Of all the places in the world, I can't say that Russia ranked very high on my "Must Visit" list. Sure, it was on there. Most places are! Who are we kidding? Yet, when I got the opportunity to go, I couldn't pass it up. This cruise itinerary provided us a reliable option for how to take in this mysterious place.
My first impression of Russia was, "Dude, you are WAAAY too serious!" Probably because it took us over an hour to go through customs to get off the boat. I was surprised I didn't get a pat down! Then, the first buildings we see are these. Yeah... real welcoming, right? Ha!
Don't worry... things started to look up after we got to Peterhof Palace, just outside town. The gorgeous, mammouth sized palace with these amazing gardens and fountains was something very European. It definitely rivaled Versailles. (I actually liked it better since it wasn't in Paris, a city I hate!) We spent a good while learning all about the czars of the past and meandering down tree-lined paths to secret parts of the garden.
After all the serenity of the Peterhof gardens, our tour guide decided to jolt us back into reality by putting us on a Russian-mechanic maintained hydrofoil to skip across the Gulf of Finland. You could see the terror in Puff's eyes as we boarded the rusty beast and took our place in worn out old, repurposed airplane seats. The funniest part of that excursion was me trying to climb steep, metal stairs to cross an open-air bridge to the back part of the boat to pee on a glorified bucket. All while moving. Hilarious!
That afternoon, following a city driving tour with a few photo stops, we ended up here, at the St. Peter & Paul Fortress. This cathedral marked the center of the fortress and was glorious against the bright blue sky that had appeared.
Everyone seems to know the story of Princess Anastasia, so when they started jabbering on about The Last Romanovs, I finally (kinda) knew the story! Apparently within recent years, through crazy scientific DNA tests, they were able to confirm some remains that were found in Siberia to be those of the infamous family. Their tomb was located in an out-of-the-way chapel area inside the above St. Peter & Paul Cathedral, within the fortress.
The day ended with some more photo stops (and a pee emergency at a swanky hotel - gotta love my bladder) complete with an aching lower back and sweaty, stinky, sore feet. All told, our first day in Russia was pretty cool. The next day would prove to be even better!