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Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Changing face of Russia, and how easy it was to walk around filming.

Click the text to see the films - not the pictures.....

The first thing that hits you about Russia is that it is just the same as everywhere else, people and places and the Roman old religions form part of their history. Sure there is passport control, but of all the Baltic stops we were also told to carry passports in Belgium and Germany, which are / were supposed to be one with the UK. Those of us that cruise regularly will know that in most countries around the world, some in extreme corners, only require the cruise card.

Whilst Russia needs a visa to visit, if on a cruise ship  you take an excursion from the ship into St Petersburg, at this moment that allows you a visa waiver. Then once the coach drops you off you are remarkably free to explore.

The tour company gives you a very simple card whether guided or on your own, which says in Russian the equivalent of I am lost, please ring this number. That goes to the tour operator's office and they will get someone to you. Given the huge number of tours all over the city, like Uber taxi's, there will be someone near you.

Passport control in and out is a little longer than landing at say an airport in Portugal, but not much, and far less intrusive than arriving in India. So, it is not much of an inconvenience.

There is a lot to see in St Petersburg and the Emperors and Assassinations tour is an old favourite because it rounds a part of the city and gets to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. Walking you down through the Fields of Mars to the Canal in the lands which Peter The Great took from Sweden, you come up through the fountains and statues and arrive at the Mikhailovsky Palace before going into the church on a group ticket. The coach is collected in Art Square by the tourist office which has a lap dancing club below it and is surrounded by theatres offering tourist shows, concerts and Ballet Evenings. Click anywhere in this paragraph for an overview of a very comprehensive walking tour.

The Ballet Evening is one of many available excursions for an overnight stay, there will be a concert and a traditional evening. 
We were hoping to have gone to the Mikhailovsky Theatre but our show was changed to a smaller theatre seen on the video, a hall which looked like an old concert hall but had space for a 40+ orchestra and  well equipped surround sound system. We obviously can't show the whole Ballet so there is just a clip. The lead Ballerina stood out. Click here to see the evening.

The St Petersburg Explorer is a new excursion, and one which if it were politically allowed might be called St Petersburg on your own. The coach loops you round the city and has three stops or centres. The first is by St Issac's Theatre which is sadly well before it opens at 10.30 so if you want to see inside you need to loop back later, but that is easy. 

Back with our coach trip we headed for stop three which was the Nevsky Prospect. Here we had three hours on our own, and the provided map showed a suggested route up and down the 4.6km main road. You will see we went to a few places, left some of their suggestions out, and added a few others. They also suggest a canal boat trip with times, which would have been an additional cost but the currency is time as well as roubles and we were taking in an overview of the city. We went down into Palace Square as you will see, but the buildings themselves are closed on Mondays. With these two tours we now feel we have a handle on St Petersburg, so when we go back we will try to get into some of the places and museums and share what you can expect. It is all covered in this film. Click here for the film.

We have omitted the second stop of the Explorer as it is by the Field Of Mars to the Church (entrance not included in this tour). We had done this yesterday with the above tour Emperors and Assassinations, so, we left the group and went rogue. Only to find we were not the only ones who crossed the bridge to the Peter & Paul Fortress. We had just enough time for an overview and to know that we will go back there on our next trip to see the Fortress in more detail.

Although we didn't do the Church of Our Saviour on  the Spilled Blood as the tour suggested on this day, which was a Monday, (and although it said the church was closed on a Monday it was open), we covered the church the day before quite extensively as you will see from this film (click anywhere on this paragraph). 
Please beware of pickpockets in this church.

1. The Audio Pen is a spoken commentary hearing aid, and it is highly recommended.
2. Take something to eat and drink or schedule a stop, the day is long and can be tiring.
3. Do not carry a wallet or bag you do not need, do not talk to hawkers or people handing out leaflets unless you are aware of the situation and someone is watching your back. Pickpockets work with leaflet givers and book sellers.
4. Walking Shoes.
5. Share your pictures with us and share these films with other cruisers.

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