During a recent stop in St. Petersburg, guests onboard Marina were treated to a unique
experience on an excursion called Musical
Evening at the Hermitage
. One of the oldest and largest museums in the
world, the State Hermitage Museum sees approximately 2.5 million visitors a
year. That is an average of about 8,000 visitors a day! So you can imagine how
decadent it must have felt to be the only
visitors in the building on this exclusive shore excursion.

The spectacular Winter Palace that houses the Hermitage was
made all the more grand by the absence of the usual crowds. Constructed on a
monumental scale, it was intended to embody the power of Imperial Russia, which
encompassed almost one-sixth of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million
subjects at the time the palace was built in the early 18th century. The clock tower bells that chime on the hour and half hour
greeted the group for what was to be an extraordinary evening.


The private tour began at The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace (also known as the Jordan Staircase) where the
world’s dignitaries were greeted for state receptions and functions over a
century ago. Restored according to the original designs after a devastating
fire in 1837, the staircase is one of the only areas of the palace that has
retained the original 18th-century style. The painted ceiling depicts the Gods
of Olympus, and alabaster statues welcomed the evening’s visitors.



After passing through The Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, the
tour made its way to The Armorial Hall, once used for official ceremonies. With
huge gilded columns, bronze chandeliers and stucco coats of armor framing the
cavernous room, the effect was breathtaking.



Emperor Alexander I created The War Gallery of 1812 to honor
the generals who defeated Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. When these
portraits were hung, every citizen in Russia knew the names of these generals,
17th-century celebrities who fought valiantly in the war.


IMG_5357The St. George Hall, or the Large Throne Room, is one of the
largest rooms in the Winter Palace and home to the throne of the Emperor. Regarded as the throne of Russia, the velvet throne is emblazoned with the imperial coat of
arms and the crowned double-headed eagle. The scene of  many of the most
formal ceremonies of the imperial court, it was most notably the location of the
meeting of the First State Duma, which marked the first time ordinary citizens were
allowed into the palace in substantial numbers.

After a quick peek at the Hanging Garden through the
windows, guests entered The Pavilion Hall with its 28 exquisite crystal and
gold chandeliers and the visitor favorite, Peacock



Next stop was The Rembrandt Room with 23 works by the famous
Dutch master, including some of his more famous masterpieces: The Return of the Prodigal SonPortrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.


Portrait of an Old Jew


Return of the Prodigal Son





A particularly exciting moment of the tour was The Leonardo
Room where guests were able to view two highlights of the museum’s collection.
Of the few oil paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the world, two can be seen at
the Hermitage: Benois Madonna and
The Litta Madonna.

IMG_5402 Benois

Benois Madonna

IMG_5409 Litta

The Litta Madonna

The group was then momentarily transported to Rome upon
entering The Raphael Loggias, a meticulous reproduction of the famous 16th-entury
gallery in the Vatican Palace. Under his supervision, Raphael’s pupils painted
the walls and vaults according to his sketches.


IMG_5431One of the museum’s masterpieces and the only work by
Michelangelo in the Hermitage is the sculpture Crouching Boy in The Italian Cabinet. Unfinished, it is
thought to have originally been designed for a chapel in Florence.

IMG_5449After taking in the art of many of the great Flemish and
Dutch masters, guests entered The Small Italian Skylight Hall, one of three
top-lit halls, to enjoy Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, including The Lute Player by Caravaggio and works
by Tintoretto.

After the private tour of some of the highlights of this
remarkable museum, everyone was able to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere
of the evening with a concert performed by the State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg in the
largest of the three skylight halls, The Large Italian Skylight Hall.
Surrounded by magnificent works of art by 17th- and 18th-century Italian
artists, the orchestra brought the museum alive with works by Mozart, Faure and




As if that weren’t enough for one evening, the tour ended in
The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting where guests sipped champagne and witnessed
Cupid bringing his love back to life with a kiss in Canova’s sculpture Cupid and Psyche.


Three Graces by Finelli
bid the group a fond farewell as they left the museum. Although it was 10 p.m.,
it was barely dark outside. Guests were able to snap some final photos of the
empty Palace Square and The Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I and
erected as a monument to Russia’s victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.




The private event at the Hermitage was remarkable, and
everyone left with treasured memories of a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises for sharing these photos and video of the Musical Evening at the Hermitage.



As the unrelenting heat continues across the United States, it seems like the perfect time to get away with Oceania Cruises in search of a summer adventure and relief from triple-digit temperatures.

As Blogger-at-Large, I pay close attention to Oceania Cruises’ Facebook and Twitter posts on #WhereintheWorld are our ships today?. I couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic when I saw that Marina made a recent stop in St. Petersburg, Russia, one of my favorite cities.

After founding St. Petersburg in 1703, Peter the Great helped build this city of grandeur. It served as Russia’s imperial capital almost continuously from 1713 until 1918. Nearly five million people call St.

Kevin 2 004Petersburg home today, and the city is a mere six degrees latitude from the Arctic Circle, making it the largest city in the world in such a northerly location.

The day I visited, our Oceania Cruises shore excursion began at Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the city. It’s hard to believe that the design of this building was originally criticized by some as dry and boring. During World War II, the dome was painted gray to avoid the attention of enemy aircraft. Fortunately, it worked, and even more fortunately, today all traces of gray are gone!

Our next stop was the Peter and Paul Fortress, the final resting place of Russia’s tsars. From Peter the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, emperors and empresses were entombed in this cathedral, elaborately decorated in gold and marble. You would never know by looking at it that this was once a prison for high-ranking political prisoners. Famous inmates include Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leon Trotsky.

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We also visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which is dedicated to the memory of Tsar Alexander II and was built on the spot where he was assassinated. It contains over 7,500 meters of mosaics, second only to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louise in Missouri!

Next to the church is one of many waterways cutting through St. Petersburg, giving it a feel similar to Amsterdam and Venice. The city has 42 islands, which mark the northernmost point of the ancient north-south trading route called the Amber Road. Interestingly, the southern endpoint is Venice.


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Later we ventured into the countryside outside of St. Petersburg to see the tsars’ summer home, Catherine Palace. Before entering the palace, we were lead through an exhibit featuring the different modes of transportation used to shuttle royalty back and forth to the city.

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Exiting this exhibit, the compound opens up to reveal the magnificent palace and grounds that practically took my breath away. The bright blue of the palace is a striking contrast to the surrounding lush green forest and is the perfect backdrop for a spontaneous ballet in the courtyard.

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After being treated as visiting dignitaries at the palace, our excursion led us to a feast that was designed to give us all a taste of Russian folk culture. The food, dance and camaraderie made my visit to the Catherine Palace truly unforgettable.

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Oceania Cruises itineraries often include two days in St. Petersburg so that guests have a chance to explore this amazing city at length. Before heading onto our next port of call, I took advantage of the extra day and enjoyed a shore excursion to the Hermitage Museum.

One of the oldest museums in the world, it was established in 1764 by Catherine the Great. Only four of the six buildings are open to the public, the most famous being the Winter Palace. But with over three million artifacts in the collection, including the largest collection of paintings in the world, there was plenty to see. We had to find the perfect balance between moving fast enough to see as much as possible but still taking the time to soak in the amazing architecture, artifacts and artworks. Thank goodness our Oceania Cruises guide enabled us to bypass the line to get in!

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I am thrilled for Marina‘s guests who visited St. Petersburg this week. It is truly an extraordinary city, and I have no doubt that they enjoyed a once in a lifetime experience. Not to mention, it has been 68 degrees and sunny in St Petersburg all week. Perfect cruising weather!

0 comments on “Fascinating Photos from the Norwegian Fjords and Polar Ice Barrier”

Fascinating Photos from the Norwegian Fjords and Polar Ice Barrier


Insignia just finished exploring the Norwegian Fjords and even ventured as far north as the Polar Ice Barrier, the nearly vertical seaward edge of the ice cap at the North Pole. Beautiful and fascinating photos were the result. Above and below you see the fjords and glaciers of Magdalene Bay and the town of Spitzbergen.


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As Insignia cruised ever closer to the North Pole, the temperature became quite chilly. Crewmen were lowered into the icy waters in a tiny boat, so they could collect ice to serve in Insignia’s cocktails! It’s an age-old tradition and certainly demonstrates the commitment of our crew.

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A successful voyage and a safe return to Insignia. Cheers!


4 comments on “Regatta Cruises Into St. Petersburg”

Regatta Cruises Into St. Petersburg


On Wednesday, Regatta will cruise into the port of St. Petersburg. Most every Oceania Cruises’ itinerary that includes St. Petersburg also thankfully features an overnight in this fascinating city. In both name and history, the city has come full circle. Originally named St. Petersburg after the patron saint of Tsar Peter I, it was changed to Petrograd, to Leningrad and then back to St. Petersburg. The city has seen the wealth of tsars, the ravages of war, the cries of revolution, near economic collapse and recent rebirth — and this is just in the last century.

I found St. Petersburg to be one of the prettiest, most colorful cities I’ve ever visited. Most of the historic buildings are painted in beautiful shades of green, pink, blue, or gold set against brilliant white moldings. While many cities have street vendors selling their art, here is where I chose to purchase a few watercolors, as St. Petersburg is a city that demands to be painted. (My husband chose the famous nesting matryoshka dolls — created in the images of Russian leaders. Putin is inside Gorbachev inside Stalin inside Lenin, an amusing and novel souvenir, which I believe currently resides in our hall closet.)

Numerous rivers, channels, and bridges also contribute to the city’s beauty and have earned it the nickname, “Venice of the North.” While Moscow is distinctly Russian, St. Petersburg does have a more Western European feel. It also has a very low skyline, as a law has been in place for centuries that dictates that no building shall be taller than the Winter Palace. However, just last month a Russian court gave the controversial go-ahead for construction of a 403-meter skyscraper in the heart of the city. So keep your eyes on the skies here. The view may soon be changing.

If forced to label two highlights as “must see,” the first I would choose is the Hermitage. If you took one minute to look at each piece in the museum, it would take eleven years to see them all. Needless to say, I recommend booking an excursion with Oceania Cruises for this visit. I don’t think we would have even made it through the line to get in without our esteemed guide and her special privileges. But thanks to our tour guide, we bypassed the line and were quickly but gently guided to some of the museum’s greatest gems. The Hermitage has the largest collection of paintings in the world, from famous Madonnas by Da Vinci and Rafael to works of Picasso and Matisse, not to mention the sculpture, the jewelry and the prehistoric artifacts. Even the museum itself is a work of art, as the main collection is housed in the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian Tsars.

Arriving Catherine Palace
I’m excited to arrive at Catherine Palace.

The Hermitage began with the private collection of Catherine the Great, bringing me to my next must-see — the Catherine Palace. The palace was largely destroyed during World War II but has been restored to its former glory through immense restoration efforts. I joined the Oceania Cruises’ excursion, Grand Imperial Evening of the Tsars — a heady title no doubt — and I was curious to see if it would live up to its billing. We began with a private after-hours tour of the palace. Our group felt quite exclusive as we toured through the quiet halls undisturbed. We even had an escort of Royal Guards, who appeared silently and at attention from moment to moment. I was unsure whether it was appropriate to take their picture, so as you can see I was quite stealthy in sneaking a photo. I’m sure the guard didn’t even notice.

Lisa and Guard
It can be difficult to find historic sites that are in truly original condition, so having seen many reconstructions, I have to say one of the most impressive is certainly the Amber Room in Catherine Palace. The effort and expense to reconstruct this famous room, over a period of almost 25 years, have created a current incarnation that must be as stunning as the original. The entire room glows with amber and gold leaf. Add to this the history (and mobility) of the room — how it was constructed in Prussia, gifted to Peter the Great, installed in the Winter Palace, moved to the Catherine Palace, then looted and lost in World War II — and you have a thing of legend. Yes, the entire room disappeared, and the fate of the original Amber Room remains a mystery, one you’ll often find referenced in fiction, television and film.

After the tour we were treated to a visit from Catherine the Great herself (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in full regalia, welcoming us to her ballroom for champagne and a display of Russian dance. As I sipped my champagne, I was struck by how just over 100 years ago, dignitaries from all over Asia and Europe were being hosted in this very spot by Russia tsars. And just 30 years ago, as a child during the Cold War, I never imagined I would even be allowed to visit this country. Now here I was, learning its history and culture first hand. It most certainly was a grand imperial evening.