22nd June 2018: Let me start with the bad news, I did a very short Baltics cruise for a few days and not the normal full one, that is my only disappointment, I should have done it all!
It started with a flight into Tallinn. This looked a stunning city but time dictated I did not have time to explore. What I saw was enough to ensure a return visit is required! On to the highlight of the trip, St Petersburg, what a place. A stunning city with the added colour of the World Cup taking place while I was there.
First impressions were probably as expected, large blocks of grey flats around the entry to the city for the port. This area is now dominated by the huge new curvy football stadium and the even bigger new Grazprom Tower, shortly the tallest building in Russia. We were heading first to Catherine Palace around an hours drive, if was worth every minute of the drive. This was a truly beautiful, lavish building dominated by gold, everywhere! The rooms were possibly the most ornate I had every seen (until the following day that is). Most had been destroyed in WW2 but had been restored to former glory to amazing effect. The rooms were huge, grand and simply took your breathe away, the difference a guide made to this trip could not be understated, she brought the whole thing to life with facts, stories and tales that flowed off her tongue for simply hours. Who was this picture, when and why things had happened? and made an amazing visit, very special indeed. It is very hard to put in words what I saw, hopefully my pictures will give you some flavour.
Enjoying the History
Next on to the huge St Isaacs cathedral in central St Petersburg, this building is visible on skyline of the city from many places. I have visited many a cathedral around the world but this was special. The painting, curving and sheer scale made this a trip to remember. Again the addition of the guide added the extras I needed, why does it have no pews? That and many other questions were answered.
The final stop of the day was the Hermitage Museum. I am not big on museum visits but this certainly got me thinking I need to visit more, just the 1500 rooms and to take a look at each piece for a minute and you will be in there for over 3 years!. Looking at originals from De Vinci, Rembrandt and others was a rare treat. To see the progression of these artists across their work was a education I will not forget, and a visual delight. Another highlight is the peacock clock, given to Catherine II in the 18th century, we were lucky enough to see it wound and working, the peacock displays, the cockerel crows, it is an amazing gilt piece you will see nowhere else in the world. We finished with a classical concert from the St Petersburg State Orchestra, whilst I would not count myself as a fan, hearing this music so close with so many pieces of music I knew was an apt end to a truly memorable day. An overnight onboard in the city made the visit so much better as we had a day two to come..
Off again first thing to the Peterhof Grand Palace, a 45 minute drive allowing you to see some of the true Russia and the countryside around. On arrival, a short walk through some of the gardens see you arrive at the palace, not the gem of this visit, whilst beautiful, it is the gardens that are the star of this place. The gardens is home to hundreds of fountains, all turned on at 11 and off at 5 daily. It was wonderful to see the place come to life when they were all turned on, hopefully my video captured some of this. A stroll in the garden unveils more and more fountains leading you to the Baltic Sea and views across to the city. Another wonderful visit I will not be forgetting soon.
The afternoon we took in the Faberge Museum, home to a collection of 9 eggs bought for 100 million dollars in the early 2000’s. How exciting can 9 eggs be was my thoughts on arrival? Again, the benefit of the guide bought every piece to life and the story behind them. The internal detail of these eggs is breathtaking, attention to detail that must taken months. The Museum does contain more art and pieces giving an excellent few hours of interest.
Off that evening to sail to Stockholm, we then cruised all the following day with a surprise starting around 4pm. The cruise into the port is through the Stockholm Archipelago, the ships weaves is way down a narrow channel and the whole experience becomes more like a river cruise. Starting with islands with lighthouses or single houses, the land gets bigger and the houses grow until after a stunning almost 3 hours of scenery we arrive in Stockholm. Sadly, times runs out again but I still can glimpse and see en-route to the airport another city worth a further visit!
This visit was one I had always wanted to do. Time meant I could not enjoy it to the full but what I saw even exceeded my already high expectations. If you had thought of a Baltic Cruise or a visit to St Petersburg then I can only say one thing, do it, you will not be disappointed. I will return again to do Tallinn and Stockholm in full and St Petersburg, you are one I will not forget in a hurry.