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Note: this post was also delayed due to Internet connectivity problems

Today, we had an early wake-up call (6:45) as our shore excursion departed by 8:45 and frankly it takes us (with Emerson) a while to get changed, groomed, and fed in the morning. Unfortunately, Emerson was also fairly restless last night (we’re not sure why—maybe the endless sequence of time changes), and we all ended up losing a couple of hours sleep. In any case, we were assembled in the theatre for our “Walking Tour of St. Petersburg” shore excursion by the appointed time.

After leaving the ship, we were escorted to the terminal building and through Russian immigration. Despite six(!) ships in port (Costa, MSC, Norwegian, P&O, Princess, and us), the lines weren’t too long and our tour departed within 7 minutes of the scheduled departure at 9:15. We proceeded to drive into the city from the cruise port into the city center. Traffic in St. Petersburg is utterly horrendous. The drive wasn’t especially far but probably took us 30-45 minutes—with the majority of the time spent in the final mile or two.

Our “walking” tour (which really didn’t involve much actual walking) started at St. Isaac’s Cathedral. We then proceeded through Senate Square, visiting the statue of Peter the Great (The Bronze Horseman), passing by the Admiralty Building (façade largely under scaffolding), and on to Palace Square, home of the splendid Winter Palace.

Winter Palace

Winter Palace

After this brief walk, we rejoined the bus for a pointless ride across a bridge (why didn’t we just walk?) and quick exit for a photo stop at the Rostral Columns. This offered a good vantage point of the Neva River waterfront, including a nice view of the Fortress of Peter and Paul. From there we drove past the Military and Artillery Museum (which was the only part of the day that felt somewhat ‘Soviet’ era) and the Fortress of Peter and Paul. We then made our final stop at the Summer Gardens and Field of Mars. We crossed the Field of Mars, viewing St. Michael’s Castle in the distance, and walked on to visit the magnificent Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. If you’re wondering, “who’s spilled blood?” It was the site of the assassination of Czar Alexander II. Interestingly, it’s never been used as a public place of worship, as it wasn’t completed until 1907, was looted during the Russian Revolution, used as a morgue during the Leningrad siege, and served as a vegetable warehouse during the Soviet era following WWII (which is almost incomprehensible… this magnificent structure serving as a sort of ornate Communist Whole Foods supplier, formerly in honor of Jesus / Alex II).

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Following this final stop, we returned to the ship and had a late lunch around 2pm.

Tonight, we had a vaguely Russian-themed dinner in the MDR. Emerson had… more guacamole (times two) and a less interesting entree. All went well again, making for happy parents.

At 8pm, I attended a standing-room only, folkloric performance by the Russian Military Song and Dance Ensemble from St. Petersburg. I’m a complete git when it comes to dance knowledge, but I was struck by how generally similar folkloric dances seem to be from country to country in Europe (say, Germany, Greece, and Russia). I’m not sure why this is the case, but it seems like something that would make a good expose on 60 Minutes or some such show. I also enjoyed the music though I didn’t understand the words at all. However, the songs seemed to come in two genres: melancholy (e.g., I’m going to Siberia to die a cold, hungry death) or drinking (e.g., I’m on a Russian submarine downing vodka with my comrades).

Overall, we liked St. Petersburg, but it wasn’t a standout for us. Three reasons: 1) it was completely overrun with tourists today, 2) our tour wasn’t especially good – we saw the sights but it’s not the same as freely exploring, and 3) high expectations (especially for Libby), which is always setting yourself up for disappointment. And, while it’s attractive, it also felt a little too—how can I say this—“grimy” to be truly “magical,” especially when compared to Copenhagen or Riga. What’s more, unlike Egypt and Albania—which raised “grimy” to an art form—I didn’t feel connected to contemporary Russian life or how it’s evolved since the Soviet break-up either. Thus, St. Petersburg—unlike Egypt or Albania—left no significant impression on me. In the end, I come away from Russia mostly ambivalent. That said, I expect we’ll (happily) return someday, as we really only scratched the surface of this city and country.

Today’s box score: +1 country (Russia)

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