Staying in St. Petersburg

Tuesday, 16th July 2013

This morning we woke up to find ourselves in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We had actually been here before; in 1996 when we stayed here for three days as part of a tour of Russia, and in 2002 when we had an overnight port of call on board the Caronia.  Today was the first of a two-day (one night) stay and we were spending the first day just staying on the Black Watch.

The reason for our not going ashore today was because we hadn’t bothered to get an individual Russian visa.  They cost over 100 pounds each and we didn’t think it was worth getting one, particularly since we’d already been to St. Petersburg.  In any case, if you book an organised excursion and go ashore as part of a group from the ship, you can use the ship’s visa to do so, so that’s what we were going to do tomorrow.

Today, therefore, would just be spent pottering around on the ship.  We had intended having a swim in the pool, but the wind up on deck was really strong.  Although it was sunny, the wind must have been gale force, and it was not pleasant to be out on deck.  No wonder no-one was in the pool!

I decided therefore, to use the time to re-colour my hair.  I use the ‘Mystic Violet’ colour by L’Oréal Feria; as its name suggests it is a dark purple colour. Doing it myself is much cheaper than going to the salon.   🙂

Once my hair was done, we just spent the time reading and relaxing and whiling away the time.  We looked at the Fred Olsen future cruise brochure again and saw one that we fancied doing next year (2014!) in Norway; it was called In Search of the Northern Lights and it means going all the way up beyond 70° north in November; at that time of year there would be little (if any) daylight at those latitudes so the chances of seeing the aurora borealis would be fairly good.  The ship is the Boudicca which we were on in 2008 when we went up to Spitsbergen.   🙂

The wind simply didn’t let up all day, which was a pity as the entertainment itinerary for tonight was called “A Night Under the Stars” and there was supposed to be dancing on deck to live music plus a late-night barbecue and the “Crew Cabaret”, where talented members of the Black Watch crew sing and perform for us.

We went along to the Lido Lounge at 3.30pm to take part in the “Name that Tune” quiz.  We usually do pretty well at this, particularly if it features 70’s and 80’s music.  We had to listen to 10-second clips from various songs, and give the title of the song or tune.  We scored 15/20 and tied with another team – just our luck, we lost the tie-breaker.   😦

We then stayed for the next quiz which was general knowledge and we didn’t win that either; in fact, the same team who won “Name that Tune” won the general knowledge quiz as well!  I laughingly asked if we could be on their team next time!   🙂

When we got back to our cabin, it was without any surprise that we heard the announcement which said that all outdoor entertainment tonight would be cancelled due to the unexpected windy weather.  The cruise director, Anthony, then advised us where the music, etc. would be moved to instead.

At 4.00pm, when the future cruise booking office opened, we went along and booked the cruise to Norway, so that’s three holidays we have booked for 2014 already.  🙂

We then got ourselves sorted out, had our dinners, then went along to the Neptune Lounge at 8.00pm for the Crew Cabaret.  Although they were all very good singers, we were a little disappointed that there was only singers as we wanted to see some of the traditional dancing and comedy acts that the crew members sometimes put on.  We were, however, advised that there would be another crew show later in the cruise.   🙂

Then, as ever, we went along to the Braemar Room for the quiz.  This time we were joined by David, Sandra and Margaret (who have been in our team before) and – wonder of wonders – we actually won!  So that’s two nights on the trot, so maybe we’ve now got our brains in gear!   🙂

After the quiz we just sat for a while, talking and drinking, then it was back to our cabin and off to bed.

Wednesday, 17th July 2013

After breakfast this morning we could see the sun shining so we eagerly went out on deck to see if the wind had dropped.  No such luck though, it was just as strong as ever.  However, if you could find a spot in the sun sheltered from the wind, it was actually quite hot, so we sat out by the pool for a while.

We weren’t due to go on our walking tour of St. Petersburg until 1.30pm, so we had the morning to pass on the ship, but it’s a pity the wind seemed to be spoiling what would have been lovely weather.

After a light lunch we assembled in the Neptune Lounge and got our tickets for the tour bus that would take us into the centre of the town to commence our 2½ hour walking tour.  On the bus, the guide gave out radio ear-pieces that would allow us all to hear what she said through her microphone.  At least that was the idea, but once we got off the bus the wind took hold, and mostly all we could hear was the wind rushing down her microphone, interspersed with the guide’s voice every now and again, so not an entirely successful exercise.

Not to worry though; the sun was out and we were in St. Petersburg.   🙂   We walked along the famous Nevsky Prospekt and saw a statue and monument dedicated to Catherine II.  We then went into a really posh and unusual delicatessen called Eleseevsky Store; I think it was Russia’s version of Fortnum and Mason.  The building’s architecture and decor were very grand, and the front window was filled with grotesque animated puppets; I thought some of them looked a little scary.

We passed the famous Hermitage art gallery and museum (we have been there before, in 1996, when we spent a whole day looking around and still didn’t see everything!) then we came to a park where there was an Eternal Flame in memory of those who had lost their lives in the 900 day siege of St. Petersburg during WW2.

There is so much to see in St. Petersburg; a day or two spent there doesn’t really do it any justice.  The architecture, buildings and churches are so interesting, and of course one of the most famous and iconic sights is the magnificent Church of the Spilled Blood with its ornate turrets and onion domes.  This was where our walking tour allowed us to have an hour of free time.  We didn’t go into the church as we had been before, plus I was dying for the loo, so we decided to find a bar or café, have a drink and use their toilet facilities, as there didn’t seem to be any public loos anywhere.

We went into the Paradise bar and sat on their terrace and enjoyed a cold Russian beer each.  I wanted to have a ‘Baltika’ beer (their own well-known brand) but the bar didn’t sell that type, and as we can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet I don’t actually know what the beer was called, but it was very nice.  🙂

We then rejoined our bus for the return journey to the Black Watch.  The wind was still just as strong and it was unsurprising that no-one was out on deck; in fact the flag flying from the mast was sticking straight out, straining against its ties.  We had about an hour to get showered and changed for dinner, so we got ourselves ready and, at about 6.00pm, we were aware that the Black Watch had slipped her moorings and was slowly making her way back from the dockside.

When I say “slowly” however, that’s exactly what it was.  It soon became clear that the strength of the wind was causing the Black Watch some difficulty getting away; as fast as she was trying to leave the dock, the wind seemed to be blowing her back again.  There was no way she was going to get away without the help of a couple of tugs.

We went up to the Glentanar restaurant at our usual time of 6.15pm and, from our table by the window, we could see two Russian tugs, once at each end, going full steam ahead to try to pull the Black Watch clear of the dockside.  Slowly, slowly she came round, moving almost imperceptibly at times.  But eventually we were underway by 6.50pm – it had taken us a full fifty minutes just to get away from the shore; we’ve never known that happen in the 33 cruises we’ve been on.

We later found out that the weather forecast had predicted a wind speed of eight knots; the actual wind speed was 38 knots, at times even reaching 40.  Quite a gale!

After our dinner we went along to the Neptune Lounge and got our usual seats at the front just before 8 o’clock.  The show wasn’t on until later, but in the meantime the entertainment team wanted three couples of volunteer for “Mr and Mrs” (called The Marriage Game in the US) so Trevor and I put our hands up, as we’ve played (and won!) this on previous cruises, notably on the Queen Elizabeth in 2010 and the Marco Polo last year.

Well, we achieved our hat-trick as we won “Mr and Mrs” this time as well, scoring 60/60 – full marks.  Our prize was quite good; it was a bottle of Fred Olsen Chardonnay as well as a pair of boxed matching champagne flutes.  The prize was worth about 30 quid according to the on-board prices if we’d bought the items.  They also gave us a leather bookmark and luggage tag, so we’re going to go home laden with Fred Olsen branded goodies after this cruise!   🙂

The show tonight saw a reprise of a couple of great acts we’d seen earlier; singer Suzi Woods and comedian Dave Kristian – both were excellent once again.

Then it was into the Braemar Room as ever for the quiz, and once again we scored well, but not well enough to win.  But we’d had three prizes three nights running, so we weren’t going to complain.   🙂

Back in cabin 4085 we settled down for the night; we had another whole day at sea to look forward to tomorrow, so we hoped the wind would drop by then.

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