The picture above is the village of Lupburg, our home away from home while in Bavaria. Our house is on the right, below the onion dome church . The people are friendly, helpful and best of all, love to keep things "in order."

Taking a peak behind the curtain

The Postma Family in the backyard of the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, Russia

August 11 St Petersburg, Russia
Of all the stops on our cruise, perhaps the crown jewel was St Petersburg.  Partly due to the fact that few have ever seen this city and partly because it was the end of our week-long cruise, we were eager to get off the boat and take in as much of Russia as possible.  I was able to secure a tour through Red October Tours prior to leaving the States and our tour guide, Svetlana, was waiting for us when we got off the ship. We were among the first passengers to clear customs in Russia and we kept thinking we were going to be stopped for some reason.  But, it was an easy process and we made our way to the private coach hired to take us around town.
Catherine the Great's Winter Palace
 Our first stop was the Winter Palace, a 30 minute ride from the ship.  The palace was built in the small village of Pushkin and it was interesting to see the combination of small private homes, large apartment buildings and government monuments along the drive.  Probably the first thing your eye takes in is the fabulous blue the palace is painted. No where else in Europe is this color used so predominantly.  We were struck by the sheer grandeur of the building, which was built not as a residence but as a show piece to prove how rich and powerful the Russian nobility was.  The rooms were filled with gold, mirrors and lots of decorative touches.  The palace grounds are immaculately groomed and offer sweeping views of the property.
Kristen and Tim in the "backyard" of the Winter Palace

Bill ensures his headphones are working properly
There's a chapel inside the Winter Palace
Instead of living in the Winter Palace, Catherine had this little addition added and spent the
remainder of her life living "simply"

Troy was Lilly's guardian during the tour

Following our stop at the Winter Palace, we took the opportunity to eat at the original stroganoff restaurant. Legend says that a soldier, who lost his arm in a battle, was served this beef main dish because he could eat it without using a knife.  It was absolutely delicious.  My personal recipe doesn't even come close.  Accompanied by a cream of mushroom soup and a drink called kvass (like root beer but has some fermentation process) it was the perfect break to reenergize for the afternoon.

Our next stop was the Hermitage.  Like all great cities, a good art museum shows off how powerful you really are.  The Hermitage was originally a residential palace and many rooms are open to tour.  In the 1800s, the decision was made to allow commoners the opportunity to stroll through the building and admire the collections.  It is a "must see" for anyone visiting St Petersburg and the crowds were intense.  Our tour guide led us through the main highlights and then gave us some time to browse on our own.  We enjoyed gazing at the Impressionist collection and saw some artists' work up close and personal.  Very little of the Hermitage is kept in climate-controlled environments so you can really see the brush strokes and shading the artists employed.

To round out our tour of the city, we stopped at the Church of Spilled Blood, an impressive onion-domed church which is more colorful than St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.  We also visited the sphinx from Egypt and gazed at Peter and Paul Fortress on the water.  It was a grand view of a truly remarkable city.