St Petersburg is built on a marsh. This fact seems implausible as you gaze on magnificent boulevards that stretch beyond your vision, bridges topped with statues and palaces the shades of icing.
Commissioned by Tsar Peter The Great more than 300 years ago, this created city was to be a window to Europe. Lustrous and heavily opulent, it not only mimicked the grandeur of Paris, it ventured to outstrip it.
Piles of bones belonging to those workers who were forced to fell, drag, drain and build, are said to lie beneath the pavements of its main thoroughfare Nevskiy Prospekt. In the beginning, this three-mile long central street was merely a wide clearing in the forest along which wolves roamed ...
In winter, icy fogs roll down St Peterburg's canals and streets - or the city can be wrapped in snows eight inches deep. There is almost perpetual darkness.
But in summer the city enjoys 'White Nights' of long Nordic daylight. We'd just missed this. However, Nevskiy Prospekt was a tide of ever-moving traffic well into the early hours and the switch on the city lights was not flicked until 10.30 pm.
We were unable to celebrate the stretched out days as it rained ceaselessly during our stay. St Petersburg is so renowned for its weather, the Church On Spilled Blood contains no painting but is decorated entirely with mosaics, inside and out.
We had arrived from Helsinki with a front from the west which included a dramatic electrical storm and were kept at sea for 10 hours until the winds dropped enough for us to dock. The River Neva pours into the Baltic Sea via a network of tributaries, and its mouth where the port is located, is a patchwork of tiny islands tricky to navigate.
We waited in the Gulf of Finland only miles from the shore peering at the black coastline through a blanket of water and mist. Fortunately, here, the sea was calm. Our ship, The Princess Maria, crawled towards her destination on her hands and knees.
The rain stayed with us for the day and a half that we had remaining to explore the 'Venice of the North' as Goethe dubbed it. We retreated to the Café Singer.
On the second floor of the bustling Dom Knigi 'House of Books' shop, the café reflects the art nouveau elegance of its building - Venetian green plaster, antique wood, leather upholstered chairs and potted palms. Its gaping arched windows allow you to gaze directly at the Kazan Cathedral.
With seven storeys and a cupola with a landmark glass globe, the premises symbolised Singer's status and influence at the start of the 20th century. After the dismantling of the Tsarist autocracy in 1917, it became a publisher's and the home of Dom Knigi.
We lunched on smoked salmon with potato salad. My habitual green tea came with honey and lemon on the side. I took neither preferring the purity of the tea itself. Spooky had a sweet, spiced tea.
The salad had been prepared nouvelle cuisine style, the delicate fish and potato salad mixed together and pressed into a round mould.
Having cleared our plates, we weren't ready to venture into the rain just yet, so ordered a dessert of pancakes with hot blueberry sauce and vanilla icecream. Heavenly. Unfortunately, we ate many pancakes and blinis during our time on the ship and on Russian soil and now, back home, are trying to re-establish a healthy regime.
However, we needed to stoke up before joining the long queue for The Hermitage that zig-zagged across the vast, waterlogged Palace Square. We would be waiting an hour and a half. This was Thursday, the day of free entry and the rain had helped to increase numbers.
We huddled under our one umbrella as closing time approached. Fate smiled on us, and we were among the last sodden group to be allowed entry that day.
I was reading Ten Days That Shook The World - the first person account of the 1917 revolutions written by American journalist John Reed. He climbed the marble staircase of The Winter Palace in November with the Bolsheviks as they took power from Russia's Provisional Government.
"... we walked into the Palace. There was still a great deal of coming and going, of exploring new-found apartments in the vast edifice, of searching for hidden garrisons of yunkers which did not exist. We went upstairs and wandered through room after room. This part of the Palace had been entered also by other detachments from the side of the Neva. The paintings, statues, tapestries and rugs of the great state apartments were unharmed; in the offices, however, every desk and cabinet had been ransacked, the papers scattered over the floor and the living room beds had been stripped of their coverings and wardrobes wrenched open.
The most highly prized loot was clothing, which the working people needed. In a room where furniture was stored we came upon two soldiers ripping the elaborate Spanish leather upholstery from chairs. They explained it was to make boots with ... "
As well as seeing some of the art treasures the Tsars had amassed, I wanted to see where this landmark event had taken place.
Although Communism crumbled 25 years ago, Russia's second city appears to trail behind the fast-paced consumer-driven west - restaurants with white tablecloths and artificial flower arrangements that focus on food rather than appearance, the regular whiff of strong unfiltered cigarettes.
It was like a trip back in time to my European travels of the 1980s and 90s - strange, delicious, refreshing. I hope it doesn't catch up soon.