Russia Part 1 – St. Petersburg and Moscow

Day 150: August 9, 2018

We were up super early (1:00 am) to catch our flight from Batumi, Georgia to St. Petersburg, Russia. We had breakfast then packed to go. We called a cab with an app similar to Uber; it was supposed to be a minute away. After about seven minutes of waiting outside we gave up and just hailed a cab on the main street. The airport was only seven minutes away so it was a cheap ride.

At the airport there was already quite a line of people waiting to check in so we were in line for some time. Once through security we got on the plane quickly.

Our journey had a stopover in Minsk, Belarus. In Minsk, we filled out a landing card for the Russian Federation and went through customs there. It wasn’t too long before we boarded our plane to St. Petersburg. We went through customs again on arrival then once we had our bags we found our transfer driver.

Driving from the airport I was surprised how much it looked like Canada. In the downtown area, it was less like Canada and the buildings looked more Austrian inspired.

Our hotel is right in front of one of the many canals. We were too early to check in so we ordered lunch at the restaurant in the hotel. Danny had borscht and I had chicken with vegetables. We went for a walk around the block then our room was ready.

I ended up napping for a bit then we went up the street to a restaurant. We ordered three different types of dumplings. They were all yummy. Lots had pumpkin inside them which added a sweetness. They were much better than the Australian use of pumpkin.

Dumplings

After supper we purchased some water at the store because we read we shouldn’t drink tap water here. Back at the room we went to bed right away. At 9:45 pm we were awoken by a call from the front desk that there was a letter for us. At first Danny said, “Oh, we’ll get it in the morning,” but then curiosity got the better of us. We were wondering who would have known the hotel’s address to send us something. It turned out to just be our train tickets which was pretty anticlimactic.

Day 151: August 10, 2018

I did not sleep very well. I forgot to turn off my alarm from the previous night so it went off at 1:00 am. Then I woke up around 4:30 am because it was cold.

We went down for breakfast in the hotel then met our tour guide in the lobby at 10:00 am. We had booked everything for Russia through a tour company because we weren’t sure how it would affect our visas if we did it ourselves. We now know it wouldn’t have mattered.

We had a private active walking tour and boy was it active. I had 38,000 steps by the end of the day. Our guide, Natalia, started with explaining the founding of the city by Peter the Great in 1703. He moved the capital unofficially to St. Petersburg in 1712 to be closer to Europe. It also was the base for his navy. The city’s name was changed to Petrograd in WWI to avoid it sounding German. Following the revolution, it was changed to Leningrad.

Peter the Great wanted his nobles to dress in European fashions which were much more risqué than Russian fashions. He also forced men to cut their beards and taxed those who didn’t comply. He valued education so nobles were required to finish their exams before getting married.

St. Petersburg is made up of over 42 islands. In Peter’s time there were no bridges only boats to get across. The city started with Peter and Paul Fortress on an island then expanded to three main streets.

We visited St. Isaac Church which was originally constructed in 1712. Peter was married inside. It was destroyed multiple times before the current one was constructed between 1818 and 1858. The cupola (dome) is a mix of mercury and gold. Prisoners were used for the construction and were freed if they lived. The cathedral was not bombed during WWII as it was used as a point of reference for the Nazis. The Russians suspected this and stored items from the palaces inside.

Inside St. Isaac Church, St. Petersburg

We visited the summer gardens where only dogs and sailors were not allowed so they would not disturb the noble ladies. The pond within is said to be where Tchaikovsky got the idea for Swan Lake.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was next. It was built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The church was constructed between 1883 and 1907. In WWII it was used as a temporary morgue. After the war it was used as a warehouse to store vegetables.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Next we visited an Impressionism art display which was part of the Hermitage Museum in Palace Square. I thought I would be very bored, but it was actually very interesting. Our guide knew a lot about the artists which added to the experience. Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh’s works were displayed inside.

Palace Square, St. Petersburg

We then moved to the Winter Palace portion of the Hermitage Museum. We saw throne rooms, ballrooms, many paintings collected mostly by Catherine the Great, a statue by Michelangelo, Madonna paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, then some other palace rooms. We were thankful to have a guide to point out some of the important items in the museum. If we had gone alone and without any preparation we likely would have been stumbling around.

Inside the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

Our tour ended around 6:00 pm. We left our guide and walked over the river to Peter and Paul Fortress. We walked along the beach there then inside the fortress. Many souvenir shops were selling Putin shirts and mugs.

Peter and Paul Fortress across the water, St. Petersburg

We walked within the fortress for a bit then went around and back across the river. We went to a trendy courtyard with different restaurants. We chose a deli one. Silly me, I forgot to request no mustard so I was very disappointed with my sandwich.

We returned to our apartment which seemed extremely far away for our tired feet. We relaxed in the room before bed.

St. Petersburg was very different than I was thinking. The buildings were very grand and it didn’t look like other cities. I imagined the people in Russia would be different somehow as well, but they are just the same as us.

St. Petersburg
Day 152: August 11, 2018

We woke up and went downstairs for breakfast. Our transfer picked us up at 11:00 am and took us to the train station. The transfer driver’s car remote wasn’t working well and at one point while we were driving the alarm went off and the car stopped. He got it reset and we made it to the train station.

Around 45 minutes before we were to leave our track number came up. We bought burgers to eat on the train for lunch. The train left from St. Petersburg train station at 1:00 pm and we arrived in Moscow around 5:00 pm.

We tried to use an app similar to Uber to get a ride to our hotel, but the app said there was an issue. It said the cost for a cheap ride would be 350 RUB so we went out to get a cab. The first guy said it would be 2,500 RUB. It was going to be metered. I thought maybe that was just the cost so we agreed and got in. I guess we should have asked a couple of other drivers…

We arrived at the hotel and the driver said it was 4,000 RUB. We said that was ridiculous and he had said it was going to be 2,500 RUB which we already thought was extreme. We finally ended up paying part of it and walking out. He didn’t follow us so he must have been ripping us off. Danny was very upset. Inside the hotel, we sat to cool down for a bit.

The tour guide from GAdventures showed up with two other people on the tour. We chatted with the couple while our guide, Sasha, checked us in to the hotel. The couple is from New Orleans and are just retired.

We went up to our room and dropped our bags then hurried down to meet the group for supper. We walked a bit from the hotel to an interesting looking restaurant. Sasha suggested beef stroganoff in a clay pot so that it was what we had. We also had some very tasty vodka.

After supper we went to the grocery store and picked up some breakfast food and water. We figure it will be much cheaper than breakfast in the hotel. We then returned to the room for bed.

Day 153: August 12, 2018

We woke up at 7:30 am and went down to the hotel gym for 45 minutes. They had ALL the machines. Back at the room we had yogurt for breakfast then went to the lobby for 9:30 am to meet the group.

We took the metro to Red Square and met our guide for a tour of the Kremlin. Kremlin actually means fortified complex. The Moscow Kremlin was founded in 1147 and started as a small village with a wooden wall. In the 12th century the Mongols invaded and the village grew as people sought protection.

In the 14th century Russia had different principalities fighting each other. They were unified under Moscow and the tsar settled in the Kremlin. The Kremlin is now the working residence for the President, however, Putin does not live in the Kremlin at this time.

The Kremlin is divided into two parts: administrative and tourist. It covers 28 hectares. The walls originally had 18 towers which used to have double headed eagles on top. The Bolsheviks replaced them with a five pointed star which symbolized them populating five continents on their spread of communism.

The current Kremlin walls were built between 1485 and 1495. A yellow building in the square was built by Catherine the Great for the Senate. Later the Bolsheviks lived inside.

Inside the Kremlin, Moscow

We saw a 40 lb. canon cast in the 14th century and a huge bell that weighed 200 tons built by Empress Anne. There are very few birds in the Kremlin area as falcons are used to keep them away. The birds used to scratch the buildings many of which are gilded in gold.

We walked through Cathedral Square which has three cathedrals. We entered the Assumption Cathedral then the Archangel Cathedral. The third cathedral is the Cathedral of the Annunciation shown below.

Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow

We then went to the armoury, which was a museum. We saw dresses from the empresses, different carriages, Fabergé eggs, different gifts the Royal family received, armour and chain mail. I found it very interesting, but Danny was getting bored.

After the tour we were given free time. Danny and I went to the Red Square. There was a concert going on with stands covering the square so we didn’t get a very good view. We walked around to St. Basil’s Cathedral then over the bridge to get a good view.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

We walked back to the square to see if we could find Stalin’s grave which we thought was near Lenin’s mausoleum, but we couldn’t find it. Leinin’s mausoleum is only open from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm every day and there is a huge line up to enter. We think Stalin’s grave must have been inside the mausoleum somewhere.

We walked up the road a bit to get a taste of Moscow away from the Kremlin are, but it was a pretty boring walk with not near enough ice cream. We returned to the Kremlin area and found the Metro station near the State Historical Museum.

Square in front of State Historical Museum, Moscow

Upon return to the hotel we chilled for a bit then went to a nearby Italian restaurant before bed.

St. Petersburg and Moscow have always been near the top of the cities I would like to visit. They both had much different vibes than I imagined. St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North and it had a similar whimsical feel to Venice. I think the movie Anastasia gave me a different impression of St. Petersburg. Moscow I found a bit boring honestly. I was not as awed by the Kremlin as I thought I would be. Maybe I was growing tired of cities as well by this time. I would like to see St. Petersburg and Moscow in the wintertime covered in snow. I think it would give both cities a different feel.

Tomorrow we head out of Moscow to the countryside to visit some small towns. I’m looking forward to escaping the big cities for a bit.

M

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