It's been a while since I've posted anything, yet there have been several ports visited, most of them twice. When my folks were onboard, I didn't find the time to write so I'm playing catch-up on ports like St. Petersburg, Russia, which we've been to twice now. It shines, that's the basic visual I can give you, and the sun doesn't set until 11.36pm or thereabouts.
So, the first day we were in St. Petersburg, and I get a sweet deal on escorting a tour (ie. it's free!) that my parents booked up for, to the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, lunch and the fortress (and cathedral) of Peter and Paul.
All I have to do is count guests at every stop and make sure all 33 get back on my bus, and hold up my paddle, occasionally calling out "Seven! Bus SEVEN is leaving now!" (it's left over from the "RAMSES!" tour discipline recieved in Luxor) and that's it. This was one of my finest paddle-brandishing moments. And then this, except I'm taking a picture, yes. My tour guide Svetlana and I were a mean team as you can see, this is her giving it loads about the Michelangelo sculpture, the crouching boy, and although the aloft holding of the paddle is tiring work, my parents subbed me well. Go Dad! I lost two Japanese men at one point, but mercifully they relocated the group (and their wives, whom they seemed intent on running away from) after about half an hour.
The Hermitage is huge. Seriously it's huge. You could spend 7 years in here if you looked at each painting for one whole minute, they say. And if there's one thing you learn about the Russian family it was made for, the Romanovs, they LOVED their chandeliers. In fact, chandeliers are everywhere in St. Petersburg buildings, of which all are huge, as if (and I quote a journallist of the 1700s) "made for creatures not of human size, but far bigger." Check it out.
And outside, these are my parents, very mature guys, good appreciation of the archetecture, nice work.
They have some amazing paintings in the Hermitage. These are the Rembrandts. And, just because I love it, here's that Michelangelo unfinished Crouching Boy again. There's this red room where every Russian General involved in the Napoleonic war is immortalised. This man is quite the character, look at his well-coiffed hair. This man was, in my opinion, the hottest. Not in the same league as Eric, but hot-ish.
Then there's this room with nothing much except a huge malachite vase in it (they loved their vases too) and we were told that they actually built the room around the vase, because they could never have got the vase into the room! What we all need, a huge vase in a room...
We stopped at the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is like some kind of candy palace, just for a picture stop, and a shop at the market just across the road. It has lots of amber, Russian dolls and lacquerware boxes. I fell in love with the boxes even though they're the cheaper kind, they all seem to have fairy tales to go with them. This is my new collection of them, plus there's a beautiful ballerina box that my Dad bought for me but took home to keep it safe (it's one of the expensive ones).
We had a four-course lunch in this huge banquet-sized room. There was even a harpist. Beef Stroganoff was our main course, which I though I'd hate but loved. The Stroganoff palace, a big pink building nearby IS where Beef Stroganoff was invented! Apparently Count Stroganoff had hurt his arm, and couldn't cut up his meat, so his chef being French decided to cut up his meat small and then cook it, and voila, the Stroganoff is born!
Now, a man who has to have his meat cut up small so he can eat it, and lives in a big pink palace...can you see where I'm going with this?
Next on our tour was St. Isaac's Cathedral. Again, it's huge. It's Russian Orthodox, but c'mon, this looks just like Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, we all know it. And here's my Dad, inspired. There's a lot of gold involved here, apparently there's over 100kg (220 lb) of gold leaf on the dome.
Last up, after a photo stop at the Neva river with the new water-ballet-type fountain, put there fairly recently to impress important folk at the G8 summit (as if all the cathedrals, churches and palaces weren't enough! In fact, many people dislike the fountain, because it obscures the view of all these things from across the Neva. I'm not sure) was the Peter and Paul fortress...well, the Cathedral part, but we were within the walls. Built by Peter the Great (the clue's in the name) the fortress was originally a prison, and it's first prisoner was Peter's own son, who was put to death there. It was obviously a difficult father-son relationship, because apparently he was tried and condemned by Peter himself.
The Romanovs, the last great ruling family in Russia, are buried here, but the legend is that although there are seven headstones as you can see, only five bodies were ever found. This led to the story that Ana, one of the Romanovs, was never actually killed (as five of the others definitely were) and a woman claiming to be her came forward a few years back. DNA tests didn't support her claims, and when Ana's remains were later found, it made her look a bit silly. The other Romanov, (another woman) however, may still be at large.