Skip to main content

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Last summer, my partner and I, plus another couple who are friends of ours, went on a cruise vacation in the Baltic region. After the trip, I began a photo diary series, as Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I had intended to finish up with a diary on the St. Petersburg, Russia portion of the trip. But other things got in the way of actually writing that diary, and as it happens, I just never got around to it for a long while.

As Russia is in the news these days, I figured it is time to dust off the photo album, get my ass in gear, and finish this travelogue series.

The photos in this diary are hosted on flickr. You can click on any of the images to view a higher resolution version directly from flickr.

Please join me below the orange kroissant for more.

Background

We plan our vacations way ahead. This cruise trip had been in the works for nearly a year before the departure date. St. Petersburg is one of those places that, according to people who have been there, is a "must see". Now, Russia has never been particularly gay-friendly place. As some of you reading this already know, my partner and I are a long-term gay couple. The friends we travelled with on this cruise are a straight married couple, not that it matters.

Between the time we made the booking, and the actual trip, things in Russia changed for the worse, for gay people. When I originally conceived this diary series, I had planned to discuss the political situation in more detail than you will find here. As of now, I'm just going to focus on our visit primarily as a sight-seeing tourist. Suffice to say, I wouldn't book a trip to Russia now. But, we had booked and pre-paid for the entire cruise before the current anti-gay situation arose, so we went ahead as scheduled. If you want to read about what's going on over there right now, there are many diary choices, such as this one by Dave in Northridge a couple of days ago.

Being There

The St. Petersburg stop was the longest of any on this cruise. We were docked there overnight, and so had essentially two days to do the tourist thing. Well in advance, I had learned that we did not need to apply for a Russian visa if, and only if, we stuck to the approved tours (such as those offered by the cruise line). We would be accompanied at all times by an approved Russian tour guide. At the end of day 1, we had to return to the ship, and stay there overnight before venturing out once again on day 2. It is technically possible to apply in advance for a visa in order to go out on your own without an official guide. But that is expensive, and potentially you can run into some hurdles. We avoided that process. We booked a two-day tour package, which included a number of the major sights, accompanied by the same tour guide on both days.

In the days leading up to the St. Petersburg stop, our Cruise Director and his staff made it clear that everyone should be on best behavior to avoid trouble. As we went through the boarding line at the end of the first day ashore, I overheard the Cruise Director having a light moment with some other passengers: "I told you, they're not a friendly people".

And that is the first impression you get, getting off the ship, and going through the Russian Customs queues adjacent to the dock. Our friends were in one line, inching ahead, when the agent servicing that line abruptly shut the window, leaving people standing there, to find their way to another line.

Moving On

Let's begin with a splash of color. Despite the seeming greyness of the Russian people, there is much beauty in and around St. Petersburg.

P1020942

One of the first sights we saw is the Aurora, an early 1900's battle cruiser. It is now serving as a museum, though going aboard was not on our itinerary.

P1020948

The Hermitage Museum

The State Hermitage was our major stop on day 1. Open to the public since 1852, it is one of the world's oldest, and largest, museums. Only a fraction of the three million items in the collection is on permanent display. And that includes the world's largest collection of paintings.

P1020952

Many tour groups, from all over, visit the Hermitage. Here is our guide (she was with us for both days) gathering us around. She wears a headset and transmitter; each of us has our own receiver unit, so we can listen to her commentary and instructions as we go through the building. I don't recall seeing her smile. Ever.

P1020956

The museum hosts many many sculptures.

P1020960

Here is a very grand staircase, where you first get a sense of the opulence to be seen ahead.

P1020978

Everywhere you look, below, sideways, and above, there is intricate detail. The way this photo turned out reminds me of the kind of matte painting they used to use in movie making, before the digital era, compositing one scene into another.

P1020989

A throne fit for an Emperor or Empress.

P1020997

You look at this table top, and marvel at the intricate painting under the glass. Then they explain to you that this is not a painting, but mosaic tiles. You bend over and see the fine detail. Teeny, tiny, tiles. Holy crap.

P1030009

Here and there, you might see students, artists, student artists, making their own copies of some of the artworks. You have to presume they have obtained official permission to do this.

P1030015

This museum has more chandeliers than you can probably count.

P1030016

Stunningly beautiful hallways and arches.

P1030028

Beyond the Hermitage

Inside St. Isaac's Cathedral.

P1030040

A pair in period costumes, for the tourists.

P1030047

Just a street scene.

P1030053

Catherine the Great

Day 2 began with a visit to the summer palace of Catherine the Great (Catherine II). Her long reign (beginning after the coup against her husband, Emperor Peter III), is known as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire. She was a great friend to the wealthy and powerful elite.

This summer palace is often associated with Catherine II, though it was originally built by Catherine I, then demolished and replaced by this more grand structure by Empress Elizabeth. Regardless, the opulence, and the amount of gold outside and in, is stunning. This is what happens when extreme wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very few rich and powerful individuals or families.

As we begin, it is still fairly early in the morning on what would turn out to be a sunny and warm day.

P1030059

Still in the morning shade, the front side of the palace begins to show off the opulence and attention to detail.

P1030069

A little musical performance for the tourists about to enter.

P1030072

The line forms early. This is a popular attraction.

P1030074

The photo doesn't do justice to these splashes of color in contrast to the walls and ceiling.

P1030083

So much gold, so much ornateness.

P1030087

This room is unbelievably grand.

P1030089

Gold, gold, and more gold.

P1030094

Looking out the window to the courtyard beyond.

P1030100

Upon entry to the building, we are all required to put on these booties over our shoes, to protect the floors. And beautiful floors they are.

P1030103

If I have to sum up the Russian people in one photograph, this is it. This is the face of Russia, at least as I saw it during this brief visit. Most of the rooms open to the tour have an attendant such as this one; her function is to sternly watch over the tourists, and scold anyone who crosses any boundaries. Don't walk there, don't touch that, just ... don't. I had to be quick and discreet to capture this image, to avoid a scolding for that. At least they each get a chair to sit in, periodically.

P1030105

One of several dining rooms.

P1030106

And another.

P1030111

A closer view.

P1030114

And another.

P1030130

No floor, no wall, no corner, no ceiling is left unadorned by intricate detail.

P1030115

If I recall the narration, the central object here is a china cabinet. There are variations of this in several rooms.

P1030122

A close-up view of this chair shows that it has been well used.

P1030126

Back outside, on the opposite side of the building from where we entered. It was a beautiful day.

P1030137

There are several water features on the grounds.

P1030140

Another stunning view.

P1030144

Numerous statues are on display, inside and out.

P1030146

Very well-kept gardens.

P1030152

Just a look back through the trees.

P1030155

One more exterior of the palace before we go.

P1030158

Peterhof Fountains

The last major stop in St. Petersburg was at the Peterhof Fountains and Gardens. The palace itself was modelled by Peter the Great after the French Versailles, in the early 1700's.

The main attraction here is not the residence itself, but the grounds and the many fountains. The remarkable thing about these fountains is that they are entirely fed by gravity. There are no pumps or other mechanicals driving the water. From a water source twenty-two kilometres long, each fountain is finely tuned for just the right water pressure, by the plumbing itself. Quite an accomplishment for the era in which the complex was designed.

We begin with a grand view of the palace and a portion of the grounds.

P1030168

From a slightly different angle.

P1030179

Standing on a walkway over this canal, looking back at the palace.

P1030193

Another of many fountains around the grounds.

P1030203

This one is popular with the kids. It alternates between nothing ...

P1030227

... and a cool shower on a hot day.

P1030228

Plenty of tourists.

P1030233

This particular tree is artificial. The story goes that guests, dressed in their finest, would be encouraged to go in for a look at the tree, whereupon a signal would be given to the grounds staff to open the sprinklers. Hilarity, one supposes, ensued.

P1030240

This looks like an innocent enough place to stroll ...

P1030243

... until the "on" cycle kicks in.

P1030244

I paused under a shady tree to look back at this fountain.

P1030262

As we are about to leave, one last look down at the grounds from the terrace of the palace.

P1030275

Originally posted to lotac on Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 11:18 AM PST.

Also republished by Shutterbugs and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site