On Wednesday, September 2nd, we arrived at St Petersburg at about 7.30am in bright sunshine but there was a cool breeze. Photography of the port area was not permitted so I went on deck without the camera to observe the docking procedure. Maybe I should get out more but I found it quite entertaining to watch the ship being rotated through 180 degrees by a tug, to face the right direction, before being pushed sideways to the dock and secured with two thick hawsers.
We had our usual breakfast around 8.15am while passengers who should have breakfasted earlier, were busy ensuring that they were at the assembly points in time for their morning shore excursions. For the inveterate people-watchers among us I am sure that the cruise ship provided an interesting environment. At our breakfast table there was a very elderly gentleman complete with walking stick, apparently travelling alone. He informed us, solemnly, that he would not be going on any excursions that morning because he was not feeling well and would be going to see the ship’s doctor instead. Mind you, apparently he hadn’t pre-booked a place on an excursion and his chances of finding a place at the last minute were nil, St Petersburg being the star attraction of this particular cruise. I was pleased to see that he ate a good breakfast – perhaps that was all he needed to make him feel better. Halfway through his breakfast he turned to me again and enquired whether we had arrived in Russia.
A lady (I use the word “lady” out of politeness), a “colonel’s wife” type, the sort that lives in a “hice”, sat down and demanded abruptly “Breakfast now” from the nearest waiter, no please, no thank you. The waiter politely explained that he was not the waiter who was taking breakfast orders (who was busily doing just that only feet away) . She then made a fuss about missing her shore excursion which was due to leave soon. We wondered why she hadn’t ordered an early call and got herself out of bed in time. Hubby joined her a bit later and didn’t have much to say – probably not accustomed to getting a word in. Another gent nearby addressed everyone within hearing distance (which should have been a lot of people) on the shortcomings of Britain’s foreign policy, despite the fact that only about two people within hearing distance appeared to be listening to him. It was all very entertaining, though I didn’t get the full benefit of his fake accent because I tend to become annoyingly deaf in noisy places like busy restaurants.
We had booked an excursion for the afternoon which included a visit to the Yusupov Palace and a river cruise. The uniformed immigration official checked our passports etc. while remaining expressionless, avoiding eye contact and saying nothing. The process was much quicker than we had been led to expect but the smiling (and indeed spoken) welcomes that we had received from the equivalent officials in Copenhagen and Helsinki were absent here.
At the Yusupov Palace the “guards”, who seem to have been recruited from Russia’s angriest women (and looking at them it was not hard to imagine why they were angry), barked their orders at us, which our very pleasant young tour guide was obliged to translate. Anyone wearing a “big coat” was despatched to leave it in the cloakroom downstairs before the tour began.
We walked all through the palace marvelling at the sheer extravagance of its interior decor and furnishings. Our guide gave a detailed commentary but I left it to Granny Anne to keep up with that aspect while I trailed at the back of the group taking photographs. indeed I was mildly surprised that we were permitted to take photographs so in doing so I made sure to keep up with our group. The next guide and her group were not far behind and the “guard” who was keeping a watch on us was pretty agitated throughout.
Afterwards we had a boat cruise on the river which was pleasant and enjoyable but not particularly infomative for me as I could not hear the tour guide for most of the time.
The coach returned us to the ship and, on misunderstanding the paperwork requirements as I passed through the customs office, I was bellowed at by another formidable uniformed female with two stars on the shoulders of her uniform. I concluded that Russia’s customs officials have no manners and from that moment on they became know as “Two Star Generals”. My fault had been that I thought we were supposed to hand in one of our two identical “Boarding cards” on each day, whereas the idea was to hand both of them in on the first day. Later I discovered that another passenger had indeed handed in one on each day, without a murmur from the two star general.
I hope that the pictures in this and subsequent posts will give you some idea of the enormous wealth that supported the Yusupov Palace and the beautiful craftsmanship that went into its amazing interior. What a shame that it is so hard to genuinely admire such works while strongly suspecting that the wealth that created them was acquired at the expense, one way or the other, of thousands of the poorest in the country at the time.