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I would like to tell you that it was a wonderful trip. Thank you for organising it so well.Mr Boag
I would like to tell you that it was a wonderful trip. Thank you for organising it so well.Mr Boag
“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” said Winston Churchill in October 1939. Here we take you through the highlights of the enigmatic Russia.
Russia’s capital is a city of contrasts, where ancient buildings stand side by side with modern architecture. It has served as a capital throughout the medieval period, much of the Tsardom of Russia, and the Soviet Union, and retains its influence to this day as a symbol of Russian political, cultural, economic and scientific power.
The Kremlin, a medieval city-fortress, is at the heart of Moscow in every way and is the official residence of the president. It houses numerous palaces, cathedrals and the Armoury, all enclosed by an immense wall. The Armoury contains glittering treasures such as state carriages from Catherine the Great’s era, a fabulous collection of Carl Fabergé eggs and the Diamond Fund.
Next to the Kremlin is the main city square – Red Square – flanked by major sights such as the eye-catching St Basil’s Cathedral with its coloured domes and Lenin’s mausoleum. The highly acclaimed Bolshoi theatre is located just a few minutes’ walk from Moscow’s Kremlin, which reopened after a six-year refurbishment in 2011, having restored the original acoustics of the theatre at a cost of more than $500m.
If you’re travelling beyond the centre then a trip on Moscow’s celebrated metro system is well worth it. Forty-four of its stations have been designated as architectural landmarks, with opulent designs featuring chandeliers, marble walls and high ceilings.
For art lovers, Moscow’s art galleries contain works by some of the masters, including Van Gogh, Goya and Rembrandt, as well as their Russian contemporaries such as Chagall and Kandinsky. The Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian State Museum are recognised as some of the most important art galleries in Europe.
Built 300 years ago by Peter the Great as his ‘window on the west’, St Petersburg is a city unlike any other in Russia or, indeed, the whole of Europe. Its grand beauty, architectural splendour, wealth of cultural treasures and intriguing history make for an unforgettable visit.
Dubbed the ‘Venice of the north’ for its palace-lined waterways, St Petersburg escaped the architectural incursions of Stalinism, and its grandiose relics of tsarist days are virtually intact. The waterside walkways and elegant streetscapes are best seen on foot and are enchanting at any time of year, whether under a blanket of snow on crisp winter mornings or during the balmy days and white nights of summer, when the sun hardly sets. Important sights to see include the Peter and Paul fortress, the former citadel and an infamous prison; the Hermitage Museum which contains some 3 million exhibits over six buildings; and the enormous Winter Palace where the Tsar once lived, which is today part of the Hermitage Museum.
Located close to the city centre are further breathtaking palaces such as Pavlovsk, Peterhof, and Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace at Pushkin. All display lavish designs and luxurious interiors, each with their own unique features: Pavlovsk has fine landscaped gardens, Catherine Palace features the renowned Amber Room, and at Peterhof there are ornate fountain cascades.
An evening opera or ballet performance at The Mariinsky is the perfect way to finish a day of sightseeing. Formerly known as the Kirov theatre, it has been transformed under the 20-year tenure of the famous conductor Valery Gergiev. Under his guidance, the theatre has flourished and is now arguably the finest in the country.
Combine a stay in Moscow with visits to the circuit of towns that once represented Russia’s political and cultural heart. Located to the north-east of Moscow, the 18 towns and villages that comprise the Golden Ring were fundamental in the creation of the Russian Orthodox Church between the 12th and 16th centuries. These towns are some of the most picturesque in Russia, with beautiful Orthodox churches, ancient monasteries and imposing kremlins.
There are a variety of interesting sights to see across these various towns and villages: the small town of Sergiev Posad is built around one of Russia’s most important religious and historical landmarks – the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius; Suzdal is perhaps the best preserved of all the towns, featuring elaborate religious monuments and intricately decorated wooden cottages; Vladimir is the medieval capital of Russia, two of its cathedrals holding Unesco world heritage status; Kostroma was a favourite of the Romanovs over the centuries and is home to the impressive Ipatievsky monastery; Pereslavl-Zalessky has some peculiar museums dedicated to kettles and flat irons, among other things; and Myshkin is also home to a number of museums, including one dedicated to mice, the town’s name is derived from the Russian word for mouse.
As transportation is quite limited in the region, most travellers use Yaroslavl as a central point and then take day trips to the other cities, or travel on a Volga river cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg, which frequently stop at Yaroslavl, Uglich and Suzdal.
Many first-time visitors to Russia go to the main cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, either as a short city break or combining the two by train or on a cruise via the Golden Ring. But there is a vast country to explore beyond these confines.
Aboard the Golden Eagle train you can explore the entire length of Russia, traversing the expanse of Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian railway, finishing at Vladivostok on the shores of the Sea of Japan. The line covers 9,000km, passing through eight time zones and 80 towns and cities. Highlights of the journey include Kazan and the Unesco-protected Kremlin; Yekaterinburg, the site of the Romanov’s last days; and Lake Baikal, the world’s largest body of freshwater. Going north, the Golden Eagle can take you on a wintry journey as far as the northern ports of Arkhangel and Murmansk, where you might be lucky enough to see the northern lights.
For some people, a trip to the theatre to see a ballet or opera performance is the primary reason for their visit to Russia. The Bolshoi theatre in Moscow and the Mariinsky in St Petersburg stage highly acclaimed performances, from classics such as Giselle and Tosca to new works by Russian and western composers, and the ballet companies associated with each of these theatres have achieved worldwide acclaim. Cox & Kings can book tickets for a performance during your stay or arrange behind-the-scenes tours of the theatre.
St Petersburg was once the capital of Russia. Its imperial past is evident in the sumptuous palaces found in and around the city. Make sure to visit the town of Pushkin, formerly known as Tsarskoye Selo, or the ‘Tsar’s Village’, which was a royal country residence just south of St Petersburg. Tour the impressive rooms of Catherine Palace as well as the smaller Alexander Palace, the favourite residence of the last Russian emperor. In St Petersburg itself is the extravagant Peterhof Palace with over 300 fountains in its landscaped gardens. The palace has a wonderful location overlooking the Gulf of Finland.
It would take several days to see everything on show at The Hermitage in St Petersburg, one of the largest and oldest museums of art and culture in the world. Consisting of six separate buildings, including the Winter Palace, the museum displays jewellery, mosaics, arms and armour, items from Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and an extensive gallery of paintings. Artwork includes a fabulous collection of European masterpieces coupled with the best of Russian avant-garde painters and sculptors.
Various trips can be made along the Volga. Take the route between Moscow and St Petersburg, visiting both cities as well as beautiful sights along the way such as the medieval cities of the Golden Ring. Alternatively, sail all the way to the Caspian Sea, combining stops at Soviet-era towns with picturesque villages.
The deepest lake in the world and one of the oldest, Lake Baikal is home to an abundance of wildlife, including freshwater seals. With the introduction of the Trans-Siberian railway in the late 19th century, plus the exile of political prisoners into the region’s notorious Gulag penal colonies, the city of Irkutsk, started to expand to become the regional capital. Visitors can either stay here or in Listvyanka village, which is situated on the lake and offers peaceful and relaxing accommodation, ideal for hiking along the shore. From Listvyanka, you can catch a boat to the island of Olkhon, which is inhabited by indigenous Buryat tribes and is known as one of their holiest places of worship.
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