St. Petersburg with Dancing Bear

By Donna Perelman
This item appears on page 28 of the April 2016 issue.

For two days of sightseeing in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September 2015 before I started a cruise to Moscow, I used Dancing Bear Tours (Prospekt Ko­smonavtov 15A-6H, St. Petersburg, Russia 196211; phone +7 812 379 26 33,, which advertises in ITN’s Mart. I had contacted the owner of the company, Julia Ivanushkina, when I received my Russian visa, three months before my trip.
Julia picked me up at the airport and drove me to the ship. The plans we had made for the next day’s excursion included the State Hermitage Museum and its new Impressionism wing. Julia was studying for her art history master’s degree and has a wealth of knowledge that she’s able to impart in perfect English.
Next, we went to the new Fabergé Museum, displaying 14 original Fabergé eggs plus many other items from the house of Fabergé. This museum is housed in an old mansion, so the building’s interior is a glimpse into the city’s past elegance. The one-hour tour had to be booked in advance, and I was in a group of 12 (the maximum limit). Julia took care of this for me.
As we drove around the city, she shared wonderful stories about the history behind the different buildings and gossip about their occupants.
The next day we went to the Museum of the Defense & Siege of Leningrad, on Victory Square — a beautiful but intense experience. After entering the museum, we went underground to a large room that had sobering displays and stories of the heroes who saved St. Petersburg in WWII.
Lightening up, we drove through the countryside to visit the Catherine Palace, which, rebuilt after being bombed in WWII, embodied the transformation of Russia as it started to embrace Western ideas and etiquette.
Then it was on to Peterhof, with its gardens, grottoes, fabulous fountains and statues, all influenced by Versailles. The highlight was the Bath Block, located on the palace grounds — a small, intimate gem that’s easy to overlook. Julia knew Peterhof was a “must see,” so we took the tour. The most unusual room was the shower room in which the floor had pipes for water to spray upward and soak the bathers.
She also showed me the Vitebsky Rail Station, used in the movie “Anna Karenina.”
We ended our second day at the Imperial Porcelain Factory, where I saw how today’s fine table settings in all price categories are shown and sold. The factory has been a purveyor to Russian royalty and the state for a long time. Their museum has an impressive collection, including vases, statues, official dinnerware and more.
I paid $30 per hour for Julia’s services as a guide and driver. Entrance fees cost extra.
I enjoyed traveling with my knowledgeable, friendly and giving guide, Julia. The experience was exceptional.
Narragansett, RI