Cruising with the Morrisons: Visiting exotic St. Petersburg

When we left my friends, Owen and Lesley Morrison, they were several weeks into their Seabourn Cruise, heading into St. Petersburg, Russia. They have finally finished their entire cruise and are heading home to Australia.

Owen and Lesley Morrison

Owen sent me lots of reports on the second part of their trip and I will post them here…know that these events took place a couple of weeks ago. They are now sailing on the Seabourn Sojourn.


Saturday May 21, 2011

We arrived in Saint Petersburg this morning  and found we had a lovely warm day awaiting us. We had a light breakfast and went down to the Grand Lounge to check in for our tour of the city.

We had to be there 15 minutes before the departure time as normal, but we have a group of passengers that do not worry about time and get there when it suits them. This morning management had their measure. When we checked in we were given an orange, blue, red, black, green etc. sticker on the back of the shore excursion ticket and that indicated which bus you were on. We later found out it also indicated when you left the ship.

Well, what a commotion when the cruise director started calling out the colors. Those who arrived late were standing at the door and we were the second color to be called and those by the door said, “When do we go?” and were told they had to wait their turn. Well!!!!.

When we got off the ship after having the ship’s security staff check us off, we went to passport control. Those passengers who were going on a tour were covered by the ship’s visa; those who did not have a visa or were not going with a ship’s tour could not bypass passport control. The ship gave each passenger a copy of the ship’s visa and all you had to do was check that the personal info of yours was correct and just simply sign it in two places and take it with you together with your passport, your ships ID and hand it to passport control. Some passengers did not check it or did not sign it and had to fill out new ones. We have four young Americans on our trivia team and they paid $350 each for a visa that allowed them off the ship at any time. When we booked the cruise we were told that it took longer than six weeks to get a Russian visa and not to bother as it was quite involved.

Passport control was in a barge that had been towed alongside the ship and they checked everything twice and it was somewhat slow. It does not matter to me how many checks are carried out or how long it takes as long as I get home safely. Some passengers were unhappy with the whole process. I said to one of them, “What’s the rush? We all have to go in the same bus.” They were still not happy so I gave up.

We got a bus and the guide in her opening speech said that we were very lucky today as they only have about 30 days like this in the whole year, weather-wise.

The bus driver took us around the city and there are cars everywhere and the bus driver was great. He took us to a canal boat and everyone rushed to get outside and four of us went downstairs. It turned out to be the best place because outside you got to sit in one place on a plastic chair and you could not stand up because the bridges you went under did not leave much clearance. However inside you could sit anywhere, move from side to side, stand up and the windows opened up fully and we took the best photos of the city. The canal ride was well over an hour and a half. We then went ashore again and ended up at the Church of the Spilled Blood which had a market beside it.

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood (Khram Spasa na Krovi) is both an historical monument and a work of art. The men who built the church were given the difficult task of incorporating the spot where Emperor Alexander II was murdered into the interior of the church. The site of the crime is marked by a special chapel in the western part of the building beneath the bell.

I bought a book on St. Petersburg and it shows all the churches, palaces and monuments in the town and it has a wealth of information. It cost 10 euros.

Lesley bought some Russian dolls at the market only to find the stall outside the ship was cheaper. We boarded the bus and drove pass sights in the city, mainly churches and government buildings and a huge university. It was a bit hard sometimes to work out what the buildings were as the guide kept saying about yellow buildings. A lot of the buildings are yellow and when there is a few together it makes it hard. Then back to the ship. What a great tour.

Some passengers had three tours booked for today and some more tomorrow. Some are going to the ballet or the opera tonight and they are going to be cold as the temperature is predicted to be just 5 degrees C and they will be dressed not for the chill, but in evening dress.

There are some passengers going to a cocktail party before the opera. Some say they may never come this way again, so see as many things as possible, but I am happy going on just a couple of tours.

On Sunday we slept in after a big day.

We went to breakfast in the Colonnade and had a great breakfast. Lesley ordered eggs royale which was like eggs benedict but has salmon instead of ham, I had poached eggs on English muffins with some grilled tomato and link sausages which are like beef sausages with a little spice. We rested up and went to the customs area early which was great because unbeknownst to us a large ship, the Empress, had berthed next to us and about 1,000 passengers were lined up. Seabourn, with their normal efficiency, had arranged two lines just for the Seabourn passengers and as we had all been through the initial check of yesterday, it was much quicker the second time around.

We got through quickly and waited for our two buses. The other group’s buses were waiting and not leaving any room for our buses, finally one of our buses arrived and everyone wanted to go first. The staff were very good and explained that there were two buses and some should wait.

Lesley and I were lucky to get on the first bus and we were taken to a store called Onegin where all tourist buses seem to stop. They must be all on a commission. One of our passengers made it simple for the rest of us and noted that the place where we got off was also the pick-up point. He said, “One Gin Please” — that will be easy to remember. We had to be back 2½ hours later.

We all went into the shop and there were a lot of souvenirs. There were toilets there as well and some of the passengers were happy about that because they had a box lunch provided by the ship while they we waiting. We had a look around and  we knew that the prices at the stalls on the pier were cheaper and a little better quality.

We went for a walk around and took some more photos of buildings we only saw from the bus yesterday. We then went back to the bus for a rest and then went on another walk to the a very plush hotel called the Europe Hotel, reporedly the most expensive hotel in town. We had a look inside and it is very grand and large. We did not ask the cost.

We got back to the bus and found we had two passengers from bus 2 on board which was initially confusing but it was sorted out and when we returned to the ship, the ship was ready to leave.

Lesley bought some Russian eggs for the grandchildren and another set of Russian dolls. Except for the big department stores most shops and stalls take US dollars or Euros.

St. Petersburg is a huge place and we were told that there are 119 museums and many more theaters and it is impossible to see everything in just two days. It is a lovely city but the young ones with the visas were telling us it is hard to get a taxi and an honest one at that.

We left at 5 p.m. on May 22 and to get going we had to have two tugs assist us down the river and then spin us around with the help of our thrusters. We needed the tugs because there was a strong current and there was only 60 feet at each end of the ship at the narrowest point on either end of the ship to the other ships in the river.

We then proceeded out of St. Petersburg and saw some magnificent sights along the way. The channel was very narrow on both sides.

We are now on our way to Helsinki and will be there tomorrow morning at about 8 a.m.



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