Friday, June 25, 2010

DAY 2 - Catherine's Palace - The Hermitage


Syl and I went on a little tour of the boat before dinner – thank heaven for the lift because the stairs are steep and sharp and I don’t think I’d have managed them without some serious heavy breathing!

I had a Virgin Mary (the works with no vodka) in the Sky Bar before dinner and Syl had a Russian Cranberry Juice. This is a bar at the back of the boat (stern) with an open sun deck beyond it. Most of the debriefings and lectures will take place here.    At dinner we sat with two ‘Brendas’ from England and an Australian couple. The menu was much better than we thought it was going to be and I over-ate as usual!
For Rene: Tomorrow I’m going to do all my Pushkins!
Today was a heavy breathing day and a ‘Rushin’ day – rushin from one bus to the next!
We were taken to Catherine’s Winter Palace, now the Heritage museum. The museum has over 1000 rooms and over 3m exhibits so we only got to do and see a very few of those. The art collection was amazing and there was even an exhibition of Picasso but we were not allowed to take photographs of those – such a pity.
We could take photographs in the general areas but  with no flash.

Tonight we can go to the ballet – Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky – but, we were told that the theatre is very old, doesn’t have elevators and we have to climb stairs. I’m still thinking about that one!
Dinner is early tonight (because of the ballet) so the boat is arranging for snacks at 11pm! Sunset is at 11:25 so I suppose that isn’t too outrageous!

We are going to go and have a cocktail now, and some more to eat!

The cocktail bars are up on the top deck. Cocktails of the day were ‘White Nights for €5 or a Matrioshka – non alcoholic) for €3. Most of the other drinks, soft or alcoholic were around €2.50 but the whiskey, brandy etc are a little more, from about €5 - €6. The dinner menu was good – a large salad bar for a starter (which was great for the three vegetarians at our table) and then every course offered a vegetarian alternative. I had a veg lasagne – not your run-of-the-mill lasagne, this was beautifully presented (wish I’d taken a photo – will start from now on) and the desserts were also presented with strawberry and cream decorations. The chef has been with Viking for nearly 8 years and his food presentation is superb.  Like this vegetable tureen with yoghurt-chive sauce.
Our cabin is very comfortable with two single beds, side tables, bedside lamps, dressing table with cupboards and drawer, a safe, small fridge, wardrobe and an en-suite shower, toilet, basin.
The wondows are large and can be opened (unlike sea going cabins that often have port-holes).
Our beds are very narrow and I warned Patty not to turn too fast in case she fell out of bed! The cabins are air-conditioned but they were so cold I turned it down before we went to sleep. curtains are lined with black-out fabric and just as well, as the sunsets here are only at 11.24pm!! If we’d come any later in the year we would have had the mid-night sun!
The Breakfast has two buffets – one with continental meats, breads, croissants, preserves etc and the other with fruits, yoghurts, cereals, eggs and sausages, bacon, toast etc.  You can also order extras from the menu like omlettes, grilled tomato, French toast etc. 
At 9h30 we attended a safety talk in the Sky Bar on what to do if the ship caught on fire or someone fell overboard. She said that the ship can’t sink – but that’s what was said about the Titanic!  There are life-vests in our cabin closets and we were shown how to use them. Patty said that if the boat catches fire I must just throw her overboard and save myself!

But, the water is never more than 15m deep so I suggested we take turns standing on each other's shoulders to get air! If the water doesn't get us the pollution probably will.

After lunch, before our bus tour, we were all given a picnic lunch box containing water, juice, banana, apple, two health-bar type sweets, packet of Lays chips, and a sandwich. There are 6 buses, each with its own tour guide and we have been allocated bus number 21.  Our guide is Mikhail (or Misha) who didn;'t look too pleased to have a wheelchair person on his bus and wasn't very helpful at all.  He was also rude to a couple on the bus and was sarcastic when they asked a few questions.  (We heard that they have asked to be moved to another bus).  Our visit today was to the Hermitage museum, the former Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. Mikhail told us that it wouldn't be worth taking Patty inside because the only lift in the building wasn't working. We decided to go in anyway and keep to the lower floor exhibits. When the rest of the group walked up the stairs we continued on looking through the rooms on the ground floor. And then we came to the lift - which was working! We went up to the first floor and walked through the never ending, interleading rooms.
 What an amazing museum – such opulence and excess. No wonder the peasants revolted against such wealth. I’ve never seen so much gold on ceilings with huge chandeliers and gold encrusted crockery, tableware, and furniture.  One room leads into the next and looking down the passageway is like looking at yourself in a mirror, reflected many times.
Many people told us that The Hermitage was on their bucket list and this is why they are doing the cruise.  Can you imagine trying to view all of the exhibits?  Just one minute looking at each one would take about 8 years!! 
We finally bumped into Mikhail who didn't look too surprised to see us and just said, "Oh, you found us!"  I don't think he can be bothered with people with disabilities.  Patty and I have decided that we will go on the excursions that are part of the trip and if she can't get into a building, so be it but we are not going to let us put us off.

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