To follow this up, we took a boat trip around the network of canals and even further up the river, as we got to grips with a city that's almost overwhelming in its historic opulence.
After lunch, to continue with the watery theme, we got absolutely drenched in a massive downpour, as we took a stroll along the riverbank (we've paid for a visa, so we're amongst the few passengers who can explore St Petersburg independently). After sheltering under the portico of the old stock market for a while, we decided to splash our way to the city's main boulevard, the grand Nevsky Prospekt. This is St Petersburg's main shopping street, and it's gone up in standard a few notches since our last visit a few years ago – the luxury good shops were always there, but the other ordinary shops aren't as tatty as they used to be.
By now, we'd almost walked ourselves to a standstill, so we returned to the ship to prepare ourselves for a night at the ballet. Apparently the Bolshoi are in London, but the standard of ballet is so high here that whoever you see, it's going to be pretty good; and our performance of Swan Lake at the Mikhailovsky Theatre was suitably stirring and skillful. It always strikes me what amazing athletes these ballet dancers are, an almost unbelievable combination of strength and grace.
At the end of the show, we got to meet one of the exhausted ballerinas – someone who commanded absolute confidence on stage, but close up was a shy and delicate flower about to wilt. I asked her if she'd seen the film, "Black Swan" and what she'd thought of it. She said she'd enjoyed the film, but it wasn't anything like real ballet life. Thank goodness for that!