Sunday, April 10, 2011

St. Petersburg was a Disappointment

I was really looking forward to our two days in St. Petersburg because I had heard about how dazzling it was so I felt let down when we disembarked the Emerald Princess and were met by a bunch of grouchy immigration officials who obviously didn't like the idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to meet a shipload of tourists.

Samson and the Lion at Peterhof Palace
After being hauled around on a bus for two days and herded through the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Yusupov Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, Church of the Spilled Blood and the Peterhof Palace, I was dragging my butt and felt much like a wet noodle.  It was hard to believe how crowded all of these places were and how quickly we shuffled through them.  It all seems like a blur.  And the traffic -- it was horrible.  It took us about as much time to travel between sites as it did to tour them.

Although the palaces and churches were magnificent, I still can't help thinking that St. Petersburg was a pretty depressing place overall.  Gray skies (I was told that St. Petersburg gets only about 30 days of sunshine per year), buildings that were once brightly painted but had obviously faded and the generally dour people made a lasting impression on me.  During our tour of the Hermitage, I was struck by the women who were sitting in chairs in each of the rooms.  I smiled but never once received a smile in return.  In fact, if I actually caught the eye of any of them, they immediately looked away.  

We did, however, have a very informative Russian guide who I could actually understand when she spoke English.  She was quite proficient at giving us a titillating account of the history of the Romanovs, the most interesting of which was how Rasputin met his maker in the basement of Yusupov Palace.

In retrospect, I should have been smarter about my visit to St. Petersburg.  Instead of trying to see everything in two days, I should have selected two or three sites to see and done it at a leisurely and more enjoyable pace.  In fact,  I could have spent the entire two days at the Hermitage!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Copenhagen -- The Beginning of Our Baltic Cruise

After five fun-filled days of visiting family in Stockholm, we flew to Copenhagen and were immediately hit with sticker shock.  When we arrived at the Copenhagen Marriott and looked at the menu at the restaurant there, we noted that it cost $40 for a standard American breakfast and $30 for a Caesar salad with chicken.  This was particularly hard to stomach given that we were going to be boarding the Emerald Princess the next day and knew that we wouldn't have to spend a single dollar for food.

One of the highlights of our brief stay in Copenhagen was the boat ride along the canals.  Thank God we decided to spring for the expensive one which was covered because during our one hour ride we rode through a cell that dropped an awful lot of rain within five minutes.  In an open boat, we would have been drenched!  I must say that Copenhagen is an ideal city to see from the water.  We had an excellent guide who not only pointed out all of the interesting sites but also took us up alongside Abramovich's beautiful sleek smooth yacht, which he said cost $400 million to build -- about as much as it cost to build the Emerald Princess.

During our ride through the canals, we were particularly struck by the golden steeple of Our Saviour's Church.  Given that our guide told us that we could have one of the most striking views from the city if we were willing to climb the 400 steps to get to the top of the church, I was ready to go.  The trip up the stairs was anything but routine -- it included narrow passageways and steep ladders to climb.  Although it was very windy at the top, the glorious view was worth every step of the way.

 There were a couple of disappoints in Copenhagen:  Tivoli Gardens and Christiania, a "free city" founded in 1971 by a group of alternative thinkers.  I found Tivoli Gardens to be tired and dated.  If you've been to enough amusement parks in the United States, Tivoli Gardens is old-fashioned and underwhelming.  Believe me, it's no competition for Disney World.  Although the guide book made Christiania sound like a quaint, fun and bohemian place, I just found it to be weird and dirty. (Do I sound like my mother 40 years ago when she eyeballed me in dirty jeans and a suede jacket with fringe?)  After taking one look at the restroom, I decided to "hold it" until I was back at the Marriott. 

More pictures of Copenhagen