You may not agree with their politics, but when it comes to palaces, the Russians know a thing or two about how to do things right. St. Petersburg was not exactly a place I had on my radar as a travel destination this year, but when I saw that it was on our itinerary for our Baltic Cruise with Princess Cruises, I have to admit... I was intrigued. Better yet, this was a port that Princess had decided to start testing out as an 'overnight' destination. Which meant we got to enjoy an evening in the city which was actually pretty magical...
In most of the ports we visited on this cruise, we opted for a days on our own versus the planned excursions that you can purchase through the ship. In St. Petersburg, however, we didn't feel 100% thrilled about wandering around Russia on our own, and - to be honest - that wasn't really an option. As you can imagine, there are rules there and a guide was required at all times. So, we went big and booked a full two-day package that hit literally every major spot on the map, starting with Peterhof Palace.
The palace had a Versaille quality to it, especially in the gardens that stretched out as far as the eye could see. The stairs guided you down by these statues that are actually fountains that came to life a few times a day - it was quite a spectacle. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside (yes really).
The next stop on the tour was the Yusupov Palace. Basically this entire tour is palaces and museums, if you haven't already caught on! I really loved the interiors in this one...
Now if you're like me, you probably prefer to wander through museums and palaces at your own leisurely pace. But the benefit of an organized group like this is twofold. First: you get the full history lesson which I think always helps add some context (and drama!) to the tour. Second: you wake up insanely early and get to the palaces before the masses. This is of enormous importance, as we learned on our second day.
But before I jump ahead... it's time to talk about the highlight of our tour. The evening excursion!
After a full day, we went back to the ship to change for dinner. This portion is booked separately, so you could have opted for a night at the ballet (which I really wanted to do), you could just stay on the ship, but I have to say, I'm pretty sure we made the right decision.
Our excursion was an evening in Catherine's Palace. Imagine showing up to these gates, just one of maybe 100 people, feeling like royalty. We were greeted with vodka and caviar (of course!), as well as a live performance from the Royal Guardsmen Orchestra.
You can see the colors of the sunset reflecting in the glass - the timing was so perfect! Next, we went inside for a private tour of the palace. We didn't see everything, but what we did see was stunning.
If you haven't noticed, Russian royalty really enjoyed gilding in their residences. But the best part was at the end of the tour when we found ourselves in a ballroom bigger than a football field (ok, maybe not but it felt like it) with a private performance from a small symphony.
Complete with champagne, of course! I'm going to post a little video from this up on my instagram stories today so you can get a feel for how magical it actually was. After that, we were taken to a separate part of the grounds for a lovely dinner before heading back to the ship. Honestly, you guys, this was one of my favorite moments of the trip, and I certainly didn't expect that to happen in Russia! It was just surreal to be in a palace for an evening all on our own. This is the type of experience that you can only get with Princess, and it's why we love it!
But on to day two...
The Hermitage Museum is equally recognizable by size as it is the mint green facade. This place is massive, and I'm not exaggerating. This was our first stop of the day, and it's a good thing it was. We were there early - one of just a few tour groups allowed in before the everyday rush of people that descend on this place. The tour was long - so long that I stopped taking photos after a while and begged to get a cup of coffee, which thankfully could be found in the museum's lovely cafe. But don't worry, I still have plenty of photos...
An alternate hashtag to this entire trip could have been #lookup because, those ceilings. The amount of detail in every square inch of this place is mind blowing. I barely took any photos of the art because the rooms themselves really were the art for me!
Even with all the crazy amounts of gilding everywhere, it was possible to find moments like this that felt a bit more calm and untouched by time. This staircase is one of those moments that's going to get tucked away for inspiration.
I love this shot because there is no way in hell you'd be able to take a photo like this during normal museum hours. In fact, by the time we finished our tour we nearly got trampled on our way out the door because of the massive amounts of people. You can see the different colors of every room going down the hall... so beautiful.
The other parts of this trip included a riverboat tour that was a nice chance to be outside for a bit, and of course a few churches, but it was really the palaces and museums that blew me away and - of course - inspired me on an interiors level.
Princess has partnered with the Discovery Channel to create certain excursions that are 'Discovery Approved' and 'Discovery Exclusives' and both of these trips fell under that category. When in doubt, I highly recommend you book those! They are typically the most picturesque, regardless of the subject, and I have the massive amounts of photos to prove it. They also have many Unesco Heritage sites included in these excursions. It's the perfect opportunity to experience places (and palaces) in a way you wouldn't otherwise.
Any questions about our Russia trip? I'm happy to answer them! The next post we're doing will be answering all your cruise questions too, so if you're curious about life on a cruise ship, what it's really like, just leave a comment below!