Our hotel Sokos Hotel Vasilyevsky is a fairly good four star hotel in St Petersburg. Our tour package included free breakfast, but we had to pay and have our dinner in the hotel or an outside restaurant.
If you plan to visit St Petersburg, you must see the world famous ballet Swan Lake in the Mariinsky Theatre. It is not easy to buy tickets in Summer. The bast way is to plan your trip and buy tickets on line before coming to St Petertsburg.
A brief summary of the story of Swan Lake may be appropriate.
Price Siegfried turns 21 and his mother Queen calls him and asks him to select a suitable partner. He dances with many girls, but does not find love. He walks to the lake and see a group of Swans and specially one with A crown on the head. He immediately falls in love and goes to her. She tells him that she is really a princess named Odette, but a cruel sorcerer turned her into a Swan. Only a human prince who declares his love and proposes to her can turn her back into a princess. He is about to do that when the sorcerer comes and takes her away. The sorcerer is actually the queen’s mentor. He locks up the swan princess and change his daughter Odile to look exactly like the swan princess. Then he brings the daughter to see the queen. Prince, thinking it is the real swan princess, declares his love to her. The actual swan princess sees this. She runs away with her swan companions. Prince sees her running away and realises his mistake. He follows her and explains to her what happened. She forgives him. Then the sorcerer comes and demands that the prince should honour his word and marry his daughter. A dual starts and the prince and the swans win the battle. Prince proposes to the swan princess and she turns into the most beautiful princess.
Stage of the Theatre before the Ballet started
We were not allowed to take photos during the performance. I took a photo of the theatre before the ballet started. Then after the final act, I took a photo when the cast and the princess remained on the stage to bid farewell to the audience.
The Ballet had five acts and it went on till about 10:45 PM. Our driver was waiting for us to take us back to the hotel. When we came back to the hotel, it was close to 11:00 PM.
Ballerina bidding farewell at the end of the ballet
People we met during our cruise:
Mala with Fiona and Olga inside the Hermitage Museum
1.Olga is our tour guide. She is the kind and polite but at the same time tough and authoritative person who fits the role of the tour guide. She was waiting for us when we came out of the cruise ship terminal in St Petersburg. She is a very knowledgeable person and stayed with us as our tour guide during the first two days. She spoke good English with a Russian accent and gave good descriptions of all the places we visited.
She looked very young . We did not ask how old she is. I would have thought she is still in her late twenties. But she told us that she has two daughters, one eight years old and the second one only two years. She was not able to come with us on the last day . She sent her colleague Erina to guide us on the last day.
Mala with Erina and Fiona near Peterhof Palace
2.Erina acted as out guide on the last day. She is the soft spoken, mild mannered, friendly girl. She told Mala that she is thirty two. Her husband is a high school teacher. On the last day she took us to visit Peter Hoff Palace and the Menshikov Palace. On our way to the palace, we asked her to tell us about the Russian history. She explained who Peter was and gave us a good description of the historical events that occurred up to the time of Catherine the Great.
Driver explaining sonmething to Mala
3. Our tour driver was with us during the whole trip. I do not remember his name. He is the kind gentleman who would come and open the door for you and help you to get down from the vehicle. He finds a good parking spot and wait for us in the vehicle looking after our belongings. On the second day, we asked him to drop us in the city centre and told him that we will find our way back. He told us about pick pockets and also how to bargain with the taxi drivers if we decide to take a taxi back to the hotel.
Fiona having breakfast in the cruise ship restaurant
4. We met Fiona Bell when we came out of the cruise liner. She is the friendly person who is easy to get on with. She is from Melbourne and similar to what we did, she has booked the same Visa Free cruise from Helsinki to St Petersburg and back. While talking to her, we found that she is a very seasoned traveler who has traveled more than us. She likes to travel with small groups of people. We exchanged contact details and got to know each other very well. She reminded us of Helen and Sue. We told her about them and how we traveled together to Sri Lanka, Spain and Portugal. Fiona can be a good travel companion in many ways. She likes to take part in group activities, at the same time she wants to do her own thing in her own way. When we told her that we are going to see Swan Lake, she wanted to buy tickets and come with us. But the tickets were sold out. She managed to get tickets for the show on the next day. Fiona works as a psychologist. On our way back on the cruise ship we met again and had dinner together.
The next day, June 29 happened to be a beautiful sunny day. We had our breakfast in the hotel and got ready to go out. Our tour guide has arranged to meet us at the hotel at 11:00AM. The plan was to take us to visit the Hermitage museum. Olga, our guide, had purchased our tickets and we entered the museum. The most important part of the visit for me was the paintings by world famous artists.
Rubens The Descent from the cross
We saw some of the original paintings of Rubens, Da Vinci and Van DYCK. There was a sculpture made by Michael Angelo. We were not sure how they acquired these paintings. We saw Leonado Da Vinci’s Monalisa when we visited the Loure museum in Paris.
Today we saw some of his paintings in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. It is possible that he was commissioned by the king of Russia to do paintings for him.
The Throne used by the king in the palace
After visiting the museum, we could be dropped at the hotel or we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. Fiona decided to stay back and spend more time in the museum and then find her way back to the hotel. We wanted to be dropped in a shopping area. The driver dropped us at a place where you find one of the biggest department stores. It was huge and we spent a couple of hours looking and buy a few items.
We had lunch in the Department store restaurant and then came out of the store to find our way back.
Long Escalator to St Petersburg Metro
We decided to take the Metro instead of a taxi back to the hotel. We did not know how to purchase the right ticket valid for our short trip. We asked two girls ho were passing by. They advised us to go to a counter instead of trying the automatic machine. Buying the right ticket became a very simple affair. The Metro in St Petersburg runs about 100 metres below the ground level. I saw the longest escalators that I have ever seen in my life.
Mala with one of the performing ladies in the Folk Music performance
We were free in the evening. We decided to go for a Folk Music performance in the city. We booked the tickets through our hotel reception and the performance was to start at 7:00 PM. The theatre was only about one kilometre from our hotel and we decided to walk to the theatre. Each ticket was about 100 euros, but it was worth the money we spent. Something we would never get a chance to see, unless we visit St Petersburg again. The performance finished at 9:00 PM. After the show, we saw some of the ladies who performed on the stage, selling souvenirs. Mala decided to stay back and buy a scarf like thing. This was something they were wearing on the stage. They were made out of 100% Russian wool with hand stitched glittery ornaments. Mala took a photo with one of the performing artists. We walked back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
June 30 was the last day in St Petersburg. We could stay in St Petersburg without a visa for a maximum of seventy two hours. Our tour plan was to check out of the hotel in the morning and meet the tour guide at 10:00 AM outside the hotel with our luggage. We would be take to the Peter Hoff Palace and then to Menshikov Museum and finally dropped at the ferry terminal. Olga was not available on that day and she sent her colleague Erina in her place. We missed Olga, but Erina was equally good and had a good knowledge of Russian history.
Mala and Andrew near a Russian Jasmine bush
Peter Hoff Palace was built by Peter the Great. The opulent building, the park surrounding the building and the water springs show us the luxuries they royalty enjoyed during their time. On our way to the palace, Erina told us the story of Peter the Great, his wife and then the story of Catherine the great. We took pictures of the palace from outside. We were not allowed to take pictures, inside the palace. There were paintings of all the family members of the royal family. We spent nearly two hours inside the palace and then another one hour in the park and the restaurant where we had our lunch.
View from the Palace Yard
Our last place to visit, was the Menshikov Museum. This was the palace of the Governor General who served the king. Initially, he was very close to the king, but later he was treated as a traitor. He and his family were banished and all his possessions were taken back by the king.
We were dropped at the terminal around 4:00 PM and we boarded the cruise ship immediately. We got a premium room, but wanted a better room. We knew we could upgrade our room. We went to the counter and talked to the person at the counter and managed to upgrade our room to a Commodore room where we got a comfortable double bed. We were entitled to use the drinks in the room fridge.
We had dinner in one of the restaurants on the seventh floor. Fiona joined us for dinner. She got a room without a window and she also managed to upgrade her room to a cute room with a window facing the sea.
Mala met an Indian couple who have come to attend a conference in Helsinki. They are from Mumbai and have visited Australia many times. Mala met the wife when we were having breakfast in the hotel. She was looking for Chai Tea. She could not find any in the hotel restaurant. Later she got some English Breakfast tea packets. We met them again in the cruise ship. They would be in Helsinki for one week.
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise to st Petersburg. Not many people know about this Visa Free five day cruise. It can be booked on line. I can recommend it as one of the best, hassle free and reliable cruises. If you cannot speak Russian language and unable to read Russian words, finding addresses and using public transport can become a nightmare. We of course paid for our service and got the best possible service. Check the following link for cruise details if you are planning to do a trip to St Petertsburg.