by Hart Wiens, tour participant
This trip has been one of those “bucket list” activities for Ginny and me. We had long talked about visiting the country where our parents and several generations before them lived. Friends kept recommending the Russia Heritage Tour lead by Len Friesen. The tour and Len’s leadership have surpassed all expectations so far.
Today we visited Peterhof, the grand palace of Peter the Great. We took the hydrofoil, departing from the Neva river into the Gulf of Finland to the berth at the lower park of Peterhof. Our arrival was timed to catch the opening of the 64 fountains splashing all over the lower garden. The centerpiece is the large Samson Fountain gushing 20 metres into the air. It depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion and is meant to represent Russia’s victory over Sweden.
After appreciating the lower gardens, we toured the inside of the palace which has been restored after being demolished by the retreating German army after the WWII siege of St. Petersburg. The restoration has been done with great attention to detail and many original pieces have been incorporated. Of special interest for many of us was the depiction of Catherine the Great and her sleeping quarters. She was the queen who invited our ancestors to settle in Russia at the end of the 18th century. We finished the Peterhof visit with the tour of the upper gardens, also impressive, but without the fountains.
From Peterhof we took the bus back to the city, stopping at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery where thousands of Russians were buried in mass graves during the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), especially in 1942 & 43. This visit gave us a glimpse into the unfathomable suffering of the citizens of Leningrad during the siege which lasted almost 3 years. It was the longest and most destructive siege in human history and perhaps the costliest in terms of human casualties.
After a delicious supper a number of us went out for an evening of Russian folk music and dance presented by a very energetic troop of you Russian singers and dancers.