Mike and Renée
Cruise the Baltic
On Crown Princess
May 30 - June 9, 2008

PAGE ONE covers pre-cruise in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki.

THIS PAGE covers the highlight of the cruise, Saint Petersburg.

PAGE THREE covers Talinn, Gdansk, and Oslo.

And then -- the highlight of the cruise -- the Imperial City of Saint Petersburg!

The much feared disembarkation and Russian Immigration was actually very easy. The ship's excursion passengers met in one section, the independent tour passengers in another. As we had booked a private tour with DenRus, we waited in the restaurant. The excursion and independent passengers were alternated, much as the ship does when tendering, and the process was really very efficient. We got our gangway passes about 6:45 in Group 6, one of the later groups, but we were off the ship by 8 AM, waited a few minutes in a very short line, showed our DenRus tickets to immigration, and were met outside the immigration building by our wonderful guide, Elena, and driver Valentin in a Mercedes van.

We had independently planned a busy tour, but one which allowed for my slightly limited mobility. We had the usual city drive, stopping at St. Nicholas cathedral, photo ops at St Isaac's and the Church on the Spilled Blood and other city attractions. Then it was time for the wonderful wonderful experience of the Hermitage! Since we were a small group, and with me leaning heavily on my cane, Elena managed to bypass the moderately long line and get us right in.

The Hermitage is just one stunning sight after another. Our guide said we walked two miles and I believe it. The one thing we visited but could not photograph was the Gold Room, which is truly marvelous with Scythian and Sarmatian gold, as well as many diplomatic gifts to the Russian government. Click on any of the following thumbnails for our photo page of the Hermitage.

Gilt work








Next, we visited the Andrew's marketplace, a large neighborhood food market. We explored the produce, the seafood, the caviar, the bakery and the meat departments. Then we visited the deli, where we purchased cherries, cucumbers, cornichons, a sort of slaw, cabbage reddened with beet juice, and a Siberian delicacy called cheremsha, a pickled stalk also known as Siberian onion or bear's garlic. It was all a great deal of fun.

DenRus offers a special opportunity, "lunch with a Russian family". We went to an apartment building which our guide Elena said was a 1950s "Khruschev apartment." The outside was not much to look at, and the stairwells were definitely dingy. However, after climbing two flights of stairs, we entered the apartment of our gracious hostess, Lidia, and were charmed. The flat was tiny, only two rooms with a small kitchen. Here Lidia and her husband had prepared a delicious lunch for us.

We began with her husband's homemade borscht, which besides beets contained onions, carrots and cabbage. With a dollop of sour cream it was outstanding. Then we had chicken and new potatoes, along with the deli items we had brought. We finished off with lovely cream puffs. Our hostess was kind and entertaining, and we had a nice conversation with our guide's translation. She explained the difficulties of pensioners "after perestroika." We enjoyed her company greatly and were sorry to leave.

Click on the thumbnails for more pictures of the market and the delightful lunch.







And of course, we had to finish up the day's sightseeing with some shopping. A shot of ice cold vodka is furnished by the store, presumably to put the husbands in a mood to let their wives shop! The store had lovely amber, delightful furs, carvings of St. Nicholas in his sleigh, wonderful dolls, the matroyshka stacking dolls, and lots of tourist items. It was quite a comprehensive place.

Then it was back to the ship, where Nancy joined the ship's excursion to the ballet and the rest of us fell into bed to prepare for another long day of sightseeing tomorrow.

The next morning it was much less complicated to disembark the ship. We had a bit lighter day of sightseeing planned, and Elena and Valentin picked up us at 9 AM, making it very easy to walk through immigration where they only checked our passport stamp. This morning we began by motoring about an hour out of the city, through some nice country side, to the village of Pushkin and Catherine's Palace. This is a truly stunning and beautiful place. It is not quite as large, and not quite so many steps, as the Hermitage.

One of the most famous and stunning rooms is the Amber Room, with the walls and ceiling completely covered with amber. Like much of the palace, it was destroyed by German bombing in WW II and has been completely restored.

Upon leaving the palace we walked through the beautiful park and around the lake to return to our van.

Click on any of the thumbnail pictures to see our picture page of Catherine's Palace.










The Tsar



After the wonderful tour of Catherine's Palace we drive back to the city, and then had an opportunity to ride the famous St Petersburg Metro. Elena explained to us that the stations themselves are considered military assets so we could not take photos inside. We got our tokens, and then rode a long long escalator down down down to the trains, tunneling beneath the boggy surface of St Petersburg. The station where we started was a 1950s station, extremely beautiful, with careful stucco and mosaic work everywhere, in the style Elena called "Stalin Empire," emphasizing military designs. We traveled to a 1970s station, plain and austere.

Our lunch stop was at Stolle, a great pie place! We had piereski, or pies, of many varieties, including salmon, tuna, pork, beef, and vegetable, as well as apple, berry and luscious lemon! The whole thing cost only about 200 rubles, or less than $10 per person. After a bit more shopping at another wonderful store (and incidentally a rest room stop), we went to the Yusopov palace, which is located right in the city.

This palace is famous as the place where the mad monk Rasputin was assassinated by a group of young nobility, fearful of his hold over the royal family. The palace itself is not nearly so grandiose as Catherine's Palace, reminding one more of the great English country estates. This more comprehensible scale makes it a little gem well worth visiting. The big attraction for many, however, is the dank cellar where Rasputin was first poisoned, then shot, stabbed, and finally dumped in the ice covered river. Dioramas of wax figures recreate the events of that consipiracy. Elena told us the whole story and it is a fascinating bit of history.

We then returned to the ship in good time and said fond farewells to Elena and Valentin. I cannot say enough about this terrific tour with Denrus. They were so helpful in designing it exactly to our requirements. They provided the proper documents to make it easy to pass through immigration (in spite of the lies we were told by the ship!) We were able to do things that the ship's excursions can never include, and to do it at our pace in our own way. Our guide was incredibly informed, helpful and pleasant. Our driver maneuvered the dense city traffic with ease. The entire experience was marvelous and I strongly recommend DenRus to anyone going to St Petersburg!!



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