"Twirly Swirly" seemed to go down rather well as my newly invented term for describing the essence of Rococo during my port lectures for this year's pilgrimage to St Petersburg. What a riot of golden frilliness, onion domes and festive fountains this stunning city is - and for our passengers new to this part of the world the weather pulled put all the stops, ensuring that the bling factor was at its very best! With our mooring so close to the city's heart, the skyline was studded with architectural delights, all waiting to be served up like delicacies at our three day long banquet of the best that Russia has to offer.
So for starters it was the Russian museum for me - a treasure house of the very best examples of Russian art anywhere in the world. To stand for real in front of the massive seascapes of Ivan Aivazovsky and epic landscapes of Ilya Repin was almost too much... humbling and intoxicating at once. But that only whetted the appetite for the entrees served during our exclusive evening visit to the Hermitage: Caravaggios and Canovas surrounded us as we listed to a wonderful performance by the Hermitage State Symphony Orchestra in the awesome splendour of the Italian Skylight Room.
Could it possibly get any better? Well, next day I zoomed off at the crack of dawn for the main course - a whirlwind trip to Moscow, a superbly orchestrated day that ran like clockwork, packing in the magic of Red square and the Kremlin, a trip on the amazing Metro, a magnificent meal in a top restaurant and a terrific panoramic tour....all clearly explained by our amusing and incredibly knowledgeable guide.
And all this before we even got to the "twirly swirly" bits of Catherine's palace at Pushkin, the neo-classical elegance of the Pavlovsk and the fascinating exhibits at the Alexander palace, the home of the last Romanovs! This trio of palaces with their contrasting styles and histories was the perfect dessert for our three day cultural banquet. For all our passengers, St Petersburg was undoubtedly the highlight of a cruise that had been packed with interest from beginning to end...from the colourful delights of Copenhagen to the playful fountains of Peterhof, this was a kaleidoscope of cultural and visual experiences. As ever, it was the superb lecture programme that so enhanced our enjoyment of all these things: covering everything from music and politics, art and architecture, our experts ensured that our appetites were well and truly whetted!