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and the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as the centre of Russian culture. Often called the Venice of the North, it is built on numerous islands on the River Neva and criss-crossed by bridges and canals, lined with 18th


century palaces. As


with Moscow, we had three full days to explore – but that’s barely time to scratch the surface of this jewel-box of a city, filled with hidden gems. We started with St Isaac’s Cathedral and, of course, the Hermitage. One of the world’s greatest art galleries, it is actually five buildings built by the Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. We sauntered down Nevsky Prospekt and


enjoyed a night at the ballet – Swan Lake, what else? Venturing a little further afield, we took the hydrofoil across to the Peterhof Gardens and its cascade of fountains built to rival Versailles.


n Pushkin (named for the poet), Catherine’s Palace was originally built by Empress Elizabeth but named in memory of her mother, Catherine. When it was completed, she extended an invita- tion to all the top European ambassadors to visit her “little toy” – as inappropriate a description as it’s possible to imagine given its size and artistry.


I


Catherine the Great, though, disliked the Russian baroque style and had it redesigned along neo-Classical lines. Painted blue and white, covered in gilt and reached via the massive Golden Gates, the palace is surrounded by formal French gardens and lyrical English parkland, complete with grottos and man-made lakes. Inside, there is a riot of white Carrera marble, gold leaf, precious porcelain


KEY TIPS


Follow on-board advice about where to do your shopping. If you’re interested in Russian crafts such as Matryoshka dolls, amber jewellery or lacquered boxes, there are very different qualities.


Buy amber in the wrong place, for instance, and it may turn out to be plastic – apparently, you can test this by holding a naked flame against it! Russian weather is unpredictable. Even in summer, you can have a heatwave one day and chilly rain the next. Pack for every eventuality but don’t bother with an umbrella as Uniworld provide one in your room. If you’re venturing off on your own in Moscow, the best way to travel is the Metro – cheap, fast, reliable (a train every minute) and built like a palace. A few words of Russian charm the


locals. Forgetting the Cyrillic, Spaseeba means ‘Thank you,’ Privyet is a casual ‘Hi’  and Da svidaniya is ‘Goodbye.’


Winter 2011-12 I WORLD OF CRUISING 65


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