I just got home from a fabulous trip to Russia with my grandmother. This was the fulfillment of 18 years of dreaming. When I was 12, Grandma and I went on a tour of the Eastern United States. We started off in New York City, and in our very first hotel (the one right outside the Twin Towers . . . ) there was a convention of some sort for cooks. They'd had a gorgeous display of spun sugar confection buildings. But, we're not talking tiny little things. They were enormous! (Yes, that's me at 12.) So, we've been talking about seeing the real thing for a long time.
Our trip was a Uniworld Cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow on the ship ΛИТВИНОВ (Litvinov). When we got on board, we found our cabin. And Grandma took one look at it and said, 'um . . . no.' It was really tiny, but that wasn't the biggest problem. The beds were foam, but not very good or thick. And because of the lack of space (we couldn't even get our suitcases and ourselves into the room at the same time!) there was no room for a chair. Grandma's arthritis means she needs both a good mattress, and a good chair. So we upgraded to a larger room. She was much happier there, as there was ample room to sit and read, and the chairs were 'adequate' (her word). Now, we'd been warned that the accommodations would not be up to the European standards of luxury. However, we've not been terribly impressed with the standards even taking that into account, considering they were charging European prices! The consensus (between us and several other passengers) was, if you're looking to do a cruise in Russia, don't use Uniworld.
We started off with a tour of St Petersburg, hitting all the major sites. We saw the Church on the Blood, Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Hermitage/Imperial Winter Palace, Peterholf Gardens, St Isaak's Cathedral and all the canals and bridges of the city. However, it was a very fast tour. Just a jump off take a photo and drive on to the next site. we didn't actually go into any of the buildings. Later days we went into the Hermitage Museum (contained in the Winter Palace) and the gardens (didn't go, it was raining pretty hard!) and the cathedrals. I went to see the Church on the Spilt Blood (named for the site where one of the Czars was murdered. Alexander I, I think.) It's completely covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in mosaics. Pretty impressive.
The Hermitage was amazing. It is unmatched in my experience in its opulence and over-the-top decor and everything guilded-ness, and really, it felt obscene and vulgar. I mean, it was beautiful, but the enormous split in quality of living between the Imperial Family/Court and the average person was disturbing. After wandering the halls of both it and the Catherine Palace (also called the Summer Palace), you could really see how Communism got started in Russia. And in fact, that is the reason these palaces have survived. The Soviets used them as propaganda museums. 'Come see how the Imperials trod on your fathers' sort of thing. And when you consider things like the Amber room in Catherine palace, you realise the amount of money and resources that went into this lifestyle. When it was recreated after WWII, they sorted through 6 tons of amber, and used 800 kg (a little less than 1 ton). That's an amazing amount of amber, when you think about how light it is! But possibly my favourite parts of both palaces were the floors. They were gorgeous! And all I could think of was how amazing they'd be to dance on . . . yeah, I'm a geek. A dance geek.