Our second day in Saint Petersburg started fairly late. When we’d originally looked at the Baltic cruise itinerary we had fully intended to make the most of our two days in Russia but we quickly became bogged down with working out the best excursions for what we wanted to do. There was a 2-day option provided by Princess Cruises that would have seen us take in almost all of the main tourist draws on offer across back-to-back full days but we were conscious of the fact that we also wanted to attend the Russian ballet at the end of the first evening and this, coupled with the fact we’d have two port days prior to this (Sweden and Estonia) and another one straight afterwards (Finland) would mean we’d be not really getting much rest for five whole days and the two in Russia would be brutal in terms of time ashore. Subsequently, we decided to forego some interesting-looking places and experiences on this trip in order to both leave us something to return for and to give us a bit of a rest by choosing a riverboat excursion that started late in the morning.
It should be noted at this point (and I’ll have mentioned this elsewhere as well) that Princess obviously weren’t the only options for excursions in this (or any other) port. Many other companies provide excursions that are very similar or even identical in some cases and you can probably get some unique options through these third parties or even get tailored experiences. In addition, it is possible to do your own thing in Russia but that does require arranging your own visa (not that cheap) and transport and entry fees, etc., not to mention be responsible for yourself getting back to the ship. Some people prefer to save money where they can but we’re more interested in seeing what we want to see and getting a feel for a place so we tend to use the ship’s excursions when we first visit a new place in order to not have any additional worries about being left behind or misunderstanding the local customs or public transport system.
After some much-needed sleep following the late return from the ballet we got up late, had a leisurely breakfast, then met our coach and group for the short drive to Nevsky Prospect. The coach parked as close as it could but it still left us a few minutes of walking up the famous Saint Petersburg thoroughfare to where we would board our boat on the Moyka River roughly opposite the Stroganov Palace.
If I can I always like to sit at the back whenever we do boat trips so that I can both not get in anyone’s way when I’m taking photographs and also make sure my fellow tourists are in some shots as it’s nice to lend a human element to a series of pictures of places. As luck would have it I got my preferred spot right at the back on the starboard side.
As we headed off up the river we almost immediately needed to pass under Nevksy Prospect but due to the number of boats there the engine was mostly idling and the boat started to drift to the right. The bridge had arched supports and that along with the height of the boat and my position on the outside meant I was suddenly having to lean into my wife to avoid hitting my head on the girders as the space above rapidly vanished; another tall passenger ahead of me was doing the same. There was some discussion in Russian between our guide and the boat operators after which she turned to us and said this was all part of the trip and there was nothing to worry about. Not entirely sure I believe that but no harm done, and a couple of minutes later we were clear and proceeding once again.
We turned left into the Winter Canal which passed by the Winter Palace of the Hermitage museum (that we’d visited the previous day) and under the Hermitage Bridge.
It was along here that we became aware that we were being followed. Not by another boat or anything on the water but rather by a young man on foot. We’d seen him wave to us from the first bridge we passed under and as we came to this next one he was there again returning any waves sent his way. It would turn out that he would run along and ahead of us for the entirety of the boat trip in Saint Petersburg mostly waving from bridges but occasionally performing acrobatics in front of us or along the embankments too.
From the canal we emerged onto the Neva River. Our boat headed to the right allowing us to see views of Vasilyevsky Island in our wake and the State Hermitage on our starboard side, both of which we’d been to on the preceding day. To the port side could be seen the tall, gold tower of the Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the locations we decided to skip visiting on this trip to Russia.
We were treated to a glass of champagne as our boat made its way along the Neva, passing by the Marble Palace and under the Troitskiy Bridge.
Not far beyond the bridge we turned right onto the Fontanka River. The buildings along this stretch of the riverboat excursion were mostly palaces or other large buildings formerly belonging to Russian nobility. Architecturally, there was a lot to admire along the banks of the river.
We continued down the Fontanka passing numerous museums until just past the Fabergé Museum at the Anichkov Bridge.
At this point our boat turned around and started making our way back up the stretch of the Fontanka we’d already done. The weather had been very pleasant but still mostly overcast until we’d moved off the Neva when the sun had started to make more of an appearance. As we had been heading southwards quite a few photo opportunities were missed because of glare but I had the chance to make amends now that we’d reversed course and I’ll never pass up a chance for a second (or third) photo of somewhere anyway.
I was quite happy to spot a woman posing for photos along the water’s edge for the other couple she was with as photographing photographers and people posing for them is something I often find myself doing whenever I’m travelling; it’s almost become a tradition now. It wasn’t until I saw the photos properly that I realised just how revealing her top had been. Honest.
It wasn’t just boats like those we were on that were travelling the waterways of Saint Petersburg. We saw quite a few speedboats too and at this point one came under a bridge at a fair rate of knots.
Back To The Moyka River
The Summer Palace marked the northernmost end of the Fontanka where it rejoined the Neva but just before that was what we thought was just another canal. This turned out to be where the Moyka River connected to the Fontanka. Had we not turned onto the Winter Canal at the start of our riverboat excursion this would be where we would have ended up and this was where we now turned into.
As we travelled westwards along the Moyka now we passed between the Field of Mars on one side and the Mikhailovksy Garden on the other. This green area of Saint Petersburg was very pleasing to drift gently through and there were plenty of people along both banks of the river enjoying the sun or art that was on show or even just staring at us on the river.
Passing the Higher School of Folk Arts we caught a glimpse of the Church Of The Saviour On Spilled Blood that we’d not only visited the day before but, it would turn out, would also visit again after the boat ride in order to take some more pictures. No complaints from me there, especially with the improvement in weather conditions.
The Imperial Stables were to have been the next point of interest but there were a load of boards covering most of the face of the building.
We continued around the Moyka, gradually curving to the south, passing the Winter Canal again and starting to retrace our initial portion of the excursion. I’d not taken a great many photos of the buildings along this stretch initially as it had been my intention to film large portions of the boat trip but my video camera had decided to play up and and I’d abandoned it in favour of just my camera; the lighting was better now anyway so I was more than content to snap away at any museums, shops, architecture in general, or people I saw.
One other nice thing was just how many people in addition to our running companion smiled or waved from the bridges; even those who it seemed must be locals based on their attire seemed to be occasionally captivated by the presence of a boat of people chugging along underneath. Maybe the people of Saint Petersburg are just really, really nice. I’ve certainly no evidence to the contrary.
Back under Nevsky Prospect we passed by where we’d initially embarked on our boat ride and turned around ready to get off. There was a short delay here as a queue of riverboats were either dropping people off or setting off on their own trips.
We ended up pulled alongside another boat so completing the excursion involved leaving our boat then walking through another one and onto dry land. At the top of the steps our young man who had entertained us (and probably many locals and other tourists too) was waiting for us and accepted any small change pressed into his hands. I think he did pretty well out of us. There seemed to be a group of boys who possibly took it in turns to earn a little bit of money and keep themselves really fit by tracking tour boats; completely unofficial but I can’t help but approve of it.
Is It Worth Doing?
The boat trip was one and a quarter hours long. We had absolutely lovely weather and good commentary from our guide, not to forget great local entertainment from our boy on the bridges. The excursion included a glass of fizz too which made it something after which we could say “Oh yes, I’ve sipped champagne while boating down the Neva in Saint Petersburg, don’t you know?” You never know when that might come in handy. My wife and I are always happy on boats (it’s one of the reasons we cruise, after all) so this particular excursion was just perfect for us and I’d very much recommend it if you’re visiting the city. There seemed to be quite a number of tour operators and types of boat operating on the rivers and doubtless there are other routes that could be taken but this one seemed to be just right.
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