Baltic Cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse
6/11/13 to 6/22/13
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Ship, Dining, Entertainment and Activities
Page 2 - Bruges, Belgium; Warnemunde, Germany; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki
Page 3 - St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 1)
Page 4 - St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 2); Tallinn, Estonia; Copenhagen, Denmark
St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 1)
The main reason people do a Baltic cruise is to visit St. Petersburg. The last time we visited St. Petersburg, we had been blessed with two sunny days, which is quite unusual there. The weather forecast this time was mostly cloudy with a high of 84 degrees. A major change from the 60’s we had been having for most of the vacation. I was thrilled to see that St. Petersburg had built a new port in 2009. The old one was in an old industrial location and in terrible shape. The new one was huge and had plenty of room for all the cruise ships that were now coming there.
For the next two days we would be using Alla Tours www.alla-tour.com to show us the sights. I felt very confident that we would have a great tour, since that is Alla’s expertise. Alla would more than exceed our expectations.
Our instructions were to get off the ship as soon as we could, go through immigration and then look for the Alla Tour sign. Since we had turned the clock ahead another hour overnight and the ship arrived at 7:00 AM, there would be a lot of tired people getting off the ship. The immigration line was slower than we would have liked; but since we got off as soon as we could, the lines weren’t that long. By the time we got through, they were a lot longer. We had no problem finding the sign and being assigned to a tour guide. I was taking Alla’s Grand Tour and Carol was taking the Comfort Tour, which went to two less sites and provided a slower pace.
I was very fortunate to have Angie for our guide. Although from what others said they were thrilled with their Alla tour guides also. Carol really liked her guide, Sergei, also. Angie was very knowledgeable, had a good sense of humor, was entertaining, spoke perfect English and was able to control the group exquisitely without getting anyone upset with her. We also had a very good driver named Uri.
The van we boarded held sixteen people; but we only had fifteen on our tour. It was a really nice van with a sound system, so we could easily hear what Angie was saying. Quite a wild interior too! Carol's tour also had 15 people.
Our first stop was to see two 3,500 year old sphinxes in front of the Academy of Arts. They were originally in front of a temple at Thebes. They were magnificent and in such good shape. I also liked the small statue of a winged lion and large pillar.
The Academy of Arts building itself was also a good looking structure.
We next stopped at a viewpoint where we could look across the Neva River and see the Stock Exchange building with the Rostral Columns or victory columns in front of it. The Rostral columns are strange looking because they have mounted on them the rams from captured ships.
We could also see the massive Hermitage museum we would visit the next day. The main building is the green Winter Palace; but all of the below buildings are part of the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world.
On our ride to our next stop, we got a nice view of the Alexander Column in Palace Square.
We then got off the bus to board a tour boat for a water view of St. Petersburg. Below is a photo of the type boat we were touring in.
We got a very nice view of the Peter and Paul Fortress we would visit the next day.
We also had a very nice water view of the Winter Palace.
I was pleased to be able to get an up close view of the unusual Rostral Column. We also were impressed with the beautiful decorations on the bridges.
We passed by the Russian cruiser Aurora. It is now a museum about the ship that was used in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905.
The first time we were in St. Petersburg, we were very disappointed in how dirty and unkempt the city was. Yards were overgrown with weeds. Buildings were in disrepair. There were large areas of old apartment buildings that were very dirty. At that time, our guide told us that major renovations were in process to get the city ready for the 300th anniversary in 2003. They must have done a great job, plus the economy must have greatly improved, since everything we were seeing on the cruise and the bus ride had been very nice. We were really impressed and happy with the changes. The buildings along the canals were really nice.
It was exciting to get a preview of what we would get close up views of during the two day tour.
We got a nice view of the monument to Nicholas l.
We then approached our destination, the Yusupov Palace. It was a palace that was once owned by one of the richest families in Russia. Its main claim to fame is that it was the site of the murder of Grigori Rasputin, the man known as the Mad Monk.
This was one of the places that Carol would not be seeing on her tour. The first part of the palace tour focused on Rasputin’s murder. After Angie told us the story, we went into the room where the assassination was plotted. It was also where the conspirators waited to find out that it was done. There were mannequins representing the conspirators.
We then went down to the cellar where the initial murder attempt took place. There were more mannequins in position there. He was poisoned, which didn’t kill him. They then shot him several times. He tried to attack them after that and they clubbed him to submission. They then threw his body into the Neva River. They wanted to make sure he was dead.
We then moved into the ornately decorated rooms in the palace.
The Rasputin story was interesting; but the main reason to visit the palace is to see the beautiful rooms and decorations.
Each room was such a treat to see. There were so many authentic items in the Palace that it felt like it was still occupied by the Yusupov’s. The light fixtures were so detailed and intricate.
The wood inlaid floors were also very nice.
We then went into a large hall where we were introduced to some Russian singers who gave us a very nice short performance.
We continued on through the palace to the theater. Even the hallways were opulent.
Now this was an awesome home theater! It was truly elegant and fit for the royalty that would visit the Yusupov’s home.
We continued on through more rooms. This had been quite some home.
We left the palace and rejoined our van. For the first day of the tour we had a box lunch. They passed out a bag with a carton of apple juice, chocolate candy and an apple. We were then given a warm foil package with a chicken pancake crepe sandwich. I thought it was quite good; but everyone didn’t share my opinion.
The van took us to the boat dock where we would take a hydrofoil to Peterhof Palace. We had been told to hold off eating our lunch until we were seated in the cabin, since it was a short van ride to the dock. During the ride, we passed by the famous Peter the Great statue. It was difficult to take a good photo through the window while moving.
Below is a photo of the type hydrofoil we were taking. We got into the front section, which was pretty comfortable. It was a great way to get to different parts of St. Petersburg, since the traffic was fairly heavy. Interestingly, Angie told us that because our tours were on the weekend, the traffic was much lighter than during the week. Glad we were there on the weekend.
When we disembarked at Peterhof, we saw many people walking around in the water near the dock cooling off. The day had warmed up considerably. We looked the other way and saw Peterhof in the distance.
As we got closer, we could see that we would be sharing our visit with lots of other tourists. We got a kick out of the sign warning about pickpockets. Angie had also previously warned us earlier in the tour.
A swan boat was a popular photo opp.
Peterhof was the palace built by Peter the Great. Since we would be touring other palaces, we were only going to tour the gardens and fountain area. Having toured Peterhof previously, I was glad that we weren’t touring the interior. It is a lovely palace; but Katherine’s Palace is a prettier one in my opinion. Touring inside Peterhof would have been palace overkill.
The palace exterior is beautiful and like others, is compared to Versailles; but the reason to visit Peterhof is for the fountains.
The center piece is the Samson Fountain, with Samson killing a lion with his bare hands.
The palace was constructed nearly 300 years ago. The most remarkable feature is that the fountains are operated only by gravity from reservoirs located in the upper gardens.
There were many beautiful buildings on the grounds. One of them had the double headed eagle emblem.
We left the lower garden area and walked away from the palace. Everywhere we went there were fountains.
Everywhere there were large crowds of tourists. Angie took us to a place that she referred to as a “trick fountain”. She said that in a few minutes that the area in the path where many people were standing would be showered from fountains. Apparently the people there knew it would happen; but must not have realized how much water was coming their way. Some ran when it started and others stayed there. It was probably refreshing in the warm weather.
We saw more beautiful fountains and gardens, including a dragon waterfall with a checkerboard pattern.
We came up to another fountain that was in front of the Great Orangery Restaurant. We soon found out that Carol’s tour group had eaten there, when she came out of the building. It was great to get to see my wife. I had missed her not being on my tour. Carol wasn’t impressed with the restaurant’s food. I was glad we had a box lunch that day. I also got to meet Carol's guide Surgei.
While heading back to the van, we got a great view of one of the buildings right next to Peterhof. It was splendid with the sun shining on the gold ornamentation.
After a pretty good walk to where the van was waiting for us, Uri drove us on a toll road back toward St. Petersburg. I was surprised to see such a nice road in Russia. They had certainly upgraded their infrastructure since our last visit.
Our last stop for the day was to be at Catherine’s Palace. This was the palace built by Catherine l, Peter the Great’s 2nd wife, not Catherine the Great. It was severely damaged during WWll; but one would never know it. Walking through the gate on the back side of the palace, it was obvious that we had a lot of walking ahead for us. The building is 985 feet long, almost the same length as the Eclipse. Before we could enter any rooms, we had to put on cloth covers over our shoes to protect the wood floors.
The interior of Catherine’s Palace is almost overpowering with beauty. Room after room was ornately decorated with gold.
The blue ceramic heaters really stood out.
Then we entered the ballroom or Great Hall. The massive room covers 9,000 square feet.
We continued on to more gorgeous rooms and halls.
The furnishings were something else. The large malachite urns were amazing. Malachite is used in jewelry because it is a precious gem.
Next we entered the very famous Amber Room. All the walls are covered in amber. For some reason, it was the only room that photography was not permitted in. It had been permitted 12 years earlier when we were there; but I didn’t take many photos. With the room being so crowded with tourists, there was no way that docents could monitor photography very well and many people were taking photos. I took some hip shots with my camera to be able to remember what I had seen. Since I couldn’t look through the view finder, I was surprised that they even came out.
We continued to more rooms. Everything about the palace was so pretty. There were lovely floors, china, statues, furniture, etc.
After spending about 20 minutes in the palace, we finally came out into fresh air on the front side of the palace. We enjoyed the beauty; but none of the buildings we would visit in St. Petersburg had air conditioning. Additionally, most didn’t even have windows open for circulation. It was uncomfortable.
We took a long walk around the grounds to get back to the van. We were all tired from a very full day of touring. But what a great day it had been.
That evening before returning to the ship, Carol and I went to a Georgian restaurant named, Old Tbilisi. We had never had Georgian food and didn’t know what to expect. We had some very yummy appetizers.
Carol ordered a veal dish for her main course and I had a pork one. It was so good! I put a photo of the partially eaten pork dish I had to show how many different ingredients were in the dish. I don’t know what kind of spices they used, but I surely wish there was a Georgian restaurant near us in south Florida.
After dinner, we returned to the ship to relax and get ready for the next day’s adventure. We were exhausted.
St. Petersburg – Day 2
The next morning with the weather again forecasted to be in the 80’s, I decided to wear shorts rather than the jeans I had worn the previous day. I had worn jeans so I could get into the churches, since it was possible that shorts weren’t allowed. Even though there was a chance of thundershowers, I wanted to keep as cool as possible.
The first thing we were supposed to do on the 2nd day was to go to a store for some shopping and to pay for all the Alla tours we had and/or would take during the cruise. It was certainly nice to be able to pay them all at once and on a credit card. Unlike some tour companies, Alla doesn’t have an upcharge for using credit cards. Before we went on the tour, Angie gave us a bonus stop at the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral. It was quite a beautiful building with the golden domes. As luck would have it, I couldn’t walk inside because I was wearing shorts. That would be the only time that day it was an issue. I was able to look through the door and see the services that were going on. Angie had told us that they stood during the full service, so there weren’t any chairs in the cathedral.
We then went to the store. It was a very modern store with lots of souvenirs. Fellow cruisers told us that the prices were pretty good compared to some other places people went later in the day.
We then stopped to get photos of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the monument to Nicholas l we had seen the back of the previous day. Angie told us that it would be the best place to take photos of St. Isaac’s. She was right.
Then we found out about the traffic problem we were going to have. There was a marathon taking place. The finish line was right in front of the Hermitage, where we were planning to have an early entry for a tour. Uri was having a terrible time trying to find a way to get closer to our destination. Every street he turned down was blocked off and lots of busses and vans were having similar problems. There was lots of congestion. He finally went back across the Neva River and came back a different way. We would have to walk a bit to get to the Hermitage; but it was pretty close.
When we got to the Hermitage, Alla herself was there assisting the tour guides.
We walked into the main staircase of the Winter Palace. A truly beautiful area.
We then walked up the staircase and went into our first room. I really like the chandelier. Many of the rooms we would see had some lovely ones also.
We finally started to see some exhibit halls. There were lots of paintings and I also enjoyed looking at the ceilings.
In another room we saw giant urns made of malachite (green) and lapis lazuli (blue). Lapis is an even more valuable gemstone than malachite.
We entered another room that had the tsar’s throne at one end of it. Double headed eagle emblems were displayed. They were even on the chandelier. The floors and chandeliers were quite beautiful.
We entered the next room that was also magnificent.
In addition to a beautiful tile floor, there was a mechanical golden peacock in a glass cage. There was a video displayed on a TV showing the peacock moving.
What a marvelous room it was. We entered the next room that had some very famous paintings including one of the fifteen in existence from Leonardo da Vinci. There were crowds around the most famous painting trying to get photos of them. It was pretty much a waste of time, since the reflections off the protective glass kept the quality low. But it does help the photographer to remember the beautiful pieces of art they had personally seen.
The various artworks on the walls were quite impressive.
Everything in the museum was beautiful – the doors, the floors and the ceilings.
Every room had something fabulous to look at. I liked the way some of the valuable objects were displayed under glass.
There were just so many fantastic objects in the museum. I apologize for putting so many photos of the Hermitage in the review, but I couldn’t help myself.
Carol's tour took her into a room that had suits of armor atop actual taxidermied horses. It really looked like live knights ready to do battle.
Angie had told us to meet in one of the gallery rooms so we could all go to the van together. In that room, I was pleased to find a small window opened where I could take photos of Palace Square where the Alexander Column was standing. The 1917 revolution started in this square. The 150 foot tall Alexander Column is made of red granite and it the tallest column of its kind in the world.
The bottom of the photo shows the marathon finish line.
I liked the statue of the horses and chariots across the square.
We continued on through more rooms on the way to the exit.
We finally exited the Hermitage two hours after we entered it. We walked across Palace Square to where Uri was waiting for us with our van. I was able to get a close up of the chariot and horses I had seen from the Hermitage window.
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