Day 2 in St. Petersburg with a night boat ride

Thursday, May 02, 2019
Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
---[Flat Stanley Reports] ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Boys and Girls!   Flat Stanley here in still in St. Petersburg, Russia.   We had a busy, crowded, wet, windy and wild day!  And silly Mrs. Rickly left her camera bag in the tour van with me in it..again!   She stayed out way passed her bedtime and did not get back to the ship until 2:30 in the morning.  So, we are a bit late at telling you about today’s adventures.  But do not go away.  We will tell you about what we did today soon. We do want to thank our night tour guide, Inna.  Her full name is Mkrtchian Inna, and she was our guide for our very-late boat ride on the Neva River.  She had to put up with rain, wind, and us, but she was really knowledgeable, helpful, and fun during our middle-of-the-night trip.  You made this part of the trip special, Inna.  Many thanks! See you later! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This day started early and ended tomorrow.  We met Masha and Valeriy outside the cruise terminal a little after 9am.  Our sun had gone away but at least it was not raining at the start of the day.  First up on the agenda was Catherine Palace.  Masha had tickets for 10:30am and we dared not be late.  The Palace is in Pushkin, a village about 1 ½ hours away from the cruise terminal.  It was nice to get out of the old city and see a little of the outskirts of St. Petersburg.  Huge new apartment buildings and some rather nice shopping areas dominated the sides of the road.  Arriving at the Palace, we were again impressed at its imposing size as we had experienced when we first saw the Peterhof Palace yesterday.   Peter the great had preferred a smaller, homier, summer dwelling, but when his daughter, Elizabeth came to power, she found her mother’s and father’s residence outdated.  She had it demolished and built a much-grander palace.  The palace was 230 meters long and 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the stucco facade.  Behind the palace is a great formal garden overlooking a huge man-made lake. Catherine the Great took power and made even more changes.   Catherine insisted on water features, but despised fountains and realized water pressure was not strong enough for large fountains.  She settled for a lake instead. Upon entering the building, we again noticed the lavish use of gold to gild almost every room.  Most stunning was the Great Hall or ballroom.  Painted in just two colors of gold and ivory, the ballroom spans the entire width of the palace and is 325 meters long—about 3 football fields.  There are 696 lamps lit on 12-15 chandeliers that hang in front of huge mirrors to reflect the light.  Can you image when those chandeliers contained 696 candles?  We passed through dining rooms, portrait halls, a Chinese Drawing Room, and a boudoir of Alexander I.   Probably the most famous room is the Amber Room.  Amber is golden-colored fossilized tree sap.  Each small piece of sap was inserted in panels and arranged against mirrors and gold leaf to make an amazing room of gold.  Unfortunately, this room was the only room that had signs saying NO PICTURES! During World War II, the workers at Catherine Palace tried to cover the amber walls with wallpaper to hide it from the German Nazi army, but did not stop the looters from crating the amber and sending it back to Germany.  To this day, the original amber has never been found and many believe it burned in a great fire at Konigsberg Castle. Leaving the Palace,  Masha took us to a nearby restaurant.  We were all going to try the dumplings, but the restaurant had run out.  Rox tried the borscht soup which didn't really have a "beet" taste.  We found pieces of sausage and a piece of ham in it.  Larry did a Chicken Kiev and Rox had beef round.  Both were quite good.  We really enjoyed the quiet respite and a place to rest.  On the return trip we both nodded off for a bit but perked up as we returned to the city.   Rain had begun to fall, and we donned raincoats for the next two stops, both of which were churches.  The first church we visited was Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.  The church is dedicated Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the feast day of Saint Isaac.  Originally built as a cathedral, it operates mostly as a museum today.  The church took forty years to build.  The foundation consists of 25,000 wooden piles driven in the marshy land of St. Petersburg.  Covered in salt water, oxygen does not reach the wood and it does not rot.  There is a large 101.5-meter-tall central dome plated in pure gold with four smaller surrounding domes.  The gold was mixed with mercury and sprayed on the dome.  Vapors from the fumes is reported to have killed over 60 men. (The dome was painted gray during the German invasion to hide it.)  It is said the U.S. Capitol dome was influenced by this great dome.  There are 112 red granite columns in place around the dome with each weighing as much as 114 tons. The second church was The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  The church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881.  A portion of the cobblestone street where Alexander was killed is still visible within the church.  The walls of this church were covered in paintings, but the overall atmosphere was somber and dark. Despite the rain, we had enjoyed a great day with Masha.  Actually we made one more quick stop in a modern shopping mall to visit a jewelry store.  Rox had asked Masha for a suggestion for a jewelry souvenir for our granddaughter.  Masha suggested some really cute little bird earrings that were all the rage among Russian girls.  We were able to find them here.
By 6:00pm we were back on the ship and ready for an early dinner.  Our disappointment from earlier in the day when our lunch restaurant had run out of dumplings was tempered when we found that the Pool Grill on the ship was having a Russian meal of dumplings and Beef Stroganoff.  Masha was right, the dumplings are quite tasty.   Returning to our room, we tried to nap a bit before the night activity.  We were very nervous about returning to the streets of St. Petersburg at midnight but didn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity for a boat ride on the Neva River to see two of the drawbridges open at 1:30 am to allow ship passage down the river.  Not only the bridges are lit up but also the buildings are lit along the river.  Our tour company arranged for our trusty driver, Valeriy and a new guide, Inna.  Inna was fun to be with and suggested some photo stops before we got to the ship.  Did we forget to say that is was very cold and still spitting some occasional rain?  Fortunately, the ship also had an interior heated space with chairs, tables, and a bar.  There was even a saxophone player to entertain us.  When we neared the bridges, everyone grabbed blankets and headed on deck for viewing.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped, and we reveled with the others as the bridges rose into the night sky.  Our boat also passed through the open passage and we enjoyed snapping photos.  Since our driver had crossed from the cruise port island over these bridges to the old town island, we were stuck for an hour until the bridges closed.  We spent the time walking on the streets and taking additional night photos.  The town was still very much alive with many people still on the streets despite the cold.  Finally, the bridges closed and we were able to return to our ship at 3:00 am.  What an experience!  Good thing we didn’t need to meet our guide Masha until 9:30am.
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