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St Petersburg, Russia

Story written by Rick Archer
February 2013

As this fascinating overhead view of St. Petersburg makes clear, this amazing city was built right on top of a gigantic swamp.

The history of Russia is so interesting that I previously wrote a five chapter synopsis of Russian History.

To understand the story behind the creation Saint Petersburg, I highly recommend you read my two chapters on Peter the Great.

Chapter Two is a biography of Peter the Great, the founder of this great city.

Chapter Three tells the story of the Great Northern War and the founding of Saint Petersburg.  Obviously I am biased, but the history of Saint Petersburg is literally one of a kind.

One warning - the history of Russia is so amazing you will take a great risk if you read even ONE of the five chapters.  You could easily end up reading all five chapters.  So be careful!

As the map indicates, Saint Petersburg lies at the mouth of a massive watershed.  Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega respectively are the first and second largest lakes in Europe.  Both lakes drain their considerable waters into the Gulf of Finland via the Neva River. 

When Peter the Great first surveyed this area in 1700, this spot was nothing more than a river delta consisting of hundreds of small islands surrounded by water everywhere.  Nevertheless, this spot was the perfect place to build his long-coveted port to the West.  He wanted to build a city, but first he needed a fortress.  Russia was a poor, backwards country at the time with a weak army and no navy.  It occurred to Peter that among the few resources Russia had at the time was lots of dirt and plenty of serfs.

So Peter put the serfs to work carrying massive amounts of Russian soil into the area to create landfills.  By connecting all the various small islands together, slowly but surely four large islands and several smaller islands took form.  Finally there was enough landmass to begin building on. 

The Peter and Paul Fortress went up in a hurry.  Then construction of the city began.  Peter the Great had visited Amsterdam and modeled his new city on the canals used by the Dutch.  The mighty Neva River was tamed by enclosing its banks in high walls and giving it five different routes to reach the sea.

St. Petersburg was born in 1703.  This date marks the start of Russia's entry into world politics.  It also began three hundred years of expansion that would one day see Russia rival the USA for position as the mightiest country in the world.

Unfortunately, in many ways, Russia has been its own worst enemy.  Many people point to its bitter subjugation for three centuries under Mongol rule as the reason for a seeming inherent cruelty in the Russian ethos.  The evil displayed by Stalin and his successors during the Soviet era has been difficult to forget.

Thanks to a remarkable leader known as Mikhail Gorbachev who ended the Communist era in 1991, for the past 20 years, Russia has been trying to climb out of its anti-social shell.  Quite frankly, Russia still has a ways to go.  Russia is not exactly the most tourist-friendly country in the world.  I had advance warning that Russia was still a bit on the "cold side" if you know what I mean.

Unless Marla and I each purchased a very expensive $200 Russian visa well in advance of our trip, we were not allowed on Russian soil on our own.  This gave us no other choice but to sign up for an excursion sponsored by the cruise ship.  Now if we had signed up for a river tour in Russia or we were going to visit the country for any length of time, it would be worth the trouble and expense to get a Russian visa.  However for just a day trip, it was easier to simply sign up for a ship excursion. 

As it turned out, the Russian tour guide would also serve as a supervisor of sorts.  She would not only escort us around the city, she was supposed to keep an eye on us. 

Unfortunately, Tatiana, our own tour guide, somehow lost count of us and spent the rest of the day counting heads like crazy trying to figure out her mistake.  She had one more person than ticket.  At one time on the bus, she begged us all to check our pockets for a missing ticket. 

At the time I wondered why she was so nervous, but later I realized how much trouble she could be in for letting someone sneak in.  They definitely did NOT want dangerous "undocumented" cruise ship passengers like us wandering through their city to steal State secrets and treasures.  After all, everyone knows the CIA loves to smuggle in its spies using cruise trips.  So efficient and so pleasurable.

Now that I think about it, there was evidence of lingering paranoia every place I visited.  As I left the ship, I asked one of the ladies who was involved with getting people to the right bus if I could take her picture.  The woman turned pale as a ghost and said, "WHY??" in a frightened voice. She covered her face as if I was a monster and immediately half-walked, half-ran away.

I have never had that happen before.  There is obviously a lingering fear that still pervades this country.

In the morning Marla and I visited Peterhof, Peter the Great's amazing estate.  Peterhof is located 25 miles away outside of town.  It took us nearly an hour both ways by bus to get there.

In the afternoon we visited the Hermitage, Catherine the Great's famous art museum.  The Hermitage is located along the banks of the Neva River across the river from Peter and Paul Fortress.  A Red X marks the spots for Peterhof and the Hermitage.

Before I begin the story of our visits, I would like to remind everyone that Marla wrote an extensive Travel article on the highlights of St. Petersburg complete with pictures.  If you would like to read the details of her research, please visit
Marla's Description of Saint Petersburg.

Now let's start with some pictures of the famous landmarks of Saint Petersburg.

South front of Catherine's Winter Palace

Mikhailovsky Castle


Vasilevsky Island, the Neva River, and Neva Bay in the background

Smolny Cathedral


St Nicholas Cathedral

Monument to Peter the Great

Cathedral of the Resurrection


Russia had a leader named Alexander II whose life had some strange parallels to our own Abraham Lincoln. This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881.

This beautiful church has two names: Cathedral of the Resurrection and Our Savior on the Spilled Blood.

Tsar Alexander II assumed power in 1855.  Following the wake of Russia’s disastrous defeat in the Crimean War against Britain, France and Turkey, he initiated a number of reforms.

In 1861 Alexander II freed the Russian serfs (peasants who were practically enslaved to their owners) from their ties to their masters and undertook a rigorous program of military, judicial and urban reforms, never before attempted in Russia.

However, during the second half of his reign, Alexander II grew wary of the dangers of his system of reforms.  Freeing the serfs was like opening Pandora's Box.  Centuries of hatred was released in the act.  The rich hated him and ironically some of the serfs hated him for not doing even more.  They wanted social reform NOW and had no patience.  Alexander II barely survived a series of attempts on his life, including an explosion in the Winter Palace and the derailment of a train.  

Then his luck ran out.  Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by a group of former serfs who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.  The shock felt by the Russian people over this assassination was equivalent to America's pain over the loss of Lincoln.  The desire for revenge on the serfs was overwhelming.  

Just as the North decided to punish the South for Lincoln's murder, a brutal repression of Russia's serfs began.  The bitterness and hatred that developed in Russian society never healed.  It created the tensions that eventually caused the Russian Revolution in 1917.

For a deeper explanation, go to my Road to Moscow story and scroll to the bottom.


Peter and Paul Fortress guarding the Neva River

St. Isaac's Cathedral


Angel of the Spire atop the Peter and Paul Church

Centerpiece for the Grand Cascade at Peterhof

Monument to Nicholas, St Isaacs Square


Panoramic view of the Grand Cascade at Peterhof

St. Isaac's Cathedral behind Catherine's Palace


Palace Bridge, Peter and Paul Fortress in the background

Palace Square and Catherine's Winter Palace (the Hermitage is here)


Our day began with seven different cruise ship in the waters of St. Petersburg.  I was able to photograph three of them.

Soon enough the Usual Suspects appeared.  That is Jess and Pat Carnes, Velma, Sandra, Marla w passport, and Susan.

Trailing 10 minutes behind the rest of us was Marsha.  This late start was indicative of her day.  Marsha got into trouble all day long.  At the end, she got so lost at the Hermitage that she had to return to the ship with another tour group. 

The Russian customs agents did not smile and they viewed everyone with supreme suspicion.  Consequently I decided NOT to take their picture.  Let's not give anyone a reason to suggest I visit a Russian jail.

Sandra and Marsha.  Nice smiles, ladies!

Marla and Velma.  Nice smiles, ladies!

The lady in green is Tatiana, the tour guide who lost count of us. Since Marsha was late, she was not put on our bus.  Here Marsha and Sandra are trying to persuade the lady in black to add Marsha to our group.  Marsha was eventually allowed to join us, but I believe this is where the mix-up in the passenger count took place.  For some reason the Tatiana decided I was the one at fault.  That figures.  I get blamed for everything.

Our bus trip was very frustrating.  I was forced to take pictures of famous St. Petersburg sights such as the Saint Nicholas Cathedral from the bus through the tinted glass windows.  I wish we could have stopped a few times. We asked Tatiana to stop, but we were told "it is not permitted".  In the end, I bought a postcard package of St. Petersburg highlights.  Too bad I didn't get to see them in person.



The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens located in Saint Petersburg. It was laid out on the orders of Peter the Great.  These lavish palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles".  This is no surprise considering Peter modeled his estate on the previous work of the French.

Peter ascended to the throne as a teenager.  However, he wasn't interested in running the country just yet.  So he decided to let his mother run the country while he took an 18 month grand tour of Europe during 1697-1698. 

Peter was both exhilarated and depressed by what he saw and learned.  He was appalled to discover how backwards his own country was compared to countries like France, England, Germany, and Holland.  One of his main discoveries was the importance of having a navy for trade and defense.

Upon his return to Russia, he was determined to modernize his country.  However, he didn't have time for originality.  So he copied Amsterdam when he built St. Petersburg and he copied France's Versailles which had been built about 20 years earlier.


Here is our first look at the Peterhof estate.  Wow.  Then someone said those spires are made of solid gold. Double Wow!

Although I definitely agree the spires sure look like gold, I am skeptical.  I am not positive they are solid gold.  Does someone know the answer?  My Internet search came up empty.

The Nazis undoubtedly took all the original gold when they seized Peterhof during the siege of Leningrad during WW II. (Note: "Leningrad" was the name for St. Petersburg during the Communist era.)  Although the Russians restored the damage immediately following the war's end, it seems likely they would use a gold substitute to rebuild those spires. 


Not much of a picture, but there is a story behind it.  They were so protective of this place that we all had to take our shoes off and wear special socks.  We were not permitted to take pictures inside the Peterhof.  There were several female guards in every room to make sure we didn't.  They did not smile and they did not take their eyes off anyone.  I saw this room and took a furtive picture from my hip.  Just then a guard appeared and stared right at me with a frown.  I died a million deaths!! 

Although the guard said nothing, I was so shaken that I didn't try that trick again.  I decided that there were pictures on the Internet, so that seemed a safer strategy.  Sure enough, I found this picture and several more on the Internet. 

Here is their Grand Ballroom.  Very beautiful.  From what I gather, the Germans looted the palace of many valuable pieces of artwork during the siege of Leningrad. What a shame.


The entire interior was styled on the French.

Peter's office.


Of course my question is why were these guys allowed to take pictures and I wasn't?


This stunning area is at the back of the Peterhof.  That water in the distance is Neva Bay.  All those gold figures turn into fountains sometime around 10 or 11 am.  When this occurs, the phenomenon is known as "The Grand Cascade".  Here people are lined up in anticipation. The Grand Cascade is modeled on a similar display constructed for Louis XIV at his Château de Marly near Versailles, France.

The 900-day Siege of Leningrad was undoubtedly the darkest time for this city.  Encircled by the Germans in September 1941, the city never surrendered and it was never conquered.  However the people paid a terrible price.

Starvation and lack of heating caused the city to lose 800,000 people out of a population of 3 million.  The suffering was unbelievable.

During this time, Peterhof was captured by German troops in 1941 and held until January, 1944. In the few months that elapsed between the outbreak of war in the west and the appearance of the German Army at their doorsteps, employees were only able to save a portion of the treasures of the palaces and fountains.

An attempt was made to dismantle and bury the fountain sculptures, but three quarters, including all of the largest ones, remained in place. The occupying forces of the German Army largely destroyed Peterhof.  Many of the fountains were destroyed, and the palace was partially exploded and left to burn.  This totally unnecessary damage only added to the deep hatred the Russians held for the Nazis. 

As you will see, the Russians had their own form of revenge.  We will get to that shortly.

Fortunately restoration work began almost immediately after the end of the war and continues to this day.  As a result, much of the building and statuary in Peterhof has been restored and new gilt-work abounds.

In 2003, Saint Petersburg celebrated its 300th anniversary.  The building of Saint Petersburg in 1703 was one of Peter the Great's most notable achievements.  The defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War made it possible for Russia to gain its first access to the Baltic Sea.  In this sense, Peter's Grand Palace is a Russian trophy that symbolizes the imperial expansion and modernization of Russia.

In the 1730s, the large Samson Fountain was placed in this pool.

The fountain depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion (see above).

It symbolizes Russia's victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War.

The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Samson's Day. That is a 65 foot vertical jet of water shooting upwards from the lion's mouth 

This masterpiece by Mikhail Kozlovsky was looted by the invading Germans during the Second World WarA replica of the statue was installed in 1947. 


This picture gives some idea of the huge throngs that gathered around the fountain to take pictures and get a better view.  I tried very hard to get close enough for some good pictures, but it was impossible.  Finally I gave up and made the same decision I made inside...
I would go to the Internet when I got home and get a good picture there.  Sure enough, worked like a charm.

I got separated from the group while trying to get my pictures.  Our tour guide Tatiana had a fit with my wanderings.  She wanted everyone to stay in a tight knit group so I got chewed out when I returned to the group.  I tried to explain the importance of getting good pictures, but Tatiana was definitely unhappy with me.

Our second run-in came as we were going to lunch.  Tatiana wanted to know where my green tour sticker was.  Well, it was on my Houston Rockets pullover that I left back on the bus because it was warm now.  Tatiana didn't believe me.  Right in front of the group she chewed me out for not having my sticker.

For a second I thought I would have to go back to the bus and get the sticker to prove I belonged. Tatiana did not back down till the group assured her I belonged with them.  It was these two incidents that convinced Tatiana that I must be responsible for causing her to lose someone.  Wrong.  It was Marsha's fault.  Marsha was the CIA spy, not me.  Don't shoot me, shoot her! 


Here is yet another part of the vast Peterhof estate.  Maybe this is the guest house.  There just wasn't enough time to see it all.  This place was a mile wide and over half a mile deep. 

Here is our friend Tatiana the tour guide looking befuddled as usual.  I have little doubt she is still trying to figure out why she is missing a tour ticket for one person. 

This aerial view of Peterhof does a good job of conveying the immensity of the estate.  I might add this picture fooled me.  It shows the Grand Cascade in front and the magnificent tailored gardens in back complete with a large body of water.  I wondered if the water at the back of the picture was Neva Bay.  Was I turned around?  I had to go to Google Earth to figure it out.  The Grand Cascade is indeed in the BACK of the estate and that canal brings water from Neva Bay to the fountain.  The water on the other side is a lake named Olgin Prud.

After Peterhof, it was lunch time in this giant dining hall back in the city.

Marla isn't smiling because she is really hungry.  I spent most of my lunchtime begging for extra shots of vodka.  Yum!


We were forced to wait in line at the Hermitage for at least half an hour.  With seven cruise ships in the harbor, there were at least 15,000 tourists spread throughout the city.

I was fairly certain 14,000 of them visited the Hermitage at the same time we did.  Marla agreed.  She said the lines to the ladies room were even longer than the lines outside. 



The Hermitage

From what I gather, the Hermitage is St. Petersburg's most popular visitor attraction.  Personally, I enjoyed Peterhof more, but I could see why the Hermitage would be quite a draw. 

The Hermitage is one of the world's largest and most prestigious museums.  With over 3 million items in its collection, there is everything from Impressionist masterpieces to fascinating Oriental treasures.  One estimate has it that you would need eleven years to view each exhibit on display for just one minute. Consequently visitors prefer to attend a guided tour to ensure they have time to catch all the collection's highlights.

Catherine the Great ruled in the latter half of the 1700s.  She founded the Hermitage in 1764. Catherine loved art and made collecting it her hobby of sorts.  Catherine bought artwork en masse from various European aristocrats who needed money more than they needed their valuable artwork. 

Her collection was embellished by each of her successors.  It became a pet project of the Romanovs to add to the work of their illustrious predecessor.  The Hermitage benefitted greatly from the fact that the works of the French Impressionists weren't quite as expensive back in the 1800s as they are today.

The greatest growth spurt occurred at the end of World War II.  Shortly before the Siege of Leningrad began in 1941, the Russians were able to smuggle away the most important pieces of art.  Two trains with a considerable part of the collection were evacuated to Yekaterinburg in the Ukraine (the same city where Nicholas and Alexandra and their family were murdered).

Although the Germans were able to capture Peterhof on the outskirts of the city, they were unable to loot the remaining Russian art treasures in the Hermitage thanks to the refusal of the Russian people inside the city to surrender.

At the end of the war Russia turned the tables on the Germans.  By reaching Berlin well in advance of the Allies, Bolshevik confiscations and Red Army seizures in conquered Germany massively enriched the Hermitage collection. 

As one might guess, this is a sensitive topic still today.  The Germans want their art back.  On the other hand, the Russian point of view is that Germany ransacked Russia art for five years and destroyed 500 museums in the process.  After looting many thousands of art treasures from the Soviet Union, Russia can hardly be blamed for looting in return after Germany lost the war.

Russia wouldn't mind exchanging stolen cultural treasures, but a lot of what the Nazis took is now in private hands.  Meanwhile the Germans estimate that 500,000 stolen artworks, books and archives remain in Russia. Naturally the Russians say about the same number were looted by the Nazis.  Stalemate.

Considering the devastation caused by the Nazis, if I were a German, I wouldn't be holding my breath awaiting any returns.   Considering how much of Russia was destroyed by Nazi invasion and 20 million people died during the war, Russia is not in much of an obliging mood.  I am not a big fan of Russia, but I can certainly see their point on this issue.  Spoils of war.

There were several lessons I learned during this visit.  I learned that I liked the statues a lot.  

The next thing I learned was that I was supposed to turn my camera flash off.  Apparently each flash does some sort of microscopic damage to the pictures.  I did not learn this till late in the day when one of the monitors hissed at me.  Oops.

The collection is incredibly varied.  It ranges from Egyptian antiquities, Greek statues, and Siberian artifacts to Italian Renaissance and Dutch classics.  Perhaps the most impressive part of the collection are the post-impressionist masterpieces by Matisse and Picasso.  Also featured are works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cézanne , Sisley, Morel, and Degas.

Unfortunately I am not much on art history, so no doubt I walked right past some of the greatest pieces of art imaginable and had no idea what I was missing.  In addition, I have no idea who did most of the pictures because I was too stupid to photograph the artist's name sitting beside the picture.  

I also learned that I prefer history to art.  My favorite section was the art related to the events of Catherine's reign.  When the paintings of the tsars and generals of Catherine's era appeared, I got all sorts of goosebumps.  I had spent considerable time studying Russian history from the time of Peter the Great through Napoleon's invasion of Russia.  Suddenly I saw paintings of these historical figures and grinned broadly.  My heroes!!

Catherine the Great, Founder of the Hermitage


Notice the guard sitting at attention.  There were often two to a room.

Here is an example of a picture I liked, but forgot to get the artist's name.  I have no idea who painted it. 

Here is an example of how using a flash damages the painting. Not only does the flash ruin the picture's appearance, according to Wikipedia, the light from a flash/strobe has a high concentration of UV light. This decomposes the pigments used in paints and dyes by fading and bleaching them over time.

Later I learned to stop using the flash.  I was relieved to find I could still get a pretty good picture.  Incidentally, the light in this picture is merely a reflection of the light in the ceiling above.  And who exactly drew this picture?  Beats me.  I still had not learned the need to photograph the artist's name.

Don't ask.  I don't know anything.

Don't ask.  I don't know anything.

The name of the artist was part of the picture so I was able to trace this one.

"Thomas Wharton" was painted by Anthony Von Dyck. So who is Thomas Wharton?  Some English nobleman who was despised.  He demolished the entire town of Wharton simply because it marred his view of the valley.


Camille Pisarro, "Sunny Afternoon"... this was the first painting where I thought to photograph the name of the artist.

Ferdinand Roybet, "Odalisque"

By Charles somebody, "Constantine the Great"

Paul Cezanne, "Large Pine near Aix"

Claude Monet, "Garden in Bordighera"

Vincent Van Gogh, "Bush"


Now we get to my favorite part. Take a wild guess who this is.

Peter the Great ruled from 1682-1725.  Russian history is divided into two sections - Before Peter and After Peter.  Too bad he was such a thug.  Peter murdered his own son!

Peter was succeeded by this nutcase known as Anna.  She was his niece.  Anna ruled from 1730-1740.  She was basically a pretender to the throne.  One day her cousin Elizabeth, the actual daughter of Peter, decided she had enough. She told Anna to leave.  Poof!  Russia had a new Empress.

This is Elizabeth.  Known for her great beauty, Elizabeth restored dignity to the leadership of Russia.  She ruled from 1741 to 1762.  Elizabeth brought dancing and the Grand Ball to Russia.  She wore five dresses a day, but never the same one twice.  Elizabeth never married and left no heir. 

This clod is Peter.  There were all sorts of things wrong with him.  He took over when his aunt the Empress Elizabeth died.  He only ruled for six months.  He made such a mockery that his wife Catherine had him murdered. 

Catherine was a nobody until she got her boyfriend to murder her husband.  The next you know, she's Catherine the Great!  It is very likely the Romanov bloodline was broken here.  You really should read the story I wrote about her.  It is very interesting!

Catherine was succeeded by her son Paul.  More than any other emperor in Russian history, Paul spent his entire life preparing to lead Russia.  But he made a mistake - he told his mother he was going to change her policies.  Five years into his reign he was killed.

This is the first Maria Fedorovna.  She was the wife of Paul, Catherine's ill-fated son.  After her husband Paul was assassinated, the next two tsars were her sons Alexander I and Nicholas I

This is Alexander I.  He became Tsar at a young age when powerful Russian boyars decided to have his father Paul assassinated.  Alexander was in another room at the time. Good story!

This is Louise, the wife of Tsar Alexander I, and her two children.  Alexander was Tsar when Napoleon went down to his stunning defeat.


This is Alexander Suvorov, the commander who served under Catherine the Great. He fought against Turkey's Ottoman Empire in the 1700s during a period of Russian expansion begun by Peter the Great.  One of the reasons Catherine was "Great" was due to having Suvorov lead her armies.  Suvorov retired undefeated at 63-0. Not bad!

My favorite part of the collection were these paintings of the war heroes from Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia.  I had just finished studying these guys before our trip.  This is Barclay de Tolly, the man who had the guts to stick to the scorched earth policy that brought the mighty French army to its knees. However, since the Russians starved too, de Tolly was despised.

Here is General Kutuzov, the man credited with handing Napoleon his first-ever defeat in a major campaign. Under Kutuzov's command, the Russian army fought the French Grande Armée at  Borodino to a draw. After burning Moscow, the French were trapped. The counter-attack pushed the French out of the Russian homeland.  This is an incredible story.  Road to Moscow

This is the Duke of Wellington, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the man who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.  After Waterloo, Wellesley tipped his hat to the Russians.  It was the Road to Moscow three years earlier that had started Napoleon's downward spiral.

Speak of the devil.  Yes, even Napoleon has his painting hanging in the Hermitage.  Napoleon had all of Europe except for England and Russia under his thumb.  No one dared make a move against him until his failed effort in Russia opened the door.

This is the second Maria Feodorovna.  She was the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, the man who was murdered in the Russian Revolution along with his wife Alexandra.  Russian history is so fascinating!  I again invite everyone to read my 5 chapter History of Russia


Tatiana and Marsha the Spy

If you look, Jess is standing next to the wall and his wife Pat in blue is taking a picture. Can you see Marla waving to me?  Velma is in red with the black hat right next to Marla.

You can also see Marsha the Spy staring up at me.  Marsha needed a cover story to explain her disappearance at the Hermitage.  You know and I know what Marsha was really doing, but it would be dangerous to write about it.  To cover her tracks, Marsha claimed she was badly lost during our visit.  Considering how crowded it was and how easy it was to lose track of the group, Marsha's disappearance was a plausible enough story.

There is our tour guide Tatiana with her #16 sign.  Tatiana was fairly worthless all day long.  I found it interesting that her knowledge of Russian history and my knowledge clashed on several occasions. For example, Tatiana told some preposterous tale of how Tsar Peter III was removed in a bloodless coup.

Nonsense.  His wife Catherine the Great had her boyfriend assassinate him.  I concluded that Russian history was still being whitewashed and sanitized here in Russia.  That's probably a good thing because nearly 33% of all the Tsars were murdered and 33% of the other Tsars murdered someone else to remove them from the succession chain.  Pretty gruesome stuff. 

Tatiana had some sort of wireless listening device for us, but it didn't help.  She knew very little about the paintings at the Hermitage and who could understand her anyway with her accent and all the noise around us?  I decided to tune Tatiana out and just go look at whatever I found interesting.  I kept the listening device on simply to help keep track of the group's whereabouts.

This tactic made for some interesting moments. If I looked at a picture for one moment too long, it was easy for the group to disappear.  The moment the group turned a corner, the sound vanished.  I would be reading about a painting in a different part of the room only to hear the sound disappear.  I would look around in a panic.  Which way did they go?  There were crowds everywhere and four exits to every room.  Now I had to guess which exit they took.  If I guessed wrong, now I had to sprint back to the room where I lost them and try another door.

My frequent searches added some real excitement to my day.  Only one problem.  Now only did my behavior drive control-freak Tatiana nuts, it irritated Marla too because Tatiana invariably took out her frustration on Marla.  "Where's your husband?  Where did he go this time? Will you please keep him with us?"

Well, I always managed to find the group, but Marsha wasn't so lucky.  I think Marsha's downfall came when she went to the restroom. That was the last we ever saw of her at the museum.

From what I gather, going to the restroom was quite an adventure.  The restroom was down these stairs.  Marla told me a tale of some Japanese woman who kept letting her friends cut in line.  This is irritating enough when you are forced to wait longer, but it is especially maddening when you have to go.

The only reason Marla didn't get lost was she told me to position myself halfway between Tatiana and the women's restroom.  I could still barely hear Tatiana's voice this way. 

This was our Hansel and Gretel trick to keep from losing Marla the same way we lost Marsha.  Poor Marsha wasn't so lucky. She got stuck in the long line at the lady's restroom, lost audio contact with the group and never did find her way back.

Fortunately, Marsha did have a cell phone.  This saved her. Marsha and her friend Sandy were able to stay in contact.  However neither woman knew the vast Hermitage well enough to establish some sort of meeting point.  Marsha kept wandering around hoping to run into us.  No such luck.   Or so she says.

Once Marsha stumbled across another Royal Caribbean group exploring a different part of the museum, she begged the tour guide to give her a ride back to the ship.  This solution worked out just fine.  Marsha called Sandy back and said not to worry.

Jess, Pat, Tatiana, Marla, Velma, and Marsha the Spy

The Hermitage was ridiculously crowded. 
Every room was full of wall to wall people.

Here we have Rick, Marsha, Sandra, Marla, Velma, Susan, Jess, Pat.  I am holding onto Marsha so she doesn't get lost while we are taking the picture. 

Next Story: Tallinn, Estonia

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