of kids, both young and old, were enjoying getting wet on this warm day. Probably the most enjoyed fountain is the one photographed on the right (called the Settee) - the idea is to run across the stones that would spray up unexpectedly. Adults would attempt to run across and avoid the water but the youngest kids would just try to get wet. We decided to stay dry and just watched and laughed. Peterhof is definitely a terrific place to visit, and for us was a great way to end our touring of St Petersburg. With the Azamara Journey scheduled to leave at 5:00pm, we made our way back to the ship after we had strolled around the gardens of Peterhof. It was only as we were leaving Peterhof that a few drops of rain fell - and we mean a few. More like a tease of rain.

      Once we had returned to the Passenger Terminal at Lieutenant Schmidt’s Embankment it was time to stand around and wait for a while - it was a slow process to get back through passport control for this last time. The reason for the delay was that another ship had docked and people were disembarking as we returned. The little floating terminal building was busy. Having not had lunch we decided to get a bite to eat, but Windows Café was quite busy with just about everyone doing the same as us - catching a late bite after the last day of touring in St Petersburg. We ended up making our way to Mosaic Café for some of the tasty bites they had on offer plus some cappuccinos, of course. We took our final stroll around the open deck while the ship was still docked in St Petersburg and then went back to our room for a short moment of relaxation before heading back up to the open deck prior to the ship’s schedule departure of 5:00pm.

      The view leaving the area of the Neva River that the ship had been docked was enjoyable, as was the first part of the trip back to open water. We could see many of the areas of the city that we had toured over the three days in St Petersburg as we left. The passage to the Baltic would take us back through the industrial port, so the view there was less attractive but it was interesting to see. We didn’t count the number, but we passed many active submarines docked along the river as we made our slow exit. Just as the ship passed the entrance of the industrial port, we saw a large sign written in the Cyrillic alphabet - identifying the city by its Soviet name of Leningrad.


Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on May 27 1703. The name was changed to Petrograd on September 1, 1914 to remove the German influences on the name.

Present Day Present Day
Retro Retro

On January 26, 1924 following the death of Vladimir Lenin the name of the city was again changed to Leningrad. Following a referendum the name was reverted back to the original Saint Petersburg on October 1, 1991.

It is interesting that a sign at the entrance to the city port still bears the name Leningrad as written in the Cyrillic alphabet. We thought it appropriate to have some fun with the photo we took of the sign - with the current day image and our created retro image befitting the Soviet era name.

St Petersburg Image Gallery

Early morning arrival through the industrial port in St Petersburg
The Catherine Palace
Gold onion domes of the Catherine Palace
Cruiser Aurora on the Reka Bolshaya Nevka
Cruiser Aurora - the ship that signalled the start of the 1917 Winter Palace attack
Peter and Paul Cathedral views from Neva River
Hermitage Museum
Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Neva River view from Azamara Journey
White night view of St Petersburg from Azamara Journey (photo taken at 11:08pm)
Saint Isaac's Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor)
The building that was once the Winter Palace - now the Hermitage Museum
Bridges lit and raised for a few hours each night in St Petersburg
Looking down the Sea Channel at Peterhof Palace
Peterhof Grand Palace and its Grande Cascade
The famous fountains of Peterhof Palace
Samson and the Lion Fountain in the pool at the base of the Grand Cascade
Historical exit - passing the sign for Leningrad
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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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