Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.: Our Lifestyle Adventures: Getting a Chance to Tour Russia!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Our Lifestyle Adventures: Getting a Chance to Tour Russia!

St. Isaac's Square, less known cathedral in St. Perersburg
When Bill inquired about tourist visas to Russia, he found out that it would cost us about $600. A 2-night, 1-day cruise from Helsinki is a little more but is inclusive of a 2 night cabin stay, breakfasts and dinners, and a visa-free one day tour of St. Petersburg.  We thought it was such a great opportunity because, although St. Petersburg with 5 M people is the second largest city after Moscow, it is the cultural capital. The Historic Centre and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Valentina and Boris with us on the best seat in the ship
In the afternoon of May 26 we embarked on St. Peter Line’s Princess Maria at the Lansiterminale in southeastern Helsinki. At 5:30 pm we went to the dinner buffet where we had the best seat in the house. There we met Valentina and Boris who were going home from a tour of Helsinki. They recommended that we visit the home of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We also found out from them that the day we were visiting St. Petersburg is the city’s 311th anniversary of its founding.

Bill with the pretty Cruise Manager
We wanted to be up early for the 9:30 am excursion to the former capital of Russia so we skipped the 10 pm Show at Columbus Bar. We were at the breakfast buffet by 8 am. Then the tour participants were led to the car deck. And when they opened the door, a blast of Russian cold hit our faces. We wondered how people could live there during winter! It was cloudy, in the low 50s, with light showers, and winds of 16 mph in late spring. But a small band was there to welcome us.

flames and flags for the 311th anniversary of St. Petersburg
Peter and Paul Fortress
The city is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. Founded by Tsar Peter the Great, it was the imperial capital of Russia from 1713 to 1918. Huge flames and countless flags were on display all over the city. On Zayachy Island, Peter the Great laid the foundation for the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first building of the new city, whose cathedral became the burial vault of Russian emperors from 1725 until the end of the era. The names of Saints Peter and Paul coincidentally were the names of the first two assassinated Russian Emperors, Peter III and Paul I.

Palace Square and the Alexander Column
During its first few years, the city grew around this Fortress. By 1716 the city centre was transferred to Vasilyevsky Island which is shaped by a rectangular grid of canals. Peter the Great appointed a chief architect but in 1725, he died at the age of fifty-two and his plan was not completed. In 1736 the city suffered from catastrophic fires. A new plan was commissioned in 1737. Palace Square became the main square of the Russian Empire and the setting of many events of historic significance.


St. Nicholas Church
part of the Hermitage
Our excursion turned out to be an introductory city bus tour of the highlights of this city-museum where each building is either a piece of art or history or both. But we were plagued by a van that died several times on us, interrupting and cutting short the tour. We were still able to take pictures of many attractions as we passed them such as the Russian Orthodox Church and the place where Rasputin was killed. We made stops at Santa Claus’ St. Nicholas Church, The Hermitage, Russia’s equivalent of the Louvre or the Smithsonian and a huge souvenir shop where I had several samples of Russian vodka and liqueur to counter the cold!


Maria dolls galore
With the emancipation of the peasants undertaken by Alexander II in 1861 and an industrial revolution, the capital experienced a significant influx of former peasants. Poor boroughs emerged spontaneously on the outskirts of the city. St. Petersburg surpassed Moscow in population and industrial growth and it developed as one of the largest industrial cities in Europe. In 1881, however, Alexander II was assassinated by Narodniki. In his honor His son built the fascinating Church of the Spilled Blood.

at more known Church of Spilled Blood
the ship that launched the Revolution
We also stopped to view the ship that fired the shot that launched the Revolution of 1917. It began in St. Petersburg when the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace. In March Nicholas II abdicated both for himself and on behalf of his son, ending the Russian monarchy and over three hundred years of Romanov dynastic rule. On November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in an event known thereafter as the October Revolution, which led to the end of the post-Tsarist provisional government, the transfer of all political power to the Soviets, and the rise of the Communist Party. On March 12, 1918, the Soviets transferred the government to Moscow.

traditional eats
At about 1:30 pm we had to decide whether we wanted to return to the ship or explore a bit more. Unfortunately, the weather was very inhospitable, rain started to fall, and the wind made the cold even colder.  But we wanted to see a little bit more. So Bill and I looked for a restaurant where we could be warm. We found a local eatery at the famous Nevsky Prospect (the city’s main street) and had local favorites (probably) but we did not get to know the names of the dishes. Then we had enough energy to tour the magnificent interior museum of St. Isaac’s Square. At 3:15 pm we looked for the tour van that would take us back to the ship. Fifteen minutes later, after running around the Square, we found it!


Kronstadt!
Back at the Princess Maria, we had another buffet dinner. As we sat at comfy chairs looking out to the ocean, Kronstadt, a municipal town with a population of over 40,000 suddenly came into full view. It belongs to the federal city of St. Petersburg land is ocated on Kotlin Island, 19 miles west of the city near the head of the Gulf of Finland. It is St. Petersburg's main seaport, the seat of the Russian admiralty, and the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet, guarding the approaches to the city. The historic centre of the town and its fortifications are part of the World Heritage Site of St. Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments.  

The next day we had another buffet breakfast then disembarked at around 10 am. We took Tram 9 then shifted at Hainikem to Tram 7B and took our set of big luggage that we had stored at our hotel in Helsinki, Hotel Ava. We then took Bus 615 to the airport for our flight at 4 pm, arriving there 3 hours early (glad there was free wifi!). At 6 pm we found ourselves in Stockholm, Sweden!