Russia in 72 Hours: Day 2 – St. Petersburg

This post is about Day 2 of our whirlwind tour of Russia. Read about Day 1, where we boarded the ferry from Helsinki to St Petersburg to St Petersburg here.

0630: Ship started come into the St. Petersburg bay around 6.30. I was awoken by a couple of buzzes on the phone. Turns out it was a message from O2 travel, telling me that incoming and outgoing calls to Russia will cost £2 per minute and that data cost 7.20/MB. This was a shock to the system as I had gotten so used to the free roaming in Europe and daily flat rates on calls texts and data everywhere else in the world. Wifi on the ship is also cost a fortune, so I guess for the next 72 hours it's going to be old fashioned text (which would cost 50p each).

0800: Breakfast at Princess Garden restaurant. Good selection of breakfast and plenty of empty tables. Tip: Go to the back of the restaurant to find a table. More empty tables here, and it is the front of the ship. You can watch the World go by whilst having breakfast.

0845: Ship docked at St. Petersburg whilst we were having breakfast.

0915: Disembarkation starts. The ship prioritises families with children and commodore suite passengers to disembark first. All other passengers were asked to wait in cabins or lounges until the announcement is made that disembarkation is open to all. We were very lucky here.  As the exit gangway was very close to our cabin on deck 4, we were able to disembark very early. This meant that we were at the start of the immigration queue. (Tip: The ship will almost certainly disembark at deck 4, so try and get a cabin on this deck).

0945: It took about 20 minutes to get through immigration.  We had to hand over our itinerary from Go Russia and the arrival card from the ferry. I felt sorry for the officer as she had to type in all our extra long names into the computer in Russian (which took forever). In the end, we all got the visa stamp and a arrival card. This arrival card has to be kept with you at all times. Tip: During the immigration, it felt like it was taking ages and officer made a few phone calls, all the while saying nothing to us. So, be patient, smile, answer all questions and give them the space to do their work.

1000: Came to the arrivals hall and met with the tour guide from Go Russia. The lovely Olga, who spoke perfect English and was very energetic and cheery.

1115: There were two others in our tour group, so we had to wait for them to clear immigration. They were not as lucky as us, so got caught in the immigration queue for 1.5 hours. Whilst we waited, we tried the souvernier shop at the terminal. The staff here were very polite and spoke very good English.

1115-1200: Short city tour on the way to Peter and Paul Fortress, with brief stop at Spit of Vasilievsky Island. It provides a great view of the river Neva and the Peter and Paul Fortress.

1200-1315: Visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The Peter and Paul Fortress, built in 1703, is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, Russia, founded by Peter the Great. The fort was used as a city garrison and also as a prison for high-ranking prisoners. Peter and Paul Cathedral is a major landmark inside the fortress. The cathedral houses the remains some of the notable Russian emperors and empresses such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas II and his family.

1315 – 1415: After the fortress, we travelled to Catherine's Palace, located in Pushkin, 30km outside St Petersburg. The journey took about an hour, during which Olga told us about the History of St Petersburg. St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great, on land he won after the war with Sweden in 1703. Peter the Great wanted a port city to rival the likes of Amsterdam, thus St Petersburg was born. It was known as Petrograd and Leningrad in the Soviet era, before being re-named St Petersburg.

1415-1700: Visit to Catherine's Palace and garden. This palace was originally commissioned by Catherine I of Russia but expanded by Empress Elizabeth. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated façade and numerous statues erected on the roof. It was a favourite of Catherine the Great of Russia, who further extended the palace and the garden. The palace was all but destroyed during World War II, but is now being restored to its former glory.

1700-1800: Travel back to St Petersburg.

1800-2200: Dinner and a walk around the Admialy Prospect, which is the main promenade of St Petersburg. We also made a short visit to St Isaac's Cathedral.

2215: Transfer to station to catch our sleeper train, the Grand Express, to Moscow. There is a luggage scan at entrance to station.

2300: Train arrives for 2344 departure and boarding starts. There's a ticket and passport check at entrance to carriage. The Grand Express is a luxury private train running a sleeper service between St Petersburg and Moscow. The cabin is well appointed, good bedding and there's also a digital TV with a choice of movies. In the standard carriage, there's a toilet and washbasin in each carriage. You can also pay for a cabin with a private toilet and wash basin, or even one with a shower compartment.

There are two attendants per carriage. One of them will come to take the breakfast order. Each carriage also has a hot water station with a couple of kettles.

We settled into our cabin, and fell asleep to the rhythm of the train, whilst it whisked us towards Moscow. In my next post, I will tell you about our day in Moscow.

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