Russia has never been somewhere I have wanted to visit. We hear so much about it in the media these days, and it’s never good news.
But that’s one of the great things about going on a cruise; you get to visit places that you never imagined you would visit!
We were docked in St Petersburg for two days and on both days we went on full-day excursions. I was going to write one big post about our time in Russia but it was getting to be a bit too long so I’ve decided to split it into two separate posts.
Visas and Immigration
As a UK citizen you need to obtain a visa before entering Russia. This must be applied for while you are still in the UK. However, if you book an excursion through TUI then you will be added to a group visa. Being a part of a group visa means that you have to stick with the group at all times, unless the guide tells you otherwise.
We booked the cruise less than 3 weeks before we went so we didn’t have time to get visas, so we knew we would have to book an excursion if we wanted to venture into St Petersburg.
As I say we were actually docked in St Petersburg for two days and so we decided to book excursions for both of those days. They weren’t cheap, but they were full days and they did include the cost of lunch (more about that later in the post!).
When you enter Russia you have to go through immigration. They gave us a talk about the immigration process on the ship and they made it sound terrifying. But as my parents had been on the same cruise just a couple of weeks before they’d already reassured me it wasn’t actually that bad.
And it wasn’t. You show your passport to a guy who looks you up and down a few times before stamping your passport (I love a good passport stamp!). They don’t speak to you; not even to say when you’re done and you can go through. Honestly, going through immigration in the US is much worse than it is in Russia!
The first stop of day 1 was the Peterhof Palace and it was about an hours drive from where the ship was docked.
So here’s a funny story. We were driving down this motorway in Russia and I was staring out the window taking in the scenery. Then I noticed a lorry in the lane next to us with the name of our hometown on the back; Market Drayton! I couldn’t believe it! We were almost 2,000 miles from home yet there was a lorry from our hometown. I can’t escape it!
Anyway, we eventually arrived at Peterhof Palace and we had to queue up outside to enter the main building. The palace and gardens were built for Peter the Great and it is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. Here’s an aerial shot of the palace and the upper gardens.
You have to wear these funny protectors on your feet to protect the floors in the palace, and in every room is an angry looking woman giving you the death stare. It actually made me feel quite uncomfortable.
Here are some photos I took inside of the palace. You can take photos in most rooms but you can’t use flash.
The majority of the palace was destroyed during World War II by the German Army, so a lot of what you see is replicas. It’s incredible how well they have restored the building.
After our tour of the palace we entered the lower gardens which lead to the Gulf of Finland.
Peterhof Palace is famous for its fountains and the lower garden it full of them. It’s particularly famous for its “joke fountains” which were purposely designed to catch people off-guard and get them wet. All I’ll say is be careful where you sit if you visit!
Some of the fountains are beautiful. Can you see the three dragons at the top of this one?
Of course, we visited Peterhof by bus, but you can take a hydrofoil from St Petersburg to the palace. I think this would have been an amazing experience.
After touring the gardens we returned to the palace to watch the fountain show along the Grand Cascade. I believe it only happens once a day and it’s very popular with tourists as you can see.
Once we’d finished at Peterhof Palace we got back on the bus and headed into St Petersburg for lunch.
Lunch was a complete nightmare. Russians don’t seem to understand what the word “vegetarian” means and obviously this was an issue with Tyrone being veggie. We’d already told the excursion staff on the ship who were suppose to let the guide and restaurant know in advance, so we thought it wouldn’t be an issue. But then when the guide asked Tyrone and another vegetarian in our group if they ate chicken we sensed that lunch was going to be a bit stressful.
The first course was some sort of potato salad which contained chicken. They switched Tyrone’s out for a normal salad. Then the second course was beetroot soup. Now I don’t know about you but you’d think beetroot soup would be veggie friendly, right? Well, we were wrong. They put a bowl of it in front of all of us, including Tyrone and the other vegetarian in our group, and the other vegetarian started to eat it. Then someone pointed out that it looked like there was meat in it. After checking with the restaurant staff we found out that it contained ham!
Luckily Tyrone hasn’t started eating it yet but it was close! And as someone who has been a vegetarian his whole life, he was pretty upset. They eventually replaced it with a standard vegetable soup.
For my main I had beef strogonoff, which was actually delicious, but Ty’s veggie option was just grated potato that had been fried. Needless to say he was hungry for most of the day!
I get it; we were in a different country with a completely different culture to ours. Vegetarianism might not be so predominant in Russia. But what frustrated us is that we went on a tour organised by the holiday company, and we told them three times in total that Tyrone was vegetarian, clear explaining what he didn’t eat.
The Hermitage Museum
After the disaster that was lunch we headed to our second stop of the day; the Hermitage Museum.
The Hermitage Museum is the second largest museum in the world. It’s a museum of art and culture and it features collections from all over the world. It’s also weirdly home to a population of cats.
It’s made up of 6 buildings including the Winter Palace. Here’s a picture of the Winter Palace that I took on our second day in St Petersburg. It’s a challenge fitting it in to a photo!
We were only in the museum for a couple of hours, which is nowhere near long enough to see everything. It’s very overwhelming.
I have to be honest and say favourite part of the museum was the Egyptian Hall. Of course, we were in Russia and we went to the Hermitage to learn more about Russia, but Egyptology is something I’m really interested in!
After our tour of the Hermitage we hopped back on the bus and returned to the ship.
I have to say, both Tyrone and I felt a bit flat after our first day in Russia. The lunch situation had really annoyed us, and we were really anxious about it happening again the following day. We even considered cancelling the excursion.
But you’ll be glad to know our second day in St Petersburg was much, much better.
Next week’s post will be all about our second day in St Petersburg, so make sure you pop back for that!