The highlight of the Baltic cruise offered by Princess Cruises are the two days at Saint Petersburg, Russia.  We were pretty thankful for this, because other than the tour of the Hermitage and the city of Saint Petersburg which already took up a full day, there was also the Catherine Palace and the Peterhof Palace which we badly wanted to see.  That one night spent docked at Saint Petersburg also meant that we had the evening to watch a Russian ballet.

We knew we were in for a tough day today – we had signed up for a shore excursion that covered both the Catherine Palace and Peterhof Palace in one day.  If the previous day’s physical demands at the Hermitage Museum was anything to go by, then today must be worth double the exertion.

Our first stop of the day was the Catherine Palace or Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), located south of St Petersburg.

Aerial view of Catherine Palace. Looked a lot smaller and seems more do-able than the Hermitage Museum.

Once again, we were in the tour group which was the first to reach the Catherine Palace.  Even the gates are impressively beautiful.

Being the first to arrive has another benefit – welcome performance from the Catherine Palace band! 🙂

Reaching early also means we had free rein to take some landscape photos without other tourists in the background.

One of the most impressive areas of the Catherine Palace are its gardens which collectively with the palace is known as Tsarskoye Selo (palaces and parks) – but we needed to explore the great indoors first.

The Catherine Palace was named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband’s death. It was originally a modest two-storey building and owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who chose Tsarskoe Selo as her chief summer residence and instructed Rastrelli, Chief Architect of the Imperial Court to completely redesign the building with the aim to rival the Versailles.

The Marble Main Staircase of the Catherine Palace may not be as grand as the Hermitage, but it exudes its own brand of charm.  For one thing, it uses less gold trimmings used than the Hermitage!

The Great Hall (or Ballroom) is one of the most impressive rooms in the Catherine Palace.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice – you need to be there to be properly awed.  Bright and airy, the room seems even larger than its 850 square metres because of the use of large numbers of mirrors, the abundance of gildings and in particular, the painted ceiling which creates an illusion of endless space.

One of the most prominent features of the Catherine Palace as we noticed were these blue giant tile stoves present in almost every room.

The sheer opulence of the rooms really keep us fascinated as we tour the palace.

Perhaps, the most prominent feature of the Catherine Palace was the Amber Room.  The room was built in the Catherine Palace in the 1700s for Peter the Great, and was packed with amber, gold and precious jewels. At that time, it was considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World”. However, the room disappeared mysteriously at the end of the second World War, and was said to be looted by the Nazis, who took 36 hours to dismantle it.

To date, the whereabouts of the original amber room is still not confirmed.  Recently, it was reported that a Polish historian has claimed that the Amber Room is hidden in a crumbling bunker in Poland.

What we see now in the Catherine Palace is a reconstructed replica, based on old photographs of the amber room.   In fact, photography in the replica of the amber room was strictly not allowed – for reasons that were not fully explained to us.

It was an enlightening and eye-opening tour and we left with wonderful memories of the Catherine Palace after a packed morning schedule.

Join us next as we explore the gardens of the Catherine Palace.

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