St. Petersburg has become such a popular tourist destination that the continual hoard of people is steaming gold leaf off of the picture frames in the Hermitage. To enjoy the city as a cruise destination, choose an itinerary offering three days and two nights in port. Opt for early morning and evening excursions, or visit places less traveled.
Top visitor attractions are still the old masters galleries of the Hermitage, Catherine the Great’s original acquisitions, and Tsarskoe Selo, the palace built by Empress Elizabeth to honor her mother Catherine I, and embellished by Catherine II. Expect long lines and crowds in both locations during summer. The Fabergé Museum is also popular, although access is controlled to keep crowds at a minimum. In this museum, situated on one of Peter the Great’s gracious canals, in the mansion of one of his advisors, the ambassador Vorontsov, visit the jeweled eggs purchased at great expense by the last of the Romanovs. The precious babbles were sold off by Stalin and collected by US billionaire Malcom Forbes, until his heirs sold them to a native son and benefactor of Russia.
Less traveled are the French Impressionist collection of the Hermitage and the Summer Palace. Both are popular and have limited access. There are over one hundred museums in St. Petersburg licensed by the government, which does not include the museum of vodka, or of nesting dolls. Unfortunately, Peter’s little boat, in which he learned to sail, a Russian icon, has been removed from the Naval Museum and transferred to Moscow.
If summer heat and crowds annoy you, take a canal cruise and see architectural splendor of the city in the manner Peter designed his city to be visited. An advantage of luxury cruise ship travel is the evening special events arranged by the cruise line in marque venues such as the Hermitage. A recent performance of the Hermitage Orchestra in the Malachite Room enchanted forty guests of the Oceania Nautica cruise ship as the culmination of a private evening tour of the galleries. Memories such as this last forever
For a special treat, not yet discovered by non-Russians, book your cruise to arrive in St. Petersburg in the summer to fall 2021, after the opening of the to be restored Oranienbaum Palace. This palace complex is fifteen minutes further down the new expressway from Peterhof and its fountains. Also known by the name of its original owner, Aleksandr Menshikov, Peter’s close friend, whom he appointed mayor of St. Petersburg, Menshikov Palace was spared no expense as a royal villa built in 1707, above the second port on the Gulf of Finland to Peter’s capital city. The port did not survive. The palace with its French entry garden is meticulously maintained and undergoing further restoration today.
On the grounds of Oranienbaum, in 1750, Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth commissioned a honeymoon cottage for nephew, the future Peter III, and his bride Catherine II. Catherine quickly realized that Peter preferred spending his time annihilating rats dressed as miniature soldiers, so she spent her time translating a French encyclopedia into Russian. The blue and white jewel box of a small palace is known as Toboggan Palace for the ramp from the upper floor used to amuse the future emperor as he slid down hill into the winter snow. Meanwhile, Catherine was writing to her pen pal Voltaire, whose ideas on enlightened monarchs influenced her and much of Europe.
Oranienbaum Palace, its gardens and concert venue in the pavilion also built in 1750 as a retreat and studio for the favorite architect of Empress Elizabeth, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who loved to decorate with gold, are administered as part of the Peterhof Museums. Peterhof is a complex of seventeen museums on the grounds of the suburban retreat of Peter the Great. Success of Peterhof as a visitor favorite has provided income to restore Oranienbaum. Restoration of Toboggan Palace is expected to be complete in 2021.
Enjoy St. Petersburg by avoiding the crowds with a visit to Oranienbaum in 2021. Make certain your entry ticket includes the grounds, royal apartments, church and Toboggan Palace. See where Catherine learned to be great. Then return to the city to enjoy a sunset over the Neva. Your visit to St. Petersburg will be a pleasurable memory.
Read all the stories of St. Petersburg in Cruise through History, Itinerary XI Ports of the Baltic, available in print or e-reader.
Remember: Memories take no space in your suitcase and last forever.