A Real Russian Experience

Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

Now THIS is the way to travel: a driver and guide (in our own private Mercedes) whisking us around town, moving us to the front of most lines and showing us exactly what we asked to see. I arranged this private tour a few months ago when I discovered it was better and actually cheaper than taking the ship’s tours — what an amazing deal.

And what an amazing city! We started at the Catherine Palace, built in the early 18th century for the wife of Peter the Great. Later empresses (including Catherine the Great) expanded and altered the palace, but the blue-and-white facade stayed the same. The interior is famous for the Amber Room (even Chris had heard of it), an entire chamber lined with panels of amber and mirrors. Much of the palace was destroyed in World War II but has since been restored.

After touring the palace, we walked through the surrounding royal park, which is full of canals, lakes and pavilions. At the edge of the park was a small building housing the court carriages used for the coronations of emperors, which naturally I found pretty cool.

I’d like to note for the record that I managed to go five and a half hours without food (and without complaining). For lunch our guide took us to a local restaurant, where I amazed Chris by ordering Russian borscht and potato pancakes, all of which was delicious. (Later in the day I amazed him still further when we were offered free vodka shots and I actually drank one. When in Rome…)

Everything that came after lunch is a bit fuzzy cause we were so exhausted and overloaded with information that we could hardly think straight. The one thing that stands out is our stop at the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood — you know, the one that looks like St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. This one is dedicated to the memory of Alexander II, who was mortally wounded on this spot in 1881 when an anarchist blew up his carriage. It’s one of the best known landmarks in the city.

More opulence awaits us tomorrow…stay tuned..