---[Flat Stanley Reports] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Girls and Boys! Flat Stanley here in Russia.
One item that was not gold was a little box we saw with holes in it. The people a long time ago put honey in this box and put it under their clothes. Do you know why? People back then did not always have a chance to take a bath or shower. Sometimes, they got fleas like a dog. So the honey in the box attracted the fleas which had to crawl through the small holes to get to the honey.
After visiting Peterhof our guide whose name is Masha took us for a ride on the St. Petersburg subway. That was fun. The subway stations are very pretty and the stations were people get on and off almost look like a church. We then visited a fortress called Peter and Paul Fortress. Peter the Great built this fortress on an island to protect the city from invaders. It must have worked because no country tried to invade St. Petersburg all those years ago.
It was a long day and we have more things to see in St. Petersburg. See you later! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We started the first of three really-busy days, and nights, in St. Petersburg, Russia by meeting our guide, Masha, and driver, Valeriy, who will be with us for the next 3 days. Masha, a common variant of the more-formal name Maria, immediately impressed us with her very-good English skills and almost-encyclopedic knowledge of the area.
For a quick background, the Peterhof Palace is a huge area (256 acres if our guide was correct) consisting of a main palace building, many additional buildings, elaborate fountains, extensive gardens, and some lakes and canals. It’s construction was commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to the Palace of Versailles by Louis XIV of France after Peter, also known as Peter the First, visited France in 1717. Tourists call Peterhof “The Russian Versailles”.
Because of the size of the grounds, Masha had arranged (on our request) a ride on an “electric car”, that is, a golf cart. So a driver to us to multiple elaborate fountains on the property. We ended the ride at a building called the Hermitage Pavilion. This building was envisioned by Peter as an informal dining room for his closest associates, with a system of pulleys used to serve food and ensure the privacy of the diners. The building wasn’t completed until after Peter’s death. A two-seat chairlift hoisted guests to the upstairs dining area as no staircase originally connected the two floors.
As we made our way toward the main palace, the crowd became far-more intensive. The magnificent Samson fountain, with a central water jet shooting over 60 feet into the air on a gravity-fed water system, was surrounded by gold-plated (or gilded) figurines. Trying to get up the stairs to the entrance to the palace was a challenge as was getting into the palace building. We had to put on paper booties on our shoes to protect the floors. Masha took us on a room-by-room tour explaining many of the significant items in each room we visited. The opulence and grandeur were unmistakable. So were the crowds.
Trying to describe everything we saw in the Peterhof Palace would turn this blog entry into a Wikipedia article. We’ll simply say that Petehof was expansive and impressive. We left Peterhof in the early afternoon and traveled back into St. Petersburg. Masha took us on a short diversion to ride their subway for a couple of “stops”. We’ve used the subways in Washington D.C. and Barcelona, Spain (and Rox has been on the New York City subway), and the St. Petersburg subway seemed, in our brief experience with it, as clean, fast, and efficient as any others we’ve ridden. Where St. Petersburg stands out is in the grandeur of the stations through which we traveled.
Masha took us to a restaurant for lunch where we could sample some Russian “pies”. Apparently a common staple for lunch, the pies are a dough (more like a croissant roll in texture) filed with different meats, vegetables, or fruits. We shared a ham-and-cheese pie, a cut-up chicken pie, and a cherry pie (and a couple of Coke Zero’s; can’t seem to get away from Coke.) We liked what we ate, and it was adequate for lunch.
Our final stop for the day trip was the Peter and Paul Fortress along the Neva River. Commissioned by Peter the Great, construction occurred from 1706 to 1740 on a small island known as “Hare’s Island”. A good view of the Hermitage Museum and other west-bank buildings along the Neva River can be seen from here. The tallest structure is the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral inside the walls of the fortress. The bell tower of the cathedral is said to be the world’s largest Orthodox bell tower. The cathedral houses the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and his family, who were finally laid to rest in July 1998. Among the emperors and empresses buried here was Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia for 34 years.
Incidentally, one surprise we observed outside the fortress grounds while walking along the roof-type observation deck were local people sunning themselves on the concrete outside the fortress walls along the river. The weather was sunny with an air temperature in the low 60’s (degF) but we would not call this “beach weather”. Maybe when you endured a cold St. Petersburg winter, you’ll “push” a little for summer to get here.
Masha and Valeriy took us back to the ship around 5pm which gave us a little over two hours to eat and prepare to Valeriy and another guide to pick us up again a bit after 7pm for an evening “photo” tour.
We met again with Valeriy in the comfortable black Mercedes van he was driving along with a new guide whose name was Natalia for the evening photo tour. Natalia said she was a watercolor painter but admitted to not being much of a photographer.
After we returned to the ship, Larry when up to the Sun Deck to shoot some pictures of the Lahkta Center tower across the harbor. This structure is listed as the tallest skyscraper in Russia (at 87 or 89 stories, or about 1516 ft.) With the weather cooperating, we might have taken the best night pictures for today. We start again at 9am so it’s time to try to get a little sleep.