RASPUTIN’S St. Peters­burg

Cruise stop in Rus­sia’s for­mer Im­pe­rial cap­i­tal goes for some mur­der and may­hem his­tory

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve MacNaull

UN­LIKE Rasputin, Em­peror Alexander II, Czar Paul I and poet Alexander Pushkin, we vis­ited St. Peters­burg and came out alive.

“Poi­soned, shot and thrown in the river; hit by a bomb; killed by con­spir­a­tors; and fa­tally wounded in a duel,” says tour guide Elena Streltsova by way of sum­mary of the ways the four gen­tle­men met their un­timely ends.

My wife and I and our 12-year-old daugh­ter ar­rived in Rus­sia’s for­mer Im­pe­rial cap­i­tal on a Dis­ney Cruise Line Baltic Sea itin­er­ary and im­me­di­ately signed up for the Spilled Blood ex­cur­sion.

The grue­some ti­tle comes from the fea­tured stop at the quin­tes­sen­tial Rus­sian Or­tho­dox onion-domed cathe­dral called the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood.

This place of wor­ship, which is now more of a mu­seum and tourist trap, is so named be­cause it’s built on the site where Em­peror Alexander II’s blood was spilled in 1881 when Peo­ples’ Will ter­ror­ists tossed two bombs stuffed in loaves of bread into his pass­ing car­riage.

Out­side the church we run into two elab­o­rately-cos­tumed ac­tors play­ing Peter the Great, the czar who founded St. Peters­burg in 1703, and his queen Catherine.

They’ll only talk to us and pose for pic­tures af­ter we cough up 200 rubles, the equiv­a­lent of $4.

On the tourist boat cruise through some of the city’s 42 is­lands, 65 canals and 21 rivers we en­joy the sun­shine and in­for­ma­tion on life to­day and back in the day in St. Peters­burg.

Streltsova is quick to point out we should be ap­pre­cia­tive of the weather.

“St. Peters­burg’s cal­en­dar is made up of nine months of an­tic­i­pa­tion of sum­mer fol­lowed by three months of dis­ap­point­ment,” she quips.

The tour passes all of the city’s great­est hits from the Win­ter Palace, gi­gan­tic Her­itage Mu­seum, Rab­bit Is­land, where nu­mer­ous czars are buried, Peter and Paul’s Cathe­dral, elab­o­rate bridges, St. Peters­burg Uni­ver­sity, St. Is­sac’s Cathe­dral, Sum­mer Gar­den and Sum­mer Palace.

When we near Yusupov Palace the tale of Rasputin 1916 is re­told.

He’s be­come such a no­to­ri­ous his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter no one ever calls him by his first name, Grig­ori.

Rasputin, a mere peas­ant, was con­sid­ered by many a roy­al­ists to be get­ting too cozy with Czar Ni­cholas II’s wife, Alexan­dra.

You might re­mem­ber the 1978 disco hit by Boney M re­fer­ring to Ra Ra Rasputin as Rus­sia’s great­est love ma­chine who wouldn’t die.

Wealthy roy­al­ist Felix Yusupov in­vited Rasputin over for a bite to eat with the plan of poi­son­ing him.

When the cyanide in his wine and cakes didn’t work, he was shot in the base­ment, which also didn’t fin­ish the job.

Af­ter he stum­bled up to the court­yard he was fi­nally fa­tally shot and his body was tossed into the Neva River to be washed out to the ocean never to be seen again.

In­stead, Rus­sia’s great­est love ma­chine’s fur coat snagged on the ice and he was dis­cov­ered the next morn­ing.

While on the pic­turesque Foun­tain River pass­ing the stately School of Mil­i­tary En­gi­neers, we hear the build­ing was the home of Czar Paul I for just 40 days be­fore he as mur­dered by con­spir­ing no­ble­men in 1801.

When we get to No. 12 on the Moika River, the scene is set for the 1837 duel be­tween fa­mous poet Alexander Pushkin and the French­man who was dal­ly­ing with his wife.

Pushkin is fa­tally wounded and be­comes an­other an­no­ta­tion on the Spilled Blood ex­cur­sion.

Back on the re­cently-ren­o­vated Dis­ney Magic my daugh­ter and I re­peat­edly ride the new AquaDunk, the wa­ter slide that juts out over the ocean and starts with a ver­ti­cal drop from a plexi-glass cap­sule with trap door.

We also groove along top deck with the de­but of the new movie-in­spired Frozen song-and-dance show, in­tro­duced for all Europe and Alaska sail­ings of Dis­ney ships this sum­mer.

Dis­ney is back in the Baltic this sea­son af­ter a five year ab­sence and we’re glad they are be­cause it also makes fas­ci­nat­ing stops in Tallinn, Es­to­nia and Scan­di­na­vian-cool Helsinki and Stock­holm.

We caught the boat in Copen­hagen, Den­mark, af­ter fly­ing from Ed­mon­ton in busi­ness class on Ice­landair to Ice­land’s cap­i­tal of Reyk­javik and con­nect­ing.

Ice­landair is pro­mot­ing it­self as a hub for Euro­pean flights and en­cour­ag­ing stopovers in Ice­land of up to seven days with­out any ex­tra air­fare costs.

Ice­landair also flies non-stop to Reyk­javik from Van­cou­ver, Toronto and Hal­i­fax.

Check out Dis­neyCruise.com and Ice­landair.is.

STEVE MACNAULL / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

Ac­tors por­tray­ing Peter the Great and his queen Catherine will pose for 200 rubles (the equiv­a­lent of $4) out­side the Church of Our Sav­ior

on the Spilled Blood in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia.

One of the most popular ways to tour S

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