This was an exciting trip both because of the itinerary: visiting St Petersburg has always been a dream of mine! and because of the ship: we were sailing with Oceania, which is a very high-end cruising company.
The cruise started in the capital of Denmark: Copenhagen, so we flew in early, both to adjust to the time change and, mostly, to visit this city I had never been to before.
What a treat that was! It is a beautiful harbour city boasting several attractions, yet it takes more than that, in my opinion, to make a location memorable. It is not always one specific location or event that does it, but rather a combination of things. First of course are the people: the immigration agents at the airport, the cab drivers, the hotel clerks, the restaurant staff and so on. Everyone we met was smiling, pleasant, helpful, welcoming. Secondly it is the efficiency of their tourism infrastructure. Their hop on hop off tour buses were perfect. They had several circuits that covered most of the city’s attractions, ran on time, had good equipment and commentary. And of course the city is beautiful, with a lot of water, and beautiful monuments both very old and some more modern.
We got a glimpse of our ship in the distance as we drove around: the Oceania Marina.
And then, we came onboard….Everything is luxurious from the granit and marbles on the floors and in the bathrooms, to the Lalique glass, the upholstered furniture…
This elegance extended to the restaurants, be it the main dining room, the Asian restaurant, the French once, the grill or the Italian. The food was as lovely to look at as it was delicious.
The first things we saw after lifting anchor were the wind turbines in the water. They are huge!
The ship’s first port of call was Warnemünde in Germany. We chose to return to Berlin for a day as it was one of the suggested excursions for the day. We saw the classics: the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, sections of the wall….
The following stop was in Klaipeda in Lithuania. This is a city I had never heard of before and cannot comment on as I have no photographs of it. I do not recall if I visited or what I saw if I did. Soooo I will skip to the following day in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Riga offers an interesting mix of architectural styles: from Gothic, to Baroque, to Classical to Art Nouveau.
I chose a culinary themed excursion: we were taken to the (very large) farmers market where we were given time and money to explore and bring back one item that caught our fancy. Later the chefs at the cooking school set up a tasting buffet so we could discover everybody’s choices.
The fish section was overflowing with fresh and dried fish, there was also a lot of pickled vegetables, especially cabbage.
The following day saw us drop anchor in Finland’s capital: Helsinki.
We got to see the cathedral, which is one of the focal points of the city. We stopped by the Sibelius monument, a sculpture by Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen dedicated to the composer Jean Sibelius. Finally we visited Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Church of the Rock as it is built directly into solid rock.
And then we arrived in Saint Petersburg!
Saint Petersburg, formerly known as Petrograd and then Leningrad, was initially founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great who wanted Russia to gain a sea port in order to trade with the rest of Europe.
Today it is known as the Russia’s Culture Capital.
The city offers an interesting mix of beautiful old buildings and some intriguing modern structures. Water, (mostly the Neva river), is ever present.
We arrived in the middle of the world soccer competitions and were docked across from the stadium. We got to admire the various lightings.
Our first visit was to the Peterhof gardens. The Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens located in Petergof. It was commissioned by Peter the Great to imitate and and surpass the Palace of Versailles in France. It was modified and enlarged by several of the rulers that followed, to become the spectacular ensemble we get to see today. It is spectacular! and I was sorry I could not spend an entire day there.
The next day we visited another memorable site: the Hermitage. This is the second largest museum in the world. It was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings. At the time the hermitage was not a public museum and very few people were allowed to view its holdings. Over time the collection grew and so did the buildings to hold it. Nowadays the collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items.
The rooms are as amazing as the art they contain.
Another interesting visit was to the Peter and Paul Cathedral, located inside the Peter and Paul fortress it houses the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and his family (who were finally laid to rest in July 1998). Among the emperors and empresses buried here is Catherine the Great who reigned for 34 years.
The last visit, was the one I had been most looking forward to, after having spent hours on a jigsaw puzzle depicting it: The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Yet it was the most disappointing one because it was undergoing repairs so parts of it were wrapped up and we could not enter it or even get close because the area was cordoned on account of the FIFA world cup…I did manage a few photos from afar…
As we sailed away we passed some intriguing sites…
And onto our next and last port of call on this cruise (before disembarking): Tallinn, Estonia. What a gem! Even though Tallinn is a prosperous and modern city it is the medieval old town that gets all the attention.
And then it was over…and we got off the ship for the last time in Stockholm, Sweden. Although Stockholm is a capital, and is very nice, it did not touch me the way Copenhague did. The colours, the weather, the people felt cold. The tour buses were unpredictable, the people were not particularly helpful or welcoming; it was a bit disappointing.
This sums up a wonderful trip, with a spectacular itinerary and an incredibly luxurious ship.