We were again up early this morning and met two of our tour companions at breakfast. We went down to where we had arranged to meet and we were all off the ship and through immigration quickly. We were asked for our tour tickets today, unlike yesterday. We have a hard time understanding the system, but at least it did not give us any problems.
We had to wait a few minutes for the guide and the van, but we were settled on the van and underway by 7:50am. We visited two cathedrals one of which had a service being conducted. In typical Orthodox fashion, most of the liturgy was sung a capella and was quite attractive, though we could not understand the words. Most of the congregation were older women, but there was a good sprinkling of young men and women, but few older men. The choir was mainly younger people, and when we enquired about this we discovered that most of the singers are professionals. Interestingly, our guide told us that both her and her husbands parents were communists, so neither she nor her husband were baptized, but they had had their children baptized. Despite the family background, she expressed her pleasure at the changes since perestroika and was quite open about such matters as saying that that shipyard over there builds submarines, but of course it is a state secret!
We then were taken on a boat ride in the canals and the Neva River which gave us a different perspective on the city. We then went to the Church of the Spilled Blood which has never been used as a place of worship, but is a memorial to Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated on this spot. The place where he fell is preserved and the building erected around it. It is very ornate inside and out.
We went to a bistro for lunch and had extremely tasty pies, both savoury and sweet. We then went to the Peter and Paul Fortress and saw the graves of the Romanov tsars, including a memorial chapel which was built to house the recovered remains of the last tsar, his family, doctor and servants, all of whom were executed - murdered according to our guide - after the 1917 revolution. The fortress is quite a complex and includes the mint which is about two hundred years old and still in operation.
We then went to the Hermitage. One can only say that it is overwhelming. The building itself is a museum piece with ornate ceilings, unbelievably intricate inlaid floors - sometimes matching the ceilings, wall decorations, some rooms having several hundred kilos of gold used in gilding the pillars and other decorations.
After walking out in the square behind - or in front, depending on your viewpoint - of the Hermitage we returned to the ship, in the old saying, "tired, but happy". It was a very tiring two days, but we saw so much. Having a tour with eight people, our own van, which must have had about twenty seats, and a guide and driver was a really good experience. We had heard about lines at the various sights, but we never had to line up. We were taken right in wherever we went. In Museums she guided us through crowds to the pieces she wanted to show us. She rearranged the schedule to accommodate the weather - which was excellent today - and generally went out of her way to make our tour as easy as possible.
We got our journal updated and relaxed before dinner which again was a really good meal with good conversation.
After wards we sat and listened to the Neptunes, the a capello group who were again very good. We retired for the night looking forward to a day in Tallinn Estonia.