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Morning: Explore the Novodevichy Convent. Founded in the 16th century, it was the convent of choice for noble women forced to take the veil, such as Peter the Great’s first wife and Boris Godunov’s sister. The compound contains a spectacularly beautiful church - Smolensk Cathedral - with icons from the time of Boris Godunov, as well as exhibits featuring paintings, woodwork, metalwork, embroidery, illuminated books, and jewels. Strangely enough, the main attraction of the convent is its cemetery. Such luminaries as Gogol, Chekhov, Scriabin, Mayakovsky, Stanislavsky, Prokofiev, Eisenstein, Khrushchev, Raisa Gorbachev and Boris Yelstin are buried here, and some of the graves are quite fanciful.
Lunch: Lunch on your own.
Afternoon: Transfer to the railway station and travel to St. Petersburg by the afternoon express train. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel.
Dinner: Dinner will be served at a local restaurant upon arrival in St. Petersburg.
Evening: At leisure
Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.
Morning: Today visit the country estates of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great outside the city. Travel by hydrofoil to the site where Peter the Great built his estate, Petrodvorets (Peterhof, as it was called prior to 1944) on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland 19 miles outside St. Petersburg. The former imperial residence is surrounded with extensive parks and gardens intended to rival Versailles, complete with an array of gilded statues, magnificent palaces and gravity-fed fountains. Discover the wonderful park, fountains, and Monplaisir pavilion of the estate. Peter the Great began building Monplaisir in 1714 directly on the Gulf where he could keep an eye on ships passing by. Constructed from drawings the czar had made himself, the small palace was meant to be a retreat on the way to or from the naval base, Kronstadt. The one-storey Dutch-inspired palace has two naturally lit picture galleries, which were originally hung with paintings that Peter collected in Europe. A few of the originals survived the years in the unheated seaside building and the later Nazi occupation.
Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages are available for purchase.
Afternoon: Travel by coach to the town of Pushkin, site of the royal residence Catherine's Palace, originally built in 1717 by Catherine I. Enjoy a guided tour of the estate. In 1752, famed architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli enlarged and embellished the palace, extending the facade to its current grandeur. The estate and palace buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but they have been carefully and expertly restored into a brilliant architectural monument. The fully restored Amber Room in Catherine's Palace, now open, has been years in the making. The wall coverings of amber panels, created in the time of Peter the Great, were taken by the Nazis during the Second World War and never recovered. The beautifully crafted amber panels we see today were re-created from photos and descriptions of the originals, and have become one of the highlights of Catherine's Palace.
Dinner: Upon returning to the city, the dinner is on your own.
Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.
Morning: Discover St. Petersburg, often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its miles of canals, laced together with graceful bridges set amidst 18th century buildings, have earned it the name "Venice of the North." Conceived of by Peter the Great and designed by his favorite European architects, St. Petersburg was meant to be Peter's link to the western world. The capital of Russia from its birth in 1703 until the revolution, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003. A drive near the Neva River introduces you to the heart of Peter's beautiful city. Visit Vasilievsky Island with its beautiful view across the river to the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Drive by enormous Palace Square, framed by the Winter Palace and the General Staff Headquarters, where Imperial parades and festivals were celebrated, and admire the facade of nearby St. Isaac's Cathedral. See the statue of Peter the Great, named the Bronze Horseman by Pushkin. Explore the Hermitage with your expert local guide. The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was built in 1754-62 as the principal home of the czars, and was lavishly rebuilt in 1839 after it was destroyed by fire. Originally a small private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, the Hermitage today houses the largest museum collection in the world. It includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso. The fabulous rooms with their inlaid floors and gilded woodwork and the grand double entry staircase are works of art in themselves.
Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: After lunch, those who wish may stay at the Hermitage to explore the museum independently. Others will continue with the city exploration, visiting St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of Savior on the Blood, and Peter and Paul Fortress. St. Isaac's Cathedral took 40 years to complete. The 48 red granite columns around the lower part of the building each weigh 110 tons, and the upper columns around the rotunda weigh 67 tons apiece. The dome is covered with 220 pounds of gold, and the interior columns are faced with lapis lazuli and malachite. The cathedral is bursting with sculptures, frescoes, stained glass works and woodcarvings. The Church of the Savior on the Blood was built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was killed by a bomb in 1881, and was commissioned in the style of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow by his son and successor, Alexander III. For many years closed for renovation, the church's beautiful interior is now open to visitors. Four jasper columns inside mark the spot where the czar was killed. Across the Neva River from the Hermitage on Hare Island, the Fortress of Peter and Paul was one of the first structures in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great laid the cornerstone of the earthen fortress in May 1703, intending it to be used to repel a Swedish invasion. After the Swedes capitulated, the fortress was transformed into a prison in 1718. Most importantly, it is the burial place for most of the czars beginning with Peter the Great.
Dinner: Local restaurant plated meal. During our farewell dinner, share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends.
Breakfast: At the hotel. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!