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27th May – 2nd June 2008

Our party of twenty hikers is just returned from this incomparable city on the edge of the Gulf of Finland. ”Vi Admittedly hiking is not something usually associated with this aquatic city but an ability to do so was certainly needed as we walked extensively to visit the sites of the city. Never should you be persuaded other than to stay in the centre of the town as distances both inside and outside of buildings are considerable, and should not be aggravated by staying in some hotel in a usually hideous suburb.

The centre cheap jerseys China of St Petersburg during the “White Nights” is another real bonus as you can cram so much into your (extended) days. On leaving the theatre at 11pm there is no compunction to scuttle off to bed as outside it is as bright as morn, and indeed after a tasty supper still bright at 1am. The downside is that you are up again six hours later ready for another event-packed day. It is inevitable that this begins to catch up with you after a few days non-stop cultural activity.

There was certainly plenty of the latter on offer, ranging from afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel d’Europe to the inevitable visit to the Hermitage Museum. Inevitable, for no visit to St Petersburg is complete without a call on this vast conglomeration of buildings which impresses its bulk on the centre of the city either when seen from the Neva or from Palace Square. The interior is thronged (unfortunately) with a superabundance of people just as the cabinets and walls are replete with every conceivable work of art from Rembrandt to a pin-cushion (usually jewelled). But a visit is a kind of rite-of-passage for the novice visitor for the palace gives an inkling for the new visitor of the vast scale and variety of Russia.

A more intimate visit was to the jewel collection. Where else on earth can you pore over exquisite gold objects from the 6th century BC, diamond-studded boxes from the 18th century AD and a miniature representation of the Crown Jewels by Carl Fabergé? It is the profligate use of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and precious metals which sticks in the mind. How more extravagant can you be when your horse blanket is studded with diamonds and your harness with emeralds?

By way of light relief we reeled out of the Hermitage to enjoy the rather less overwhelming delights of the theatre. This is not to say that the cheap jerseys theatre proved a disappointment for nothing could be further from the truth, but at least in the (gilded) splendour of the Mariinsky Theatre we were spared the glare of too many diamonds. There is nothing further to be said of the excellence of the performances at this theatre. Some saw Swan Lake, some attended the Gala Evening in this the home of the Kirov company. All were unanimous in their enthusiasm, if not a little taken aback by the cost of the drinks at interval-time!

Our visit to the Fortress of St Peter and Paul was something of a surprise. In full raucous swing was a Festival of Children. We inched our way on to the island and duly made our way through the throng of neon-clad masses to the Rooms church. Can there be a greater musical contrast between Gregorian of chant and Paul Jones singing “Do-wa-diddy-diddy-dum-diddle-dum”? I suspect not. But such was the anthem that heralded our visit to the Tombs of the Czars. Fortunately their imperial rest was not disturbed by this cacophony and we saw the tombs in due solemnity. How to leave the island? There were a few disinterested officials, (police perhaps?) in flying-saucer hats standing around smoking whilst thousands of pedestrians milled about. No direction, and certainly the possibility of a long stay on the bus. But no! Elena our excellent guide leapt from the bus and was soon directing the policemen what to do and we were able to depart for our lunch. Perhaps a new career awaits her.

Outside the city we glided across the Gulf of Finland to visit Peterhof, where the fountains plashed and glittered (more gold leaf) and the palace once again staggered everyone not just by its size but by its opulence, dramatically contrasted by the panelled domesticity of the rooms of Peter the Great. In our egalitarian world it is inconceivable that anyone should live in such extravagant surroundings. Each royal palace is more splendid than the last, even “modest” little Pavlovsk or the rural Cottage Palace leave you astonished at the age which would consider such buildings a necessity. Our guide at the palace of Pavlovsk and at Tsarskoe Selo was the irrepressible Alexei Leporc, a Curator in the Department of Western Art in the Hermitage. Alexei has lectured all over the world on various aspects of Western Art. He wears his considerable knowledge lightly, enhanced by a delightful and irreverent sense of humour. Likewise our guide Elena, was everything and more that a guide should be. Always patient, always smiling and as full of knowledge of the city that she so clearly loves, as any tourist could wish for.

Our visit to the city of St Petersburg is now wholesale jerseys over, and after six uninterruptedly sunny days by the banks of the Neva we are back to the dampness of “Flaming June” in England. All good things come to an end… and so do sore feet!

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