Moscow & St Petersburg Classic Russia
Europe expert Cecilia Ban travelled to Moscow and St Petersburg and discovered two contrasting but equally captivating cities.
As a Europe specialist I am aware of how diverse Russia is both culturally and historically but it was only when I visited Moscow and St Petersburg in November that I fully appreciated the real beauty and the charm of these cities. I was lucky enough to witness the first snow of the year which meant that I saw Moscow’s Red Square in all its peaceful white glory, and the temperature was still warm enough to let some sunshine reach the snow fields and let the snow dance and sparkle in the light. It felt like walking around an old movie set when I saw people wearing fur coats and preparing hot meals on small portable stalls on the streets.
Moscow is a fascinating city that one feels like diving right into immediately after arriving at the airport, but it is the kind of place which takes some time to open up for the visitor. Upon leaving the comfort of the hotel one has to face a labyrinth of letters when trying to read the Cyrillic metro names, for example, and this is when an English translation of the metro map and a smile and a friendly question to a younger English-speaking Muscovite is useful.
Moscow is a vibrant city with a considerable business side, and one should expect London prices when it comes to buying such essentials as food. There are, however, numerous buffet-style restaurants where you can just point at the dishes that take your fancy and these are much better value for money. Being vegetarian and fairly fussy about food I really enjoyed the borscht soup which is made of beetroot, and the delicious pancakes which came with different fillings, for example caviar.
The highlight of Moscow for me was definitely the Kremlin’s Armoury which also houses the famous Fabergé egg collection. Despite its name it is certainly not just a museum of uniforms, weapons and helmets, it has an impressive collection of various art objects and it offers a good opportunity to gain some insight into Russian art.
Only few hours by train from Moscow, Saint Petersburg felt like a totally different world. The city is much more compact, it is easy to explore by foot and it is incredibly simple to navigate even without a map, especially when walking along the Neva River and the canals. The city’s buildings are in strong contrast to Moscow’s mainly twentieth century architecture. Saint Petersburg looks much more like a wedding cake, a fine selection of nicely decorated and well constructed Baroque and Classical palaces and houses. It is no wonder that the city became a favourite of the Romanov family who built their famous palaces in Pushkin and opened the Hermitage Museum, which is still one of the largest and oldest museums in the world.
Today the Hermitage still has an astonishing art collection from a wide variety of countries and styles. Perhaps the most popular and captivating is its Impressionist section with includes works from Van Gogh, Matisse and Kandinsky. One should also pay a visit to the Mariinsky Theatre while in Saint Petersburg, some of the world’s best ballet dancers perform here.
People fall in love with these cities for different reasons, some find Moscow’s Soviet past and vibrant modern life intriguing, St Petersburg is more for the romantic-hearted individual with its canals and traditional architecture. Either way, combining these two famous cities offers a great introduction to Russia and its rich cultural and historical heritage.
Cox & Kings' 7-night Classic Russia tour explores Moscow and St Petersburg and can be taken as a private tour or as a group tour. Cox & Kings can also arrange tailor-made holidays to Russia.