Moscow and St Petersburg

Trip Start May 02, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2014

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Flag of Russian Federation  , North-West Russia,
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We had been thinking of finding a guide to help us around in Moscow and St Petersburg – but I am glad that we didn't go to that trouble as it has been a piece of cake getting around these cities. We had thought that we would not be able to read words in Cyrillic script but we have picked up quite a bit and can vaguely read the things that we need to – like names of places and streets!  (It has been quite fun to try and figure them out!).   Everything in Russia is expensive!!  In order to be near the centre of Moscow we stayed at a small hostel, 3 floors up with a lift that could only be used between 11:00pm and 7:00am…. (so not much use to us!!).   Although we had the only private room with a bathroom, it was still VERY small, with no window!! ......  And it was the most we have paid for a hotel room on our whole trip!

But WOW – Moscow is AMAZING!!   Our hotel was very close to the Red Square (the so-called heart of Moscow historically, geographically and spiritually).    And for 3 days we walked and walked and walked…. and saw so much – St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s mausoleum (I was very keen to see his body, but opening hours are short, and it was closed on the day that we were able to go! – they were probably dusting him off!!!), the Kremlin, and an eye-opening trip to The Armoury, where the jewels, precious objects, carriages, clothes, armoury, etc., etc. from times gone by are stored.     Security at the Armoury was tight, and we queued for a long time to even get in, as ticket numbers are limited.   The Tsars certainly lived extravagantly!!!

On our first day in Moscow we joined The Free Walking Tour of Moscow and spent about 3 hours being shown around.   The guide depends on tips as payment for the tour and it was extremely well done, and gave us a good idea of how and when to see things.   Although our Moscow sightseeing was limited to the tourist area around Red Square, we got the impression that it is a clean, wealthy, well-run city.   There is lots of renovation taking place, and everything is kept in good condition.   The streets and sidewalks were being cleaned regularly with spray hoses from big vehicles and the gardens in every area were in top condition.   We saw more very expensive big black cars than we have ever seen in one place before, and the shops are stocked with everything.    The exclusive shopping centre on Red Square – called GUM - has all the top brand names including Tiffany and De Beers.  (GUM was the showpiece shopping centre in Soviet Russia and existed in a time when there was nothing on the shelves in other shops, and people had to queue for days at GUM in order to perhaps buy food or clothes…).    We did find a good restaurant in GUM that served typical Russian food, at reasonable prices.   The other supermarkets in the vicinity of where we stayed were worth a visit just to see the wide range and choice of goods on offer

We also enjoyed watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier alongside the Kremlin wall.  Every hour the guards change and we saw it 3 times – as we were often in that area of the Kremlin alongside the Alexander Garden, which is a favourite gathering place for Muscovites!   We also enjoyed a pedestrian precinct called Arbut Street.  It was always busy with musicians, artists, curio stalls, food and coffee places, bikers, and instead of Elvis lookalikes, they had Stalin lookalikes – dressed in full military regalia!!!!

An interesting thing in Russia is that no tobacconist is allowed to display his wares – the shop windows are all covered over with plain paper, and in the supermarkets the cigarette "boxes" above the cashier were blanked out.   ID had to be shown to buy cigarettes ….. and yet you can buy vodka freely anywhere!!!

Unfortunately we had to leave Moscow after only a few days.  We could have spent a lot more time there.  

We caught the renowned “Red Arrow” train (Krasnya Strela) at midnight from Moscow to St Petersburg.    Our best train so far, with breakfast included!!   The trains have got better and better as our trip has progressed, but sadly this was our last overnight train.  (We will be taking the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux in a day or two’s time – but that is a day trip).   

We arrived at 8am in St Petersburg, too early to book into our hotel, so leaving our bags at the hotel, we took a hop-on-hop-off bus around St Petersburg.  WOW again!!!   These cities are just so full of serious history and serious bling!!   In St Petersburg our hotel is again very central – close to the main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt.   And we have been walking and walking again.  I think that I may have lost a bit of weight, but I certainly am a lot fitter.   To cross the wide, busy roads (especially in Moscow) we have had to often use the underground steps – up and down …… quite a challenge for the unfit!!!!).   The drivers in Russia drive VERY fast but are particularly aware of pedestrians, and you just have to be anywhere near a pedestrian crossing for them to slow down and stop to let you cross.

They call St Petersburg the Venice of Russia and aptly so…. I didn’t realize how many rivers and canals there are here.   The city is spread over a number of islands.  It is just beautiful.  It was built on the marshy estuary of the Neva River and because of the ground conditions the underground rail system is reputedly the deepest in the world.   So we have again seen quite a lot, but not nearly enough, as our time here has again been too short.   We enjoyed The State Hermitage Museum.  I think it is bigger than The Louvre, so one has to have an idea of what you want to see before visiting it.  After going up the incredible Jordan Staircase (the main entrance inside the Winter Palace) we headed for the imperial staterooms, the Impressionist Art, and the 20th century art …. It was just too much to properly absorb in a short time.   A highlight for us in St Petersburg was the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibition.  It is housed in a huge marquee and has been travelling around the world.   It is an interactive exhibition where huge screens, columns and the floor are used to screen 3,000 Van Gogh images – accompanied by beautiful classical music.  His writings are included and you just get immersed in his world.  To quote - “It is a vibrant symphony of light, colour and sound, combined and amplified to create an unforgettable multi-sensory experience”…. You walk around and sit on beanbags, or on the floor, and just watch and listen…. How lucky that we managed to see that! 

Yesterday we took the underground and then a 40 minute minibus (marshrutka) ride, to visit Peterhof  – a palace built by Peter the Great as a country retreat.   It is located just outside St Petersburg on The Gulf of Finland.  Having seen enough “bling” we decided not to go into the Palace itself …. in any case the grounds, with over 140 fountains, is the main attraction.   We returned to St Petersburg by hydrofoil – again a wonderful outing!   We have enjoyed the “white nights” here with the sun hardly setting, and sunglasses needed at 10pm!  (St Petersburg is quite far north).   It has been fun to wander around near the Church of the Spilled Blood (almost a little St Basils!) and watch locals and visitors along the canals.  (The locals like to roar up and down the canals on jetskis! – narrowly avoiding the other boating activity - quite entertaining but a bit mindless!)

So we have come to the end of our time in Russia, and feel that we have hardly scratched the surface of what there is to see… perhaps we will return one day to spend more time here.

Tomorrow we leave by plane for Paris, and then to Bordeaux where we join up with Andy’s brother Ian and his wife, Elspeth, to barge for a week with friends of theirs who live in France.   Then, finally, to England for the wedding in 10 days time of Andy’s nephew, Andrew.

So I think that this may well be the last blog on this trip… but if there is time I may post from the barge!!!

So, with a rather cheesy ending - from Russia with Love!
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Mick on

Fantastic blog Ann; enjoyed every one, and the well-chosen pics. Glad you've had a good time and the Great Adventure has been a success.

Benita Kropman on

Thank you so much for sharing your amazing trip with us! Enjoy the last part!

Gill on

Getting closer. Looking forward to seeing you.

Paula on

I liked that from Russia with love bit!!! I really, really want to go there!

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