Baltic Cruise: St. Petersburg
We stopped in St. Petersburg overnight, so we had two days to see the city. Normally, that would give plenty of time to explore on our own, except when I was researching this port, I soon realized that if you’re travelling independently into Russia, you need a visa. And getting a two-day visa wasn’t worth the time and energy – they asked for details like the address you’re staying at, etc. So, that left us little choice but to join a tour. Thankfully, they didn’t restrict us to the cruise line tours – so we were able to join a local tour. The tour guide impressed our group the first day, by taking us into spots before the stampede of tourists also visited, and still managed to squeeze in optional spots in the itinerary. By the time we got out of Catherine’s Palace, you could see lines for hours on just to get in!
The exterior, interiors, and all the details of many historical buildings have been restored to its shine. While many naturally looked up and around at the finer detail, I chose to look down, and noticed that even the floors were not forgotten!
The grandeur and façade of the ornate buildings and infrastructure all have political stories behind them:
- Russians seem to have a deep tie with the church; even the imperial tombs are installed inside a cathedral.
- Sometimes I wonder if their history is accurate; our guide mentioned a few times that the ornate decor of the palaces and other things around the city were done by patriotic Russians who never got paid
- She also made a comment that the leaders aren’t really liked while they’re living but they’re somehow canonized after their death
We started the first day by visiting the underground subway system. I had read about the detailed tiled artwork on their walls and that initially intrigued me, but what really stood out to me was Admiralty station; the deep, long escalators that take people to and from the trains reminded me of some steep escalators I’ve taken before, and while I can’t pinpoint where, I think it was in HK; it is also in HK where one of their MTR stations is named Admiralty. I didn’t know it at the time, but the one in St. Petersburg boasts to be one of the five deepest metro stations in the world.
The only reason I chose this tour, and this tour company in particular, was because of a night- time excursion. They advertised a White Night Canal tour, which meant you went out at 11pm until around 1am to watch the raising of the drawbridges on the canal. During that time of the year, it would still be twilight at 11pm. Unfortunately, they didn’t inform us until the first day that the excursion was cancelled and when I asked why, they told us because there wasn’t enough people going (understandable – who wouldn’t be in bed after a long day of walking?!) – but I wonder if it’s because White Nights peak in July, and I wonder if the skies still have light in August. At least they refunded our money for that excursion.
After the impressive of the first day’s tour, the second day of touring seemed to look the same after awhile, but I distinctly recall two things:
- While we were waiting in a line, a drone would circle overhead, stop really low, and just hover there. After some time, it would turn around to where it came from. I thought about snapping a photo but I didn’t just in case it was a surveillance drone…though I do notice now that there are a lot of stock videos on Shutterstock that were shot around that date.
- During our Neva river cruise tour, the river boat guide’s commentary was quite monotonous. So much so, that I soon noticed a young man who would wave to us and run. The rest of the boat noticed shortly after – some theorized he was running for love, but by then, I realized he was performing for tips. The guides pretty much ignored him and everyone soon ignored the guide as our cheers would drown out the narrating. Based on Google maps timeline, it was probably a good 2km+ run and all he had was a light backpack and a water bottle. Way to get in exercise in exchange for some money! I googled, and it turns out, someone recorded another young man who ran in 2011, but I wonder how many did back flips…
Next up: Talin, Estonia