Monday July 16, 2007

We docked this morning alongside a couple of other (bigger) cruise ships in Russia’s largest port. The city was built by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia’s ‘Window to the West’ … designated Russia’s capital in 1712 … had its name changed to Petrograd, then Leningrad, following the 1917 communist revolution … and finally, in 1991, when the Soviet Union upended, returned to its original name: St Petersburg.

(Here endeth the history lesson.)

Gold Statue

We got only the tiniest glimpse of this famous city today, but it’s already obvious: St Petersburg is a contradiction – drab and unkempt in places (like near the port where we’re located) … smartened-up and lovely in others (like in the inner-city and along the main canal) … and breathtakingly gorgeous in still others.

In the ‘breathtakingly gorgeous’ category are the fabulous cathedrals, palaces and monuments that await you here – and we spent a few hours in one of them this morning.

21-St Petersburg 1A 50-minute drive took us from the port to Tsarskoye Selo  (the Tsar’s Village). Peter the Great had this estate and its masterpiece-palace built for his wife Catherine in 1710. During WW2 it suffered severe damage (and lots of its treasures were stolen), but it has since been gloriously restored.

And, I’ve gotta tell you: ‘gloriously’ is no exaggeration!

21-St Petersburg 2The blue-white-gold exterior is glorious. And the gold-embossed interior is double-glorious! The Picture Gallery, the Great Hall, the famous Amber Room – they all took our breath away. And the surrounding gardens and parks simply add to the gloriousness (or should that be gloriousity? or just plain glory?).

This evening, decked out in our finest, our mad midlifers are heading out in two different directions for a night on the town: some to Ballet at the Musical Comedy Theatre … and the rest of us to a Russian Folklore Extravaganza where we might get to try our hand at cossack dancing.

Eat your heart out!

PEOPLE NEWS: Another mad awards was announced today:

* The ‘Old Toothpaste Trick Award’ to Don C – who, upon hearing one of our ladies say she’d run out of toothpaste, used one of the oldest lines in the book: “I’ve got some Colgate – you can come down to my cabin and have a squeeze!”

TOMORROW: A multi-domed fantasy church and the staggeringly wealthy Hermitage Museum. So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN