Vis­it­ing five Euro­pean cap­i­tals, in­clud­ing the opu­lent St Peters­burg, Jan Shure dis­cov­ers why a cruise is the best way to get to the heart of the city

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

Gold leaf was everywhere, adorn­ing St Peters­burg’s pastel­washed Baroque ar­chi­tec­ture — quite a view to greet us from the ve­randa of our cruise ship suite. For reg­u­lar cruis­ers, in­clud­ing my­self, the fa­cil­i­ties on board can mean that choos­ing the itin­er­ary is some­times sec­ondary to the line and dates. But not this time. Hav­ing sailed the Med, the Caribbean and South Amer­ica, my heart was set on the Baltic.

And with Se­abourn’s lux­u­ri­ous smaller ships, you can of­ten sail right into the cen­tre of the spec­tac­u­lar cities rather than dock­ing at the larger ter­mi­nals on the fringes. On board the 650-foot Quest, that meant the jewel of Peter the Great’s em­pire was wait­ing to be ex­plored as soon as we dis­em­barked to St Peters­burg’s English Em­bank­ment: with a pair of sturdy walk­ing shoes, you could even visit many of the sights on foot if you wanted.

And what sights; the palaces and

A seven-night Baltic cruise costs from £4,500 per per­son, based on two shar­ing, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, gra­tu­ities and all meals and drinks (ex­cept pre­mium wines and spir­its) from June 2330, 2018. Se­abourn’s new­est ship Ova­tion will be sail­ing the route in 2018. se­ thor­ough­fares mark it out as one of Europe’s most beau­ti­ful cities. In­tended to ri­val Paris or Lon­don when the Tsar or­dered its con­struc­tion in the early 18th cen­tury, these days it’s a lively mod­ern city as well as a trea­sure trove of his­toric build­ings, its pave­ments thronged with well-dressed lo­cals and its roads jammed with gleam­ing cars.

Our three full days gave us enough time to ex­pe­ri­ence its high­lights too. Start­ing at St Ni­cholas Cathe­dral with its ex­te­rior of pow­der-blue and gold leaf, we waited for the Grand Cho­ral Syn­a­gogue nearby to open its doors, wel­com­ing vis­i­tors af­ter morn­ing ser­vice. One of the largest syn­a­gogues in Europe, it was con­se­crated in 1893 to serve the grow­ing Jewish com­mu­nity.

Re­stored and re­opened in 2003 it is now an of­fi­cial city mon­u­ment as well as hold­ing daily ser­vices and serv­ing as a hub for com­mu­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

The beauty of its exquisite in­te­rior lies in its sym­me­try, its el­e­gant sim­plic­ity, its in­tri­cate chan­de­liers and in the play of light. The view through side win­dows should be of a blank wall but, in­stead, is a witty mu­ral de­pict­ing the Western Wall.

You can even buy Rus­sian dolls in the form of plump rab­bis at the gift shop, along with the usual Ju­daica, plus there’s a kosher restau­rant in the syn­a­gogue precincts.

Claim­ing the ti­tle of “Venice of the North”, St Peters­burg is built on rivers and canals criss-crossed by more than 300 bridges, some of which ri­val those of Paris for el­e­gance.

The gilt trip con­tin­ues at the Peter and Paul Fortress, with its Rus­sian Ortho­dox cathe­dral. The burial place of Tsars, its in­te­rior is so heav­ily em­bel­lished with gold leaf you al­most need sun­glasses to avoid the daz­zle. The new Fabergé Mu­seum housed in the Shu­valov Palace, is an­other treat. As well as be­ing filled with exquisite arte­facts, in­clud­ing nine of the fa­mous eggs, ev­ery room in this daz­zling for­mer palace has been re­stored. But the jewel in St Peters­burg’s rich crown is the mag­nif­i­cent Her­mitage Mu­seum; ac­tu­ally five mu­se­ums within the for­mer Win­ter Palace. Be­hind its Baroque ex­te­rior, the opu­lent sa­lons con­tain so many Old Masters that the Rem­brandts and Da Vin­cis out­shine even the gild­ing.

The city’s cen­tre is only the start of the splen­dour, with yet more palaces to ex­plore on the out­skirts, in­clud-

Sail up close to the his­toric sky­line of St Peters­burg along with its 19th cen­tury syn­a­gogue (right)

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