Largest country of the world, among the coldest places on earth, St. Basilica's Cathedral, Kremlin, Moscow's oldest metro stations in the world, Russian Revolution and White Nights in St. Petersburg- Is this all we've read or seen about Russia and become skeptical while thinking of going on a vacation there? Well, if you haven't I sure did.
Inspite of suffering from perpetual fernweh, visiting Russia reiterated my view on "you will never know until you go" and I came back with a whole new perspective on travelling. I actually boarded the flight to Moscow with a heavy heart thinking why did my family even choose this place for a week's vacation instead of any other cool and beautiful European city in every traveler's bucket list to boast about. Little did I know how the 2 most beautiful Russian cities would take toll on me and make me fall in love with them forever, calling me for more visits.
So we began our trip in the capital of the largest country, Moscow which is so much more than the St. Basilica's cathedral and the old historical metro stations. The microclimatic place where you can experience all types of weather in a single day with its historical buildings and architecture spoke volumes about the proud history they hold, the enthralling colorful flowers adding charm to the culture and art streets, the massive escalators in the metro stations, the Moskva river, Putin's office and some monumental buildings from the Soviet Era. The city does full justice to the Scorpion's Winds of Change. But my personal favourites in the world famous Red Square were The Gum Building and Kremlin fortification on the 2 sides of St. Basilica's Cathedral whose existence itself was unknown to me, and the beauty of Gum building's 18th century classical architecture overwhelmed me. Another must visit in Moscow is the affluent Arabat street aka culture street full of artists portraying their art, colorful shops selling the traditional matryoshka dolls, mini ice cream shops and beautiful pink trees.
The next exclusive Russian experience was the bullet train ride from Moscow to the alluring city of St. Petersburg, moving at a speed of 200 kmph and covering a distance of more than 700 km in just 4 hours taking you through the most serene sights.
Formerly known as Leningrad, St. Petersburg, the city founded by Peter the Great in the 18th century will make you gaze at its incredible architecture, museums and palaces on every turn. It oozes of the 200 years old history, mainly attributed to Peter the Great and Queen Catherine inspired from Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, Rome.
The grandeur of the colossal palaces and museums was stupenduous. We visited the Nicolas Palace for a Russian Folk show that made me feel like I was floating in the air for 3 hours.
Next was the Hermitage Museum which is so extensive that you need weeks and months to explore every part of it. This place had the most subtle paintings I've ever seen by the world renowned artists, and the collection in this museum is the 2nd largest in the world after Belgium. It has royal art forms from ancient times to the contemporary times, masterpiece collection of portraits and dishes from Europe which justifies its place in the top museums of the world. You can take a walk in the Palace Square which is as vast as your eyes can see, evoking scenes from the Bolshevik Revolution with workers and government officials filling the square.
Then we checked out the Peterhof Palace from our itinerary. Built by Peter the Great after getting inspired from Versailles, it became his summer residence. It has 27 museums and is visited by 5.2 million people annually. It also has a portrait room with more than 300 portraits and is built around the quiant Baltic Sea. I had the most peaceful and rejuvenating time sitting by the sea with my journal, trying to absorb the tranquility of the place and trying to pen down my ineffable thoughts. Later that night, we went to witness the famous opening of drawbridges on the Neva River by a local bus at 1 am in the morning on a boat, when cold had taken its toll on us and the temperature dropped to almost 4 degrees with chilly winds. But when we saw the beautiful city lit up inspite of the white nights and the bridges opening right in front of us, we couldn't hold our mouths and eyes from opening as wide as they could and our hands stuck to our lips for having experiencing the most mesmerising, unique and unusual thing in the world. St. Petersburg is the only place in the world where 10 bridges open and we were lucky to see 2 of them on the same river. We returned to our hotel at 3 am and saw the captivating colorful and vibrant sky amidst the quietude with hues of purple, red, yellow, orange and blue. Without a second thought, it was absolutely soul stirring.
We concluded our trip to St. Petersburg with Pushkin Palace, another must visit and a very popular place in Russia which is also related to Nazis and Hitler for trying to capture this magnum opus. It was built in the classical European style in 18th century during the reign of Peter the Great. Russian architecture came during Alexander the III, hence it's neo- Russian architecture. It has the most treasured and precious Baroque Amber Room that dazzles visitors to this Winter House. Ancient Italian architecture can also be seen in the Green Dining room built by Catherine for her son Paul the I. It has paradisiac and lush green gardens built in perfect symmetry. You get to see picturesque views that seem right out of any Windows wallpaper.
Every Palace has its own extravagant dancing room which will take any history buff or reader like me to the lucid description of those 18th century dancing scenes and imagine the elite women dancing in their classy gowns, impressing the men with their flamboyance. History and culture aficionado might end up spending a little more time adoring the dancing rooms. Also a walk around the exuberant city of St. Petersburg with classical European architecture and colorful buildings is a must, where you can spot street band performers at every 100 metres and walk with the locals to get the actual Russian feels.
Russia is a heaven for meat lovers and if you're one then do not forget to treat your taste buds with the super amazing cheese and beef burgers and the traditional Solyanka soup which is a meat lover's dream come true. You can't miss the Russian vodka, draught beer and Nevysky beer which costs less than water.
So if you're looking for a getaway from Indian tourists, stir your eyes and soul with the wonders of nature and man, experience travelling by air, road, water, tracks and on foot, all in one trip, bring life to the xenophile in you and relish the victuals then plan your next trip to Russia.