The operation is extraordinarily slick and professional. There are 201 people on board the boat which has capacity for 208 so almost full and needing 6 coaches at a time. Each day there are tours included and optional extra tours so they have to move a lot of people about ....and there are 2 other viking ships in the dock each on a different schedule.
So on Tues morning our first tour to Catherines Palace left at 08.15 which was a bit early...The problem appears to be that we are about 30 mins away from city centre but it can take up to an hour in the constantly bad traffic. Palace v.interesting : we have opted for bus 3b (b for bow didgeridoo so far doesn't get lost) which has Natasha as the guide,a very efficient 65 yr old lady who spent all her working life until the 1990s with Intourist. A terrific guide, extremely knowledgeable and happy to talk about her life, the changes she has seen and life in modern Russia.
Back to the boat for lunch then straight off for a tour of the city. Lovely place, elegant buildings, horrendous traffic. Back to the boat and dinner at 7. Seating is open plan,tables of 2,4 or 6 so you get to move around a lot. Everybody so far excellent company. The Americans had journeys of between 10-17 hours to get here with 2 or 3 changes and reconnecting with baggage is optional. Form filling at airport took 2 hours and was unhelpful but viking take over when they finally got to the boat.
I have a kindred spirit in Duncan an English man who lives in Washington; he decided that the wine wasn't flowing fast enough so procured a bottle of red from the sideboard and topped us both up to the horror of the waiting staff.....but now we don't have to worry at all and are well looked after...
Wednesday - we had put our names down for the extended tour of the Hermitage (9hours and an extra $148 each!) but didn't make the cut as it was restricted to 90.
After a very long day on Tuesday we weren't that bothered as the regular Hermitage visit was still going to be 5 hours so when we got a phone call at 07.00 to say that we were lucky enough to be bumped up the waiting list and would we please be ready to leave at 08.00 we declined as. we hadn't had a cup of tea yet let alone breakfast. So we set off the H at 10.00 and got back 17.00 and that was more than enough esp as we had to have dinner and then be ready to leave for the ballet at 19.00.
The H is as fantastic as it said to be but the crowds are overwhelming and everything was difficult and tiring. It's an awesome place and huge.
The ballet,Swan Lake,
was in the small theatre in the Hermitage and never having been to a ballet, I have to say I enjoyed it(despite the heat)