3 Jun 2015
|Perhaps the most beautiful port of the cruise was Saint Petersburg. It is also the most expensive. A Russian visa for an American costs $180. Yes, even for one day off the ship. Cruise ships have introduced a new challenge for those visiting Russia—at least, those from the West. As I understand it, those from former Soviet republics can visit Russia without a visa. However, the Russian government has waived the cost of a visa—even for Americans—if you book a tour with a government licensed guide and if you are with your guide for your entire stay in Russia. This works out great for Russians and for the Cruise company. They can sell one-day tours of Saint Petersburg for $500 (half the cost of the cruise) and people will pay it to see the city.
If you cruise into Russia, you actually have four options. The cheapest is to stay on the boat, but that sort of defeats the purpose of cruising into Russia. Second, you can book a crazy expensive tour from the ship. Because so many people book them, they are crowded…and not easy for scooters. Third, you can buy a visa from the Russian consulate before the cruise. It is currently $180 and, of course, gives you nothing in Russia. You just get through immigration. Finally, you can book a private tour with a company over the Internet. I booked us a full day cruise for $180 with Guru Guides. They sent me tickets over the Internet to print and bring along. Passing immigration was simple enough. Dimitri, our guide, was waiting for us. Dad’s scooter easily fit the Mercedes van, and we had a comfortable way to tour the city.
We began the day at Peterhof, the 18th century home of Peter the Great. It is almost an hour’s drive from the city, but absolutely stunning. Fountains gushed water around golden statues. The grounds are covered with forest, statuary, and…well, tourists. Peter’s personal residence sits right on the Baltic Sea with easy access by water to the city. Apparently, he preferred traveling by boat. If traffic was anything like it is today, I can understand why. His navy was harbored near Peterhof, and Peter often boated over to inspect the ships.
Czars ruled in Russia for some 800 years, but Peter was the Czar that brought Russia into Europe. Moscow is an ancient Russia city. St. Petersburg is actually relatively young. Peter designed it to be a European capitol, styled after places like Amsterdam, Venice, and Paris. He brought architects from Europe to design the palaces, government buildings, and churches.
We also saw the house Peter built for Catherine. She was a German princess who is well respected by Russians—currently, during the time of the czars, and even by the communists. Of course, she conspired with one of her lovers to murder her husband, but that is a little thing.
After walking all over Peterhof, we made our way back to the city. Dimitri took us to this great little restaurant that specialized in meat pies. I had a salmon pie…but also got a raspberry pie. Yummy. Hard to describe really. They were pastries, vaguely reminiscent of something you would find in France.
Dimitri took us to his favorite of the Russian Orthodox churches, a functioning church called St. Isaacs. On the outside, it was very European…ornate, blue steeples and a matching bell tower. On the inside, the church was more traditionally Russian. A little darker. Lots of icons. Filled with worshippers who had come to light candles and pray.
We drove past the largest church in Russia…the fourth largest in the world, as Dimitri told us, after the St. Peter’s basilica, St. Paul’s in London, and one of the churches in Florence. But, the church no longer functions as a church. Instead it is used as a warehouse. We took pictures at the Church of the Blood, which I assumed was a reference to the blood of Christ. As it turns out, it is a tribute to the blood of one of the martyred czars.
Dimitri took us by a gift shop with free restrooms and free coffee. Mom decided that was the best place to buy something for all of the kids. So, Dimitri fretted as we took more and more and more time at the gift shop. He told me, “I should have asked if you were shop-a-holics before I stopped here.” I agreed, that would have been wise.
Of course, Mom hates to shop.
We made a few quick stops on the way back to the ship. Such a beautiful city. Our driver was a little nervous about getting us back to the ship on time, but we had a departure time from Russia that was a little later than the other ports. We got back with time to spare.
Saint Petersburg is amazing. I hope to return some day and spend a bit more time. Great place.