Things went a bit pear-shaped today. I was rather ill during the night and when the time to get up came round (5:30!) it was obvious that I wasn’t fit to leave the ship. So Val went on day 2 of our excursion on her own. Here’s her report:
We were in the bus at 7 o’clock but didn’t get away until quarter past as another couple had decided to not go, but had not told anybody. Hint – if you decide to drop out of an excursion, tell someone. We got to Catherine’s Palace by 8:15. We didn’t have to queue too long and we leaned later that it opened early just for tour parties – very civilised.
A big impressive building – lots of gilt, big rooms. As with everywhere else the toilet facilities were new, plentiful, and clean; some people might find this information important (I do…). After we finished the tour of the interior of the house we walked round the grounds which were very well maintained and quite peaceful. This included a walk down to the lake where there was a pavilion and a short performance inside it by a group of singers – the acoustics in the pavilion were very good. I took a bottle of water with me, hidden in a medium-sized handbag, which itself wasn’t too big and therefore didn’t have to be left at the Cloakroom. I took the water because we were told that it wouldn’t be possible to visit the minibus until after lunch. The point is that officially bottles of water are banned in the palace.
We walked some more in the grounds and went into Alexander’s Palace, which was alongside. This was the last large house the Romanov family lived in before they were taken away by the Bolsheviks. This was a smaller palace generally, but still with large imposing rooms. It’s been refurnished in a more homely fashion, in the style that it was in when the Romanovs lived there. There were also some rooms down to be bare plaster, still waiting to be renovated, and we walked through one or two of these. By this time it was 12:25 and getting busy. From there it was a short walk to the restaurant for lunch, by which time we’d been on our feet for about four hours, so you do need to be able to manage that.
Lunch was a mixed salad, then soup which we served for ourselves from a large tureen placed in the middle of the table, then a breaded chicken breast with rice, then a baked apple for dessert which was difficult to eat with the supplied teaspoon, so they brought knives for us. A small glass of champagne was served with the meal, and bottles of water were placed on the table as well.
After lunch it was back into the minibus and back into Saint-Petersburg via a different route. As an extra we stopped outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Blood and took photos, before continuing to Yusupov’s Palace. That was very busy. There was a display about the murder of Rasputin, a couple of rooms with life-sized figures representing the plotters and Rasputin himself. The rest of the palace was a set of nicely refurbished and furnished rooms, including a small theatre. There several points where there were irate exchanges between our guide and the room attendants, because he had more to tell us in each room while they just wanted him to move along. Which sometimes he couldn’t actually do, because the group in front was still in the way. There also was a lot of cross-channel interference on the headsets that we’d been using.
Then we went to Peter and Paul fortress to visit a cathedral there which to be honest I’ve forgotten the name of! My excuse is that this was at the end of a long day. Also by 4:45 I was getting agitated because we were due to be back at the ship by 5:30, and our guide, who was very knowledgeable and passionate about his city, did have a tendency to talk a lot. After we came out of the cathedral there was a very quick look in a boat house, and then back to the minibus. We got back to the ship about 5:30, and Tom says that we were almost the last minibus back. We got through the immigration check very promptly.
Overall I thought it was worth doing, but it was very hard work – you really do need to be able to stand and walk for anything up to four hours without a break. The weather was gorgeous – warm and sunny, especially today, so if it was wet that would have spoiled the walks in the grounds. I enjoyed this second day more than the first – I though The Hermitage was hard work and I didn’t get as much out of that as I did the things we did today.
One other thing – two ladies in our party had also done the ballet in the evening before. When they returned there were a large number of people on evening excursions all returning together – some hundreds – but there only appeared to be one immigration booth open. So there was a very long delay getting through the control.