We finally decided to travel to Russia this summer. After flying from Valencia to Saint Petersburg and checking into the hotel, we went out for a first bit of contact and were shocked at how cold it was - a lovely summer afternoon at just seven degrees (we had left Valencia at six in the morning to 28 degree weather!).
The European style of the city and its many canals and rivers really stand out. This is due to the fact that it was erected over marshy land and Peter the Great, who founded the city in 1703, designed it just like the European centres of the era. We walked along the grand River Neva, enjoying a spectacular panoramic view of the opposite bank and admiring the Admiralty building, the Hermitage Museum, the domes on the cathedrals and churches and the many bridges.
The next day, we began at the Hermitage Museum which is one of the largest in the world. It’s got four million works of art and people say that if you spend one minute on each one (eight hours a day), it would take more than a decade to see it all. Later on, we walked along Nevsky Prospect, the main avenue, taking in Saint Isaac’s and Kazan cathedrals, the Winter Palace and square and the Summer Garden. We also went to the Peter and Paul Fortress where all the Russian tsars are buried.“Opposite Lenin’s tomb in the Kremlin are the GUM galleries, full of luxury brands only a few can enjoy”
The next day was spent at Peterhof Palace, one of Peter the Great’s summer residences. It’s comprised of waterfall gardens and spectacular fountains and several palaces and pavilions full of works of art. Upon returning to the city, we visited the home of Rasputin, an interesting figure who had a significant impact on Russian history. At night we enjoyed a real show with the Raising of the Bridges (featuring music and lights) that is done in summer to allow boats to pass through. Careful! The bridges don’t go back down until five in the morning and you can get trapped.
Before saying goodbye to Saint Petersburg, we had time to discover Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (it’s amazing!) and climb up to the top of the dome to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view. Another must-stop is the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood which is built over the place where Emperor Alexander II was murdered.
Moscow and the Golden Ring
We travelled to Moscow in the Red Arrow; the legendary train inaugurated by Stalin in 1931. Despite its age, it is equipped with all sorts of comforts.
The contrast in Moscow with Saint Petersburg is noticeable immediately. You can find monuments everywhere honouring Lenin, the fallen in different wars and cosmonautic achievements, buildings from Soviet times and communist symbols. The city has all sorts of points of interest and the best way to get around is by underground, not to mention the fact that each station is a work of art in and of itself.
One of the must-stops is the Kremlin with the cathedrals of the Assumption, the Annunciation and the Archangel as well as the famous Red Square where you can’t help but think about Soviet times with all those tanks, armies and the atmosphere of war and fear. That’s where you can see one of the great contrasts in the city: opposite Lenin’s tomb are the GUM galleries, an enormous shopping centre filled with luxury brands only a few can enjoy. In fact, the gap between classes was quite obvious on the trip.
We continued our tour through different cities in what is known as the Golden Ring (Rostov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Suzdal and Vladimir), all towns full of history where you can see the authentic Russia. At some of the churches, we had the chance to see a cappella choir performances with incredible acoustics.
Throughout the route, our guide Natascha told us all sorts of Russian stories and all of them had sad endings. This, along with the cold weather, may be the explanation for such a serious national character. In Kostroma, we visited Snegurochka’s residence - the home of the Russian Father Christmas’s granddaughter; whereas, in Suzdal, a World Heritage Site, we had dinner featuring local garden products in a family’s ‘dacha’, all in their kitchen. It was the best meal of the trip.
Upon returning to Moscow, we took a farewell night tour. By day, the city is a work of art in and of itself; but, at night, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen because the buildings are even more beautiful. One thing everyone should see at least once in their lifetime are the Victory Park fountains all lit up in red in homage to the blood that was shed during the 1,418 days of the “Great Patriotic War”.
Films usually portray Russians as the bad guys and they’re always angry. Having verified this is not at all true as the people are friendly and the anger is only on the outside, we returned to our warm Valencia.