Day 5 – Tuesday – St. Petersburg, Russia – The lovely Navigator docks right in the midst of the city as only a small ship is able to do.
We arrived at this very picturesque city in early morning. Our first shore excursion, departing at 9:30 am, was shopping. The city is similar to a miniature NYC – action everywhere and best of all, fabulous architecture from centuries gone by. The shopping is unusual – we went to several shops on the embankment of the Krukov Canal near the St. Nicholas Cathedral. Little painted lacquer boxes and Matyoshka dolls are among the most popular souvenir offerings. You also find a little marketplace selling prints and paintings from local artists. We visited a grocery store and they have very similar items to those in the USA (although many more varieties of vodka for you, comrade.) From Pepsi, baby oil and powder to yogurt …they seem to have it all, including some items we have never seen, such a pickled this-and-that. One of the highlights (being in this business) was a visit to the “Grand Hotel. The entrance is truly grand and the hotel filled with flowers and marble and beautiful furniture was a lovely sight.
Evening in St. Petersburg, Russia
After a little nap after the shopping expedition, we finished reading the wonderful Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry, (it really fills you in on Russian history around the time of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, with accurate details throughout most of the book). We then had room service (twin fillets with a crème’ sauce with peppercorns on toast points, absolutely scrumptious) as tonight we are going to the enjoy a spectacular evening at the Yussupov Palace located on the banks of the Moika River. The Yussupovs were the wealthiest family in Russia at the beginning of the 20th. Century. This is the home where Grigori Rasputin – the “Mad Monk of Moscow” – was assassinated. You climb down a very narrow staircase to the basement of the home and hear the amazing story surrounding the night of his assassination. The situation has been re-created and there is a very lifelike wax figure of Rasputin himself, sitting at the table at which he was first poisoned, then shot.
Exquisite ladies-in-waiting and gentlemen in ornate costumes greet you as you enter the palace. Small groups are guided through the museum and you observe some rooms that are unbelievably decorated. The “wow” factor (and a lot of precious metals and jewels, and ornate wood) is certainly present here. Russian champagne and black caviar are served in the music room while a classical balalaika orchestra plays beautiful music for you.
Following the reception we were invited into the Yussopov private theatre which was used for entertaining international guests. We enjoyed a gala performance of the St. Petersburg Opera Company which featured highlighted arias from some world-famous operas including the Marriage of Figaro, Magic Flute, Don Juan, Giannio Schicchi and Eugene Onegin. This was truly a night to remember.
Day 6 – Wednesday – Side trip to Moscow
This offered us the unique opportunity to explore the Russian capital in one day. Indeed, we were going from one capital – St. Petersburg, the capital for 200 years – to the historical capital of Moscow, which was founded back in the 11th Century, and restored as the capital by the Bolsheviks in 1917. We were taken by air in a one-hour flight to Moscow, where waiting coaches, escorted by a police car took us directly to the Kremlin. As we transferred to a bus and saw the countryside surrounding Moscow, we were struck by how clean and cosmopolitan the city was. And then the Kremlin, which means “fortress” in Russian. It’s aptly named, as the entire facility (70 acres worth) is surrounded by a high wall. Once inside, our first stop was the Armory, the repository of famous artifacts stored there throughout the centuries. Old Bibles encrusted with jewels, magnificent carriages that once transported the Tsars, and 10 of the surviving jeweled eggs crafted by Carl Faberge as gifts for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife Alexandra.
Then we were off to visit some of the most beautiful churches in the world, including one of the most famous and iconic (St. Basel’s, with its colored turrets reflecting the Ottoman Empire style) in the world. Also impressive was the world’s largest cannon, commissioned centuries ago and fired but only a few times. And then it was lunch time in the Alexandr Pushkin restaurant, one of the most famous eateries in the city (and only a few blocks from the Kremlin, down the street from the old KGB headquarters.) Lunch consisted of tomato and mozzarella salad, beet and beef soup, chicken and veal patties, sorbet for dessert, and an excellent Bordeaux. After this tasty meal, it was back to the Kremlin for one more visit – this time to view the famous (and vast) Red Square, and some last-minute shopping at the G.U.M. department store on the corner of the Square. (Remind me to show you my prize purchase – a necklace of heart-shaped amber, a popular semiprecious stone in Russia.)
Then it was back to the airport – again under police escort – for the one-hour flight back to St. Petersburg. We didn’t get back to the ship until 11pm, but have no regrets for this exhausting but fascinating day. And…it was still light outside when we arrived at the ship, compliments of the famous “White Nights” representative of St. Petersburg at this time of year.
Day 7 – Thursday – Hermitage Museum and Gold Rooms
Regent Seven Seas had a very special arrangement here. The Gold Museum was privately opened for just the guests of Regent. This is one of the most important museums in Europe – together with the larger Hermitage Museum, it boasts a collection of art is second to none in the world (possibly excepting the Louvre.) Founded by Catherine the Great in 1764, it boasts 2.7 million objects of magnificent art. The tour covers the masterpieces of Western art, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Monet. You could (and would have to) spend days to see the full extent of art treasures in these museums. Our tour was approximately 6 hours – not enough to see all of the wondrous art, but enough to tire one out from the constant walking involved. But absolutely no regrets, for sure!
Day 8- Friday – Stockholm, Sweden
One of the real bonuses of our trip was the relaxing, meandering entry by sea from St. Petersburg into Stockholm. As we came within about 2 hours of Stockholm, we began to slowly weave between the many islands and fjords which dot the Swedish coastline. Sweden is a land consisting of no fewer than 127, 000 islands! Many of these islands are dotted with vacation homes, and we got more than a few waves from local residents either watching from their homes, or waving from the decks of the ubiquitous sailboats that seemed to blanket the many harbors. What a gorgeous sight!
And then, into Stockholm. Like Copenhagen and Moscow, it’s a very cosmopolitan city that is both very scenic and pristine. Although it was getting late – and pouring rain – we nonetheless took a cab to the famous “Ice Bar” where patrons are obliged to wear parkas before entering the premises. The bar is made entirely from giant blocks of ice, and all drinks are served in miniature glasses literally carved from the ice. The average age of the crowd was about 20-something – clearly this was a “happening” place to be for the young Swedish set (and a few visitors to this lovely city.)
Day 9 – Saturday – Depart Stockholm 10:15, arrive home Saturday 6pm
Here are some interesting facts about our absolutely lovely home for 6 days, the beautiful Regent Navigator:
- The ship has only 490 guest cabins; there are absolutely no lines.
- You dine whenever you wish. The dining room is spectacular, the food exquisite and the waiters are first-rate.
- Room service is the dining room food; they come with a tablecloth and set up your food as though you were in the dining room.
- The shops are very nice and the shopkeepers, very helpful.
- The swimming pool is very warm (not unlike your bath water.) Our cabin was spacious and the decks are large and made of teak. There are countless rooms to explore and little coves and niches in which to get comfy. Our favorite area is aft on the ship, where they serve breakfast and lunch right outside the Portofino restaurant on a teak deck.
If you missed part 1 of this cruise diary, you can catch up here.