Here’s Part Two of Scarlett Stahl’s madcap Adventures in Russia! You can check out Part One (the one with a CSI connection) [HERE]. ~~Rick
Scarlett Stahl’s Adventures in Russia
As we continued our adventure in Russia, our car was right on time to pick us up and we enjoyed a 15 mile ride southeast of the city to Catherine’s Palace, which was built in 1717. The original building has been changed many times and rebuilt. Unfortunately the Germans destroyed it purposely during World War II. However prior to World War II, archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace.
There was a band playing outside the entrance for photo ops and tips. The lovely blue and gilded façade gave a hint of the magnificence of the palace interior. This palace appeared to be caught in time with its breathtaking beauty. According to the guide book the collections included the following: Architectural drawings, Applied arts, Women’s clothing, Textiles, Paintings, Graphics, Watercolors, Furniture, Metal works, Men’s clothing, Arms, Postcards, Rare books, Carriages, Harness, Interior sculpture, Stone, Garden sculpture, Porcelain, Photographs, Precious metal & stone works.
Rather than trying to describe it, it would be better to see some of the pictures:
Now, in addition to the palace, there were the lakes and grounds. At one of the bridges were a bride and groom with a photographer. Apparently it is the custom of bridal couples to visit important places of interest for their photos after the wedding. And in the city, they hire a tourist bus to take them and their bridal party around to all the important tourist places for their photos.
We were having a lovely time and anticipating seeing the rest of the Park, including the carriage house with its solid gold carriages. However Linda discovered that she had laid her purse down while taking pictures and had left it. For about half an hour we frantically looked in trash bins as that is where our guide told us that the purses were thrown after the money had been removed and we especially wanted to find her passport!! Katya, our guide, had gone back to the palace to see if it had been turned in. Linda had been asking vendors, if anyone had turned it in and finally the angels shined on her as the last vendor she asked, reached below her cart and held up the purse. Apparently a guide had found Linda’s purse and handed it to the vendor, who was licensed. Everything was there, money and passport!!!
However our guide was overwhelmed with what had happened and said that she has never lost a guest nor had them lose anything previously. She preferred to leave, rather than continuing that day. So when she asked if we wanted to return to our hotel or be dropped somewhere, we requested that she leave us at a little outdoor market that we had seen on the first day near The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, which was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. As we left the car, both she and the driver warned us about pickpockets. They said that someone, maybe a shop keeper even, might try to distract us, while another would pick our pockets. So we decided to watch each others backs. In fact I did see two men eyeing Linda’s purse, while she was bargaining with a shop keeper and moved between the men and her. They went away after they saw me watching them. The main souvenirs in Russia appear to be vodka, caviar, lacquered boxes, Faberge style eggs in all forms, including pendants and bracelets as well as Russian nesting dolls called matryoshkas. Amber is also very popular in both Russia and Scandanavia. We bought a few gifts for ourselves and friends.
Then we went to a local restaurant for some piroshky (meat and onions baked in a bun.) After that we walked along Nevsky Prospect, which is the main street that cuts through the historical district in St. Petersburg. We passed a little restaurant with a dog mannequin in the window that barked and then an elegant store with clothing and spiked heels. We saw a children’s store with Mickey and Pluto and Donald in a car in the window.
Finally we came to St. Isaacs Church, only to realize that our shuttle bus had stopped running 45 minutes earlier so we took a cab back to our hotel and called it an evening. Again we closed the drapes tightly to darken the room.
The following day, after breakfast, we took our belongings down to the lobby (remember that I was the only one with a bag) and checked out. Our car was waiting to take us to the Peterhof Palace. On the way we saw some of the scenery outside St. Petersburg and even passed an estate where President Putin lives when he is in the area.
According to our guide, Peter the Great, Tsar and later Emperor of Russia, chose to move the capital from Moscow to St Petersburg in 1703 in order to be closer to the Netherlands and Europe. He had lived for a time in the Netherlands and admired the Dutch very much. Peter chose to build Peterhof, which is German or Dutch for Peter’s Court, to impress the rulers of other nations. His wife Catherine is said to have been Swedish, Polish or Lithuanian…it still is a mystery. Peter was prone to rages and possibly had epilepsy, while Catherine was able to sooth him.
They only had two daughters who lived to adulthood. The eldest, Anna, married Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, a nephew of childless Charles XII of Sweden. However, Anna died shortly after childbirth when she was barely twenty. Her son, Peter, later became Emperor of Russia, and the husband of Catherine the Great.
The younger sister, Elizabeth, did become a popular ruler but never married and had no heirs, other than her nephew mentioned above. The guide told of mistresses, illegitimacy and murder in regards to the rulers of that time. And to be honest, from what I have read of Peter, Catherine I, Anna, Elizabeth and Catherine the Great on the internet, it appears she was right!
This day was a five hour tour, which included the drive to Peterhof. Pictures could only be taken outside and were not allowed inside the palace. I can only say that just arriving and walking towards the back of the palace, seeing the gold shining in the sunlight was impressive. But when you turned the corner and saw the front, it was breath-taking with all 150 fountains, spouting from golden statues. Again much was destroyed by the Germans during World War II and it has undergone much restoration to the beauty that it is today. We saw in the gardens that the Russian do have a sense of humor. Several fountains are designed with the specific purpose of soaking visitors. Two look like trees and have jets that activate when someone approaches. Then there is one that looks like an umbrella with bench around the base, which spills water from its rim when anyone enters.
In addition to the lavish grounds, there are palaces: Grand Palace, Monplaisir Palace, Catherine Wing of Monplaisir, Marly Palace, Hermitage Palace, Cottage Palace. Most wonderful of all are the Peterhof Fountains, which are typically in operation from April to October.
There were gift shops in all three of the palaces that we visited but I do believe that Peterhof had the best selection as there were various forms of Faberge eggs….real and otherwise, with many more selections of Russian gifts, such as lacquered boxes, and jewelry.
After we left the palace, we were driven to the boat terminal for our return trip on the Princess Maria for our overnight trip back to Helsinki. Much was the same on the boat but this time we stayed onboard to watch the departure, before we went to the restaurant for pizza again.
I am glad we went and saw such beauty and lavishness as well as uniqueness that I have never seen before in my life!!!! I was exhausted most of the time but am glad I pushed myself to see as much as I could. The one time we were alone, we found our way around easily and I wish we could have had more time to explore by ourselves. I wish we weren’t so tired and could have gone to the ballet or the folk show. I wish we could have done more shopping but again we had no time. Would I recommend others going on this trip? YES, I would.
Maybe you could take two cruises with a stopover in Helsinki in the middle. You could begin your trip in Stockholm and take the Princess Anastasia overnight to Estonia for the day and then overnight on the boat to St. Petersburg, where you would have two days and one night before spending another night on the Princess Maria on the return trip to Helsinki (instead of Stockholm).
You could stay in Helsinki for a couple of days and then take the Princess Maria back on another trip to St Petersburg for the three day two night trip there, like we did. This way you would see Stockholm, Estonia, Helsinki and have a total of three nights and five days in St. Petersburg between the two trips, with no visa.
Here are some of the souvenirs from our trip:
VISA FREE RULE
In accordance to the legislation of Russian Federation (RF Government Resolution №397), foreign tourists and persons without citizenship travelling on ferries may arrive to the port of St. Petersburg without Russian visa and stay in Russia not more than 72 h. VISA-Free journey can last up to 3 days. All passengers travelling on board from Helsinki to St. Petersburg are required to present a passport before entering the ship. Passports are required to be valid six months after arriving to St. Petersburg.
All passengers travelling visa free have to reserve sightseeing program in St. Petersburg in advance. The most affordable way is purchasing city bus shuttle service offered by St. Peter Line. Mandatory shuttle bus ticket’s price is 25€ for adults and 12,5€ for children (0-12 years). Travelers must be prepared for delays in shuttle transfer due to traffic in the city during rush hours. Visa-free travelling concerns all passengers. If a passenger arrives from outside the Schengen area, the passenger must have a multiple entry visa to enter back to Finland after the cruise.
Passengers arriving under the Visa Free regime must stay within the territory defined by the pre-paid excursion program, (City Bus Tour program). If a passenger buys an additional excursion program outside the limits of the City Bus Tour, the passenger must notify the carrier company beforehand and provide detailed information.
If a passenger stays within the Russian Federation territory for longer than one day the
passenger must present to the Border Guard Service a hotel voucher, a confirmation of
payment for the booking. Passing the registration formalities at the hotel is obligatory.
In accordance to the legislation of Russian Federation (RF Government Resolution №397), foreign tourists and persons without citizenship travelling on ferries may arrive to the port of St. Petersburg without Russian visa and stay in Russia not more than 72 hours. VISA-Free journey can last up to 3 days.
According to the law, a passenger must arrive at the port of St. Petersburg aboard a ferry of St.PETER LINE Company and leave in the same manner, be part of a tour group (“Car Shorex” in this case) and comply with the rule of no longer than 72-hour stay.