Tuesday 19 June 2018

#9 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral - St. Petersburg

More fabulous St. Petersburg delights! 

My other two guided tours in St. Petersburg were a city coach tour and a trip to the Gulf of Finland. The first mentioned tour gave me a 3 hour taste of the main public buildings which are absolutely fantastic considering their age and the climate.

I’m very glad to have been given a brief overview during the port talks by Ian Gunn and Simon Rees because I’d otherwise not have realised that the fabulous buildings are brick built rather than made of solid stone. The harsh winters must be severe on the facades of the mainly neo-classical buildings but it’s clear that massive expense is being shouldered to repaint them on a regular basis.

Being driven around the city centre was actually a much more pleasant experience than in Copenhagen. There was a lot of traffic in St. Petersburg and some of the streets were also relatively narrow but the traffic seemed to flow more easily in St. Petersburg. I will have to find some time slots when I return home to make new Pinterest Boards from my hundreds of photos taken in St. Petersburg.

The second trip out to the Gulf of Finland gave me the opportunity to see a lot of what’s considered the social housing of St. Petersburg. Our guide had said that almost everyone lived in apartment buildings and I was keen to see if there was a big difference between those in the city centre and the outskirts. I was delighted to find that the high-rises of the suburbs seem to compete equally in terms of trying to make each building a tiny bit different from its neighbour. Some post WWII housing was pointed out to us, but it was clear that many of those blocks are undergoing current renovation programmes and we drove through no areas of deprivation. That cannot be said for a lot of UK cities that I’ve been to in recent years.

Our Lady of Kazan
The stop at the Church of Our Lady of Kazan was fairly brief but I’m always amazed to find incredible architecture in the middle of what seems to be the forest fringes.

Built in the traditional Russian Orthodox style, the church is an overload of fancy but amazing to look at. It wasn’t nearly as old as I thought, having been built at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth centuries. Inside was a wealth of gilded Russian Orthodox iconography.

The road we took out of the city to the Gulf of Finland was a single carriageway road that was very busy but the fact that our tour left at 8 am gave us an advantage in using the road early. Our guide pointed out that the wide bay area from St. Petersburg around the Gulf of Finland is popular for city dwellers to visit their ‘dachas’ or other second country homes- of varying sizes. An escape to the forest and countryside is common but the fact that my visit occurred during exceptionally fine weather meant more St. Petersburg dwellers were taking advantage of the weather window.
pavilion at Ilya Repin's Penaty estate

We visited the Penaty Estate ‘Dacha’ Museum of famous Russian artist Ilya Repin. We were unable to gain inside access but the building had a fascinating construction. I expect what I saw was a simple and fairly typical frontage but the building had a most impressive multiple-glazed roof area to the rear of the building which I imagine maximised the light at all times of day in different rooms of the house. Repin had also built a retreat in the garden, the front columns of which resembled an Egyptian temple.

The last bit of the tour was a paddle in the Gulf of Finland at one of the tiny beach areas. Though not compulsory at all, I dipped my toes into the Gulf but have to say it actually wasn’t that clean. A greenish hue to it wasn’t particularly natural though there were locals swimming in it. A fellow coach traveller pointed out a dead fish floating only a quarter of a metre from my feet, so I decided that the experience was over!

St. Petersburg is an altogether fascinating city that needed a lot more time spent on it than I was able to on this cruise. I’m totally delighted to have been able to sample even just a taster session.


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