Thursday, August 23 saw us still in St Petersburg — Day 9 of our vacation and day 5 of our cruise. We spent the day back onshore, dragging around St Petersburg and environs looking at gilt. The Russians of the Russian Empire period never saw anything they didn’t want to cover in gold leaf.
We spent the morning at a Peter the Great palace, Peterhof, west of the city along the Gulf of Finland shore, took a hydrofoil trip back into the city (really!), had lunch — and vodka — at another sit-down restaurant, and then got dragged around the rest of the afternoon to Cathedral X and Palace Y and so forth. There definitely came a point in the afternoon where if the tour guide had asked “Who’s absolutely sick of seeing one church after another and wants to just go back to the ship” there’d have been a stampede for the bus.
Peterhof is known for its fountains. The palace itself is really nice, a lot like the Catherine Palace that we’d seen the previous day… only with even larger crowds. When we got there, the line to go in was around the block, with one tour group after another slowly shuffling through metal detectors and stuff. We wound up at the end of the line and our tour guide looked very disheartened until she found the right person from her company to call and they got us moved up front (we’d paid for the “exclusive” tour and part of that, apparently, had been paying to bypass lines). But even so, holy cow, there wasn’t room to sling a hamster, let alone a cat, anywhere in the entire place. We were actually kind of grateful when we’d seen the key stuff inside and could go out to the palace grounds to see the fountains.
The fountains at Peterhof are really something. There’s the Grand Cascade, which is enormous — it’s basically the whole front approach to a very large palace. There’s the Chess Mountain fountain. There’s the “trick” fountain that sprays people when they sit down on the benches nearby. And then there’s fountain X, fountain Y, fountain Z — we found out that it is indeed possible to have “fountain fatigue”.
The hydrofoil trip back across the Gulf of Finland was fast and efficient — it’s a good way to commute between St Petersburg proper and the areas along the south shore of the gulf. We were back in the city in no time, had lunch (chicken, potatoes, salad, vodka, and sparkling wine which may or may not have been champagne), and then were off to see (ticking ’em off on my fingers, one by one) St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Cathedral (we met a very nice cat there), the Church On Spilled Blood… heck, there were probably a few more in there but we’d gotten cathedral fatigue too.
We got taken to a shop that had very expensive versions of the same cheap-ass souvenirs the sold back at the port (we didn’t buy any) and then went back to the ship. Dinner that night was at the on-board speciality steakhouse restaurant, “Cagney’s”, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t overwhelming either. Then we wandered around the ship, had a drink here and a drink there, and crashed.
Only, that wasn’t the end of it. After a nap we looked out the window and saw that the ship was passing a Russian Navy base on the isle of Kronstadt — the name deriving from the period when it had been a possession of the Swedish Empire. It was a little startling to see what looked like about half the Russian navy parked a stone’s throw off the port side of the ship. We took a photo or two (they didn’t come out well, as it was getting pretty dark) and then went back to bed for the night. We sailed overnight to our next port call, Helsinki, in Finland.