We took a HAL tour that took us to lower old town and to a village of original and restored farm buildings where girls danced for us. Our guide gave us no time in old town to shop and we didn't see the upper. The farm time was too long and not good for shopping. We would have preferred to take a taxi to the upper town and then walk down... skip the farm stuff. The cobblestones are hard to walk on unless you wear good shoes. This was the case in some parts of most of the ports.
If I had known more about amber's history I would have been more awed. A replica bec. original was taken by the Nazis and never recovered.
Catherine Palace Rating:
Impressive, rich, had to keep moving which was ok. Crowded but we didn't wait in lines. One recurrent thought for all of the St. P sites: the royalty had all the money, the peasants had next to nothing, and the royalty didn't seem to care. That's just the way it was. Reading later about the wives of the tsars and the Romanovs it appears that some of them did make an effort to encourage women's education and welfare. But prob. only for their class.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood Rating:
Didn't go inside. Fairy tale appearance, colorful, impressive.
City Tour Rating:
Stops for photos, running commentary, but Lana also knew when to give our ears a rest and she stopped talking, exc. to answer questions about everyday life. The lunch on the second day was on the rooftop of the Renaissance Hotel very close to St. Isaac's (we could see it a block away). Russian food, good. Lunch first day was at Summer Palace restaurant. Our group of six got put in an empty room, food finally arrived, not so good. We never saw the real restaurant so I can't say what it looked like. We were "isolated."
Hermitage Museum Rating:
Lana took us to the Gold Room (jewelry, gold work, silver) where the Museum guide gave a commentary, translated by Lana (who was frustrated at not being the guide; we told her to just give us her own spiel and skip the translation.) The museum guide was very dour, not very excited about these treasures. Lana selected a limited number of paintings or work for each art period, so we didn't have to stand for hours listening to commentary. The building itself is a gem.
Peterhof Palace Rating:
Denrus gave us a very spirited Russian lady, Lana, who kept us moving for 11 hours the first day and 8 the second. This was the Royal St. Petersburg tour; there were 13 of us. We did not wait in any lines exc. briefly at Yusupov Palace. She spoke excellent English, had a dramatic flair and lots of smiles (concert pianist by training). We knew it was to be an "intense" tour, and it was, esp. w. temperatures close to 90 F. Walked miles. A little too much time at Peterhof gardens for us but, oh well. I recommend this company. This tour was $399 per person for the two days. There were 6 of us. She was good with the kids (12 and 14)
St. Isaac's Cathedral Rating:
Fabulous building, massive, huge domes, artwork, icons. Would like to have had at least an hour there, but only about 20 min. No place to sit and meditate.
Yusupov Palace Rating:
By the time we got here, we were used to "splendor." Quick trip down to see where Rasputin was killed. Worth seeing but if it weren't on a tour, I'd skip it.
We took the HAL shuttle bus down to the market area, shopped some, took a 45 min boat ride around the harbor (long enough, it was pretty chilly), ate a hotdog and ice cream, visited the city museum right near the market... headed back to ship to relax. Our daughter and family tried to walk to the harbor and got lost in the city, finally talking a taxi.
We took a HAL tour. Our guide had good English and lots of facts but was deficient in people skills. She had no sign or umbrella for us to follow. At the first gathering point half the group was missing. When I told her we had trouble following her she said, "You shouldn't have run off." Etc Etc The tour itself was good. Do NOT miss the Vasa ship. Hint from our traveler daughter: to keep your group together, use the "clam," e.g., hold you hand high over your head, and make a "clam" with thumb opposing your four fingers. Open and shut, open and shut. We used the "clam" in the Stockholm palace crowds. People laughed at us but we could easily find and follow each other.
We took a "Friends of Dave" tour which took us on walking tour of Warnemunde and of Wismar, a UNESCO town. Both were interesting. Took the train 1 1/2 hrs. to Wismar, saw lots of lovely farm country. The lunch included was delicious and ample. We did have some shopping time in Wismar main square. We would have preferred fewer comments about his personal life, but he had plenty of historical and cultural info to share and was very good at getting us from point to point, esp. on the train. Dave's tour at 125 euro per person really was a good buy. I'd recommend him with the caveat about his comments.
I heard that Rostock, much closer, was a great place to tour. Some we talked to who took the train tour to Berlin said it was worth the ride even with heavy rain in Berlin. My husband just said that if he were to do it again, he'd go to Berlin. (They had a movie on the train. I agree.)
For some reason, Kiel is not a selectable port on this site. We were with German friends and took the bus up to the Kiel Canal and had lunch, also visited St. Nicolas in Kiel. But other than that, it seems to be a rebuilt everyday city, not very touristy.
There is plenty to see in Copenhagen. Our HAL bus tour from ship to airport gave us a much better view and more sites than we had managed on our own. Our guide was very good. We stayed at Hotel Neptun on Sankt Anna Pladts, very good for the money, good location. Easy walk to Nyhaven.