Visit to the Great Catherine Palace

Saint Petersburg - visit to the Great Catherine Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia's second largest city with 5,4 million inhabitants, is the travel destination. Our cruise ship is moored at the cruise terminal on Vasilyevsky Island. Although we generally tend to go on individual excursions, we booked two organized excursions in Saint Petersburg for visa and language reasons. The first takes us by bus to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. We are accompanied by a brisk, German-speaking tour guide who makes it fun to talk about her compatriots while driving through the large, unmanageable industrial port of Saint Petersburg. Especially about those who work at the port's exit gate and who don't seem to be able to do their work in the early morning.

Saint Petersburg - cruise terminal

Saint Petersburg - cruise terminal

Confectionery style buildings and flat land 

Roughly calculated, there are 30 kilometers between the cruise terminal and our destination in Pushkin. In less than an hour, our bus driver makes his way through the port and the streets of Saint Petersburg before reaching the city limits. We marvel at the huge confectionery-style buildings and the satellite settlements. From the southern outskirts of the city, the journey continues on a well-developed country road. The international Pulkovo-Saint-Petersburg-Airport, Russia's second largest airport, is to the right. It is of interest that Fraport AG has a 35,5 percent stake in the airport.

Saint Petersburg -Trabant settlement

Saint Petersburg -Trabant settlement

We reach Pushkin  

Behind the airport the road rises slightly; from now on we are surrounded by the vastness of Russia. Soon afterwards we arrived in the former "Tsarskoe Selo", the Tsar's village that is now called "Pushkin". Our destination is there, the Great Catherine Palace. It is praised as one of the largest and most beautiful palace and park ensembles in Russia. We will convince ourselves of that.

The Pushkin statue 

The first thing we see is the statue dedicated to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in 1900. His output was immense, although he died at the age of 37 from serious gunshot wounds sustained in a duel. He may not have been a marksman, but he was highly productive as a poet.

The Pushkin Monument in Tsarskoye Selo
The Pushkin Monument in Tsarskoye Selo


The main courtyard of the Catherine Palace

The palace and the park await us, and our guide drives us on. The Catharine palace is delimited on the street side by an imposing fence. We enter the courtyard in front of the palace through a gold-plated, wrought-iron gate. The double-headed Russian eagle and the Tsar's crown adorn the beautifully crafted gate. Already here it becomes clear to us that the Tsars did not have to limit themselves. This impression will continue throughout our stay.

Catherine Palace - the great entrance gate
Catherine Palace - the great entrance gate - back

Once a hunting lodge, later a palace

Catherine I, Russia's empress from 1725, had a hunting lodge with 16 rooms built on the site of today's palace. That was at the beginning of the 18th century. The hunting grounds and the good air in Tsarskoye Selo may have been decisive for the construction. The “simple” palace was no longer enough for her daughter, Elisabeth I and the following generations of rulers. A little more comfort was required and it seemed important to adequately represent Russia to European rulers. As a result, the hunting lodge gradually changed into one of the most imposing and beautiful baroque castles in Europe. The palace and park ensemble was only completed under the reign of Catherine the Great. The palace was considerably destroyed by German troops during World War II. Nowadays visitors experience a successful reconstruction of the original palace complex.

Catherine Palace - the main courtyard
Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace - central entrance area

Palace and gardens - an extraordinary ensemble

The front of the castle, which is more than 300 meters in length, is held in white and turquoise blue and is overwhelming. The complex is flanked to the left and right by buildings standing at right angles.

Catherine Palace - facade detail
Catherine Palace - garden side
Catherine Palace and Castle Church
Katharinenpalast - towers of the castle church

We will spare ourselves the description of the individual halls and chambers at this point. Only historians and art connoisseurs are able to adequately appreciate the exquisite and magnificent furnishings. We are incapable of this. In addition, our guide pushes the pace again. The reconstructed amber room and the extensive park with its buildings can also be viewed and appreciated.

Catherine Palace - festive tables
Catherine Palace - the great hall
Catherine Palace - masses of visitors in the great hall
Catherine Palace - one of the many state apartments

Empress Katherina II had the existing English-style garden converted into a landscape park. The subsequent rulers initiated further reorganizations and embellishments. The hermitage pavilion and the grotto on the edge of the pond are particularly attractive. 

Catherine Palace - the Cameron Gallery
Catherine Palace - the palace garden
Catherine Palace - the grotto by the large pond
Catherine Palace - the Hermitage Pavilion

Time flies like in flight. There is still a lot to see, but the tour guide urges us to return. The bus brings us back to the cruise ship at a swift ride. Upon our arrival, Russian musicians dressed in military uniforms and with lively melodies await us. Anyone who counted on Russian wise men will be taught otherwise. The musicians' repertoire includes the "March from the River Quai" and "When the Saints go marching in". Great played.

After this unexpected episode we freshen up, have a bite to eat and start our second tour in Saint Petersburg, one City tour with a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Updated Aug 2020