Thursday, 27 September 2018
So we made it to St. Petersburg yesterday evening after a morning farewell to Odessa, on the shores of the beautiful Black Sea. Our routing to Russia took us after that through Minsk in Belarus (you cannot fly direct at the moment due to the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev).
We had a tight schedule in Minsk and a very quick stopover . More than one traveller commented on how Russia and Ukraine were not the sort of countries one should travel through without a seasoned guide. I agree!
But we made it, and as we drove through the darkened and damp streets of early evening in St. Petersburg I could sense the jaws dropping among our gang of 15 (and 16 once we caught up with Mary at the hotel). There is a sheer monumentality to this city. It is, I think, without comparison as an Imperial city, though I suppose that Rome might have the same power for an earlier era.
We got to see a few more of St. Petersburg’s treasures this morning as Ilya, our bus driver drove us through the city toward the world-famous Hermitage. We then toured this remarkable art gallery merged into the grandest of all Romanov palaces. Special highlights for the group included an oriental clock given to Catherine the Great by Prince Potemkin (Khortitsa was founded on one of his estates), the madonas by Da Vinci, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt, along with his “Sacrifice of Isaac”, and then the Rubens, and then the ancient Egyptian treasures. And all of that is but a match for the stunning principal rooms of the Winter Palace.
We ate lunch in the casual cafe found on the Palace’s ground floor and then drove to the Peter Paul Fortress, the burial place of the Tsars. All in all it was a rich entry into this city.
After supper this evening Mary and I plan to take our group on a city bus down Nevsky Prospect for a walking tour of Palace Square, and the Moika River canal. There is beauty at every turn. I am biased, I know, but no understanding of Mennonite life in southern Ukraine is complete without a visit to this city (and to Moscow, soon). It is only here that you can truly grasp the deep connection and pride that Mennonites felt for this their homeland. And how tragic the 20th century would become.
Oh, and I’ve heard consistent praise on this tour for TourMagination’s careful selection of hotels on this tour. Our lodging here is no exception. It’s a gem, and a perfect launch-pad for Peter’s city.