My Volga Dream in Russia
I have always dreamt of going to Russia but this year it finally came true and I had the holiday of a lifetime and I want to share my experiences with you.
I booked through Cox and Kings for a Volga Dream cruise and from the moment I stepped aboard this luxury boutique ship I was totally swept up in Russian culture,language, history and breathtaking sights that would enthrall me for the next 12 days.
I would love to take you with me..
48 hours in St Petersburg
Nothing can prepare you for the sheer magnificence of St. Petersburg. What started as an unbelievably ambitious project by Peter the Great just over 300 years ago to create an imperial capital out of marshland is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Try and imagine Versaille in Amsterdam and you begin to appreciate the grandeur of its buildings built on 44 islands.
Best to start as we did at the beginning and go to Peter and Paul Fortress. The main building within the fortress is Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral. In its glorious gold and green interior you will find the tombs of the Tsars from Peter the Great onwards. A very poignant side chapel houses the remains of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II and some of his family. They were all assassinated in 1918 and careful forensic investigations in 1998 were able to identify them.
Although never used for its original military purpose the fortress was used as a political prison and torture chamber for many famous political prisoners.
One name everyone associated with Russia is that of Faberge and a new museum housed in the neo-classical Shuvalov Palace is home to over 4,000 artefacts. If time is short head to see the 9 Imperial Easter Eggs made for the Tsars. It’s impossible to pick a favourite but on my list would be the rosebud egg as I bought a replica of it in the gift shop. A perfect holiday souvenir you won’t find anywhere else!
As someone who adores art history you can imagine how much I’d been looking forward to our next visit- The Hermitage, the winter palace of Catherine the Great. I challenge anyone not to gasp in awe when you enter the enormous Palace Square and see what is one of the world’s greatest if not the greatest art museum. Its 3 million exhibits (only a tiny fraction of which are on display at any one time) include treasures from every century in history and every corner of the world. Think of any great artist and you’re sure to find your favourite be it Rembrandt or Picasso. The problem is it would take you years to see it all so you’ll just have to follow my example and head for the highlights. What really makes this place special is the breathtaking splendour of its interior decoration. Every room and staircase is a jewel of architectural delight.
As you travel around St Petersburg you can’t miss Nevsky Prospekt which is the main thoroughfare, a lively street with shops and restaurants like anywhere else in Europe. It starts from the golden spire of the Admiralty and includes the beautiful colonnaded Kazan Cathedral which we were told was modelled on St Peter’s in Rome. Just a few streets away is the iconic church “On the Spilled Blood”. It’s called that because this was the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered. It’s amazing outside and even more so inside as there’s not a single picture but the walls are entirely covered in mosaics.
Just north of Nevsky Prospect is a neighbourhood called Smolny where President Putin grew up. That’s not the reason however to visit it! I recommend it because of the stunning blue and white Smoly Cathedral, one of the most amazing in Russia. It was built for Peter the Great’s Daughter Elizabeth to be a nun! She later became Empress and never wore the same ball gown twice so probably a good change of career!
To get the very most out of your 48 hours I’d advise a River Cruise and admire some of the 300 bridges! Because of its position St Petersburg is famous for its white nights so when I was there it didn’t go dark until about 3 am so great for taking photos in the evening!
If you have more than 48 hours….
About 16 miles south is Catherine Palace so allow half a day to see even the highlights.
Originally given to Catherine I who was Peter the Great’s wife it was her daughter Empress Elizabeth who spent a fortune on it and named it in her honour. Among the magnificent staterooms is the Grand Hall lined with enormous mirrors but the jewel in the palace is the Amber Room, which as the name suggests is floor to ceiling decorated in amber. Sadly hugely damaged in the War it’s now been restored to its former glory. By the way don’t forget to leave some time to stroll through the beautiful gardens.
One of the most popular attractions is Peterhof, about a 40 minute drive from the city, often called “Russian Versailles”. Although Versaille did inspire Peter the Great to build this extraordinary Palace personally I rate this UNESCO site much higher. I spent about 3 hours there and just did the park which is famous for its technological achievements in that the 144 fountains operate without pumps but rely on the pressure created from elevation differences. The Grand Cascade has 37 gilded statues, 64 fountains and 142 water jets with an artificial grotto at the centre- a photographer’s paradise. And the children were happy too as they tried to dodge the joke fountains, not realising a man was operating them remotely and there was no escape from getting a drenching!