That Beautiful Russian Affair - Experience Luxury at Budget 

10th Aug 2018
Photo of That Beautiful Russian Affair - Experience Luxury at Budget by Animesh Sood

As I write this story, I must admit, Russia for once never held a spot high on my Travel List. We Indians, usually tend to be fascinated by European holidays but it is usually the Western Europe - the likes of France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands that attract us. Countries like Russia or in fact any other Eastern European country hardly ever cross our minds for a travel journey. It was the same case for myself until one day I was exploring flight tickets all across the globe from New Delhi in the month of August this year within a specific budget. August, being the month containing some Public Holidays in India especially after none in previous months gives a little more motivation to travel. Another reason I got attracted to the destination was the exchange rate between the Indian Rupee and the Russian Ruble. 1 INR is almost equivalent to its counterpart i.e. Russian Ruble thus I thought this holiday can be done without burning a hole in the pocket.

Russia Visa for Indians

Getting a Visa for Russia is pretty easy. I have travelled to several Schengen countries earlier and thought the process would be similar where you would have to showcase all your bookings in advance (i.e. all flight tickets, hotels. etc) however there was nothing of the same sort. All you need to obtain a Visa for Russia is:-

1) An International Passport with its scanned copies of first and last page.

2) Application Form printed on the website

3) One colour photograph 3.5 x 4.5 cm with light-coloured background

4) Tourist confirmation letter - Now this is something different from several other nations. Russia asks you to get a tourist confirmation letter in advance from one of the sightseeing tour conducting travel agencies or from a hotel which states that you as a tourist would be hosted by them. If you would Google it, you will find several websites offering it for around 20-30 USD per person. However, I got it from the Hotel I had planned to book for my tour. The thing to note here is that if you are travelling multiple cities in Russia (for e.g. I travelled to Moscow and Saint Petersburg), you need to get it from individual travel agencies/hotels of those cities. The Hotels (both in Moscow and Saint Petersburg) i had booked took my credit card details and notified me that they would deduct 3000 Russian Rouble inclusive of 18%VAT in case I don't show up. Thus, my suggestion to you would be to get the tourist confirmation letter from the sightseeing agency/hotel you are certain to book as you would save up on the cost of getting the "Tourist Confirmation Letter". Since you would actually end up booking those tours/hotels, in a way you would get the letter for free which is a critical requirement for Russia Visa.

Once you submit all the above documents it usually takes a week for them to grant the Visa. The cost for Visa is INR 5700 if you also opt for the Courier delivery of your passport.

The Actual Travel Journey - Moscow & Saint Petersburg

Day 1

On Day 1 of our trip, we boarded our flight from Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi to Moscow. The return airfare from New Delhi to Moscow and Saint Petersburg to New Delhi is around Rs 55000 from Aeroflot Airlines for 2 adults. If you book it in a timely manner, you can get an even better deal.

On reaching Moscow, we got our currency exchanged and took a taxi right outside the airport. I would certainly not recommend to get the currency converted at the airport as its the worst place to get it done. However, since I was short of local currency and didn't get it done in advance, I exchanged some amount at the airport. There were no conversion charges though, fortunately. There are desks providing cab inside the hotel as well. Yandex Taxi is the most common cab company in Russia. The cab driver charged us 1250 Russian ruble to get to the airport. If you have a working internet connection, you can book through the Uber app, on which the same would cost around 750 Russian ruble.

Moscow City

Photo of Sheremetyevo International Airport, Khimki, Russia by Animesh Sood

We checked into our Hotel in Moscow which was a 4 star accommodation at a walking distance from the extremely famous Kremlin Towers. Since we reached early morning and fortunately also got our early check-in request fulfilled, we took decided to relax in our room for sometime. Kadashevskaya Hotel costed around Rs 14000 for 2 nights inclusive of breakfast for 2 adults. This Hotel was excellent in all terms - though it didn't have too many rooms (just 35 in total), the rooms were superb and the best part of the hotel is its location. It was walk-able from the Kremlin Towers, Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral and other major attractions. Additionally, I had requested to the hotel in advance to provide the rooms overlooking the river from where the Kremlin Towers were visible.

View from the Hotel Room

Photo of Kadashevskaya Hotel, Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

View of the Kremlin

Photo of Kadashevskaya Hotel, Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

By the afternoon we were all ready for some sightseeing. We decided to visit the famous Kremlin Towers since it was a short walk from the Hotel (Around 15-20 minutes). It is in the heart of the city and is one of the largest architectural and urban fortress in the world. The Kremlin contains 5 palaces, four churches and the Kremlin Wall.It was built by Italian architects and is on a high hill above the Moscow river. In the Kremlin, there is a separate Armoury Chamber that contains arms and Armour right from the 12th - 19th century. The number of daily visitors to the Armoury Chamber are limited and thus it is recommended to book the tickets in advance online.

Archangel Cathedral in Kremlin

Photo of Kremlin, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

In the evening at around 08:00 PM, we started off on a 2 hour night tour to Moscow City. During the journey we went through some of the most vibrant and popular areas of Moscow. We started off at 'Christ the Savior Cathedral' which is one of the symbols of Russia. After this, we crossed the river Moscow and witnessed the iconic red-brick "Red October" chocolate factory.In addition, we walked past the monument of Peter the Great - the Russian emperor on whose name the city of Saint Petersburg is named.Across the river we walked towards the Muzeon sculpture park, where the old statues of communist leaders were gathered. Most of the statues in Moscow are made of bronze - even the giant statue of Peter the Great.

View of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Photo of Peter the Great Statue, Nizhnevolzhskaya embankment, Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russia by Animesh Sood

Some stories say originally, the creator of statue of Peter the Great had designed the statue of Christopher Columbus and decided to sell it to the Government of USA. However, since USA already had the Statue of Liberty, they refused to accept the same. After that, the artist tried to sell it to the Govt of Brazil but they too refused to accept the same after which the artist decided to chop off the head of the original statue and replaced it with the head of the Peter the Great. Once done, he decided to sell it of to Russian Government and they agreed to acquire the same. During our tour, we also walked past the Tretyakov gallery on Krymsky val – the best collection of Russian avant-garde art.The sightseeing tour finished at Moscow's best and most beloved park Gorky Park. It was recently voted the best leisure and recreation area in Moscow. The city of Moscow looked absolutely spectacular in the evening lights - colorful and shining.

Statue of 'Peter The Great'

Photo of Gorky Park Pier, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

Entrance to the Gorky Park

Photo of Gorky Park Pier, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood
Day 2

The next day, after having a wonderful breakfast we started on our full day sightseeing tour to see the most amazing and fascinating places in the city.

Breakfast at Kadashevskaya Hotel

Photo of Kadashevskaya Hotel, Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

First and foremost, we visited the Saint Basil's cathedral. It was a short walk from our Hotel. There are 10 domes in the cathedral. The church has been part of the UNESCO world heritage site since 1990. It looks like one of the Disneyland palaces made of sweets. The entry ticket to the Saint Basil's Cathedral is 1000 ruble for a couple.

St. Basil's Cathedral

Photo of St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

Red Square is often considered the central square of Moscow as the cities major streets and highways commence from this square. Lenin's Mausoleum - resting place of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, is a part of square complex however the visiting hours are only from 10 AM till 1 PM in the afternoon. In 1990, the Red Square in Moscow was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival is an annual military music event held in Moscow on Red Square. Russian and foreign military bands, Folk groups, and the Honor Guard Units of foreign countries participate in the event. More than 40 countries have participated in this event since 2006. The India Military forces also participated in the year 2017.

The famous Red Square in Moscow

Photo of Red Square, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

During our walk around the Red Square we also visited GUM - the State Department store during the Soviet era. The design of the store is extremely impressive and worth seeing. It contains 100's of most famous brands for all the shopping lovers. We even purchased the famous Russian wooden Doll 'Matryoshka' from one of the souvenir shops. Feel free to bargain with the shop owners in the typical Indian style.

GUM Department Store - do try the famous ice-cream cone

Photo of GUM, Red Square, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

After this, we explored the public space at the magnificent Alexander Gardens and paid our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is located at the Kremlin wall in the Alexander Garden and is dedicated to the Soviet soldiers who got killed in World War II. The changing of the guard ceremony is worth seeing and the guards change at an interval of every hour. They pay their respects irrespective of the whether conditions in the city.

By this time we were quite hungry and thus decided to have our lunch. There was a food court right opposite to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Russian food really doesn't have a lot of vegetarian options and thus if you are vegetarian like me, it can be a hard time finding your choice of meal. Thus, we decided to go to the American restaurant chain - Subway and have sandwiches filled with hash brown potatoes and other veggies of choice.

After grabbing some quick food, we were all set to explore the city further and went to visit the cathedral of "Christ the Saviour". The original church was demolished by Soviet leaders to support atheism. However, it was rebuilt in 1990 after receiving permission from Soviet Government. The Cathedral is beautiful from inside however inside the cathedral, pictures are not allowed. Like several other structures in Russia, this building also has high usage of bronze.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Photo of Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by Animesh Sood

In the evening we took a ride in one of the most beautiful subways in the world. An interesting incident took place when I gave a 100 ruble note to purchase the metro token, however to my surprise the lady at the counter blatantly returned the note. She questioned me as to where I got the note from and I told her probably from the Uber driver last night. She mentioned its a shame since it was a fake note. She also brought to my notice that it is mentioned on the note in Russian language that this is not an original currency. To her curiosity she asked whether he was Asian or Russian to which i answered he was Russian probably. I got really disappointed knowing that I was fooled and started to recall that since the driver a previous night returned 2 hundred Rouble notes to me (when I gave a 500 Rouble note) and there was no light in the cab, he may have smartly handed over to me a fake one out of the two. I further analysed the fake note and its paper quality was different from the regular note.However, I kept my disappointment apart and purchased the metro tickets with a different note.During the ride we got down at several breathtaking stations (Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Kievskaya, Taganskaya, Park Kultury) of Moscow city. Each station is unique in its own way. The Komsomolskaya metro station represents the high point of the Soviet Government. It is adorned with eight mosaic panels designed in the style of ancient church architecture. Also, one should not forget to rub a dog’s nose for good luck at Ploschad Revolutsii station. Eventually after a splendid day, we walked back to our Hotel again walking past the Red Square & St.Basil's Cathedral.

Komsomolskaya metro station - most beautiful metro station in Moscow

Photo of Komsomolskaya station, Пушкинский бульвар, Orenburg, Russia by Animesh Sood
Day 3

Next morning, after a lavish breakfast, it was time to say Goodbye to the City of Moscow. We booked an Uber cab from our Hotel to Moscow airport and the fare was 755 Rubles. This time I tried my luck and handed over a 500 Ruble note, along with 2 hundred Ruble notes (one of them the fake one i received and 1 original) and a 50 Ruble note. It seems the cab driver also got deceived like myself and accepted the amount handed over to him by myself. He, in fact additionally asked me not to pay him the remaining 5 Rubles. Without wasting further time, we rushed into the airport and after getting the check-in done, we boarded the flight to Saint Petersburg.

On arrival in Saint Petersburg, we booked a Taxi from the Pulkovo Airport to our Hotel Nashotel.

We were greeted by the receptionist and after completing the check in formalities were asked what we would like to have as part of "Welcome Drink" and opted for Champagne to celebrate the trip. After this, we decided to spend the rest of the day at leisure.

Champagne glasses to celebrate the travel journey

Photo of NashOTEL, 11-Ya Liniya Vasil'yevskogo Ostrova, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood
Day 4

The next morning, after having a wonderful breakfast, our private tour guide met us in the hall of our hotel with our name on the card. We spoke to her and decided our program and sights we would like to visit during the day. We relied completely on our professional guide and let her take us on a discovery of Saint Petersburg.

Vegetarian Breakfast at Hotel Nashotel in Saint Petersburg

Photo of NashOTEL, 11-Ya Liniya Vasil'yevskogo Ostrova, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

The first attraction we visited during our tour was the "Church on Spilled Blood". It is one of the main sights of Saint Petersburg and resembles the famous St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. It is built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. The church contains the largest amount of usage of mosaic in the world. All the walls and ceilings inside the church are covered in mosaic with figures and images being created utilizing the same.The church got severely damaged during the Russian revolution and reopened in 1997 after restoring it.

Church of the Spilled Blood

Photo of Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood, Griboyedov channel embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

The high usage of Mosaic in the church with no empty space on walls

Photo of Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood, Griboyedov channel embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

After visiting the cathedral, we walked on the famous Nevsky Prospect which is the main street in the city of Saint Petersburg. It is the most happening street in the city consisting of majority of city's shopping and nightlife. We walked into the Eliseevsky shop and to our amazement the bakery shop was like one never seen before. They sold food items of various sorts but the decoration in the shop even without being the festive Christmas period was certainly worth the watch. Further during our walk, we also came across the Singer House which was the main Russian branch of the American sewing machine company 'Singer'.

Interior view of Eliseevsky shop

Photo of Nevsky avenue, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

'Singer House' also known as 'House of Books'

Photo of Nevsky avenue, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

During our walk on Nevsky Prospect, we also came across the famous Kazan Cathedral.

Kazan Cathedral at the Nevsky Prospect

Photo of Kazan Cathedral, Kazan Square, Saint Petersburg, Ленинградская, Russia by Animesh Sood

Inside view of the Kazan Cathedral

Photo of Kazan Cathedral, Kazan Square, Saint Petersburg, Ленинградская, Russia by Animesh Sood

By the afternoon, we were famished and decided to have our lunch at an Indian restaurant. We were recommended 'Namaste' Indian Restaurant by our Tour guide and the food was fabulous. The restaurant was run by a person based out of Rampur in India and moved to Russia in 1970's. It was good to finally find someone to communicate in Hindi in a nation where language was a major barrier for smooth communication.

After having an absolute feast at the restaurant, we continued our tour and went to visit the Saint Isaac's Cathedral. It is the largest cathedral in Russia and the exterior of the church was certainly worth admiring. The Russian Churches are among the best in the world however after visiting several cathedrals during our Russian tour so far, we planned to visit the Cathedral's colonnade rather than the interior of the church. It was a 300 step climb to the colonnade, though, the magnificent views from the top really made us forget the climb.From the top, we got an excellent view of the city and its main sights.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral

Photo of Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Isaac's Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

Magnificent city view from the colonnade

Photo of Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Isaac's Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

View looking out from the cathedral onto Isaac Square

Photo of Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Isaac's Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

After visiting the Saint Isaac's Cathedral, we walked past the Neva river. During the walk we came across the statue of Bronze Horseman - statue of Peter the Great on whose name the city of Saint Petersburg was named after. Also, during the tour, we got a glimpse of the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Photo of Nevsky Prospect, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

Peter the Great - The Bronze Horsemen

Photo of Nevsky Prospect, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

Peter and Paul fortress

Photo of Nevsky Prospect, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

By the evening, we were almost about to end our tour and the last stop of our tour was the famous Winter Palace. The palace is green and white in color with it being shaped into an elongated rectangle. Right opposite to the Winter Palace is the Palace Square. Since it was a Monday, the Hermitage Museum was closed, however the sight of the Winter Palace was stunning.

Winter Palace - Former official residence of Russian Monarchs

Photo of Winter Palace, Palace Embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

Palace Square - central city square of Saint Petersburg

Photo of Winter Palace, Palace Embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

By the evening, it got cold and started pouring heavily. We decided to have some hot coffee and try out Mexican food at one of the food joints in front of the Fontanka river. The place was a short walk from the famous Anichkov Bridge consisting of the four horse sculptures.

Mexican Tortilla Wraps and coffee on a cold Russian evening

Photo of Top Hops, Fontanka river embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

After this, we decided to get on-board for the 09:00 PM Boat tour. The boat ride gave us the option to see most of the city's significant monuments and buildings in all of their architectural splendor, which were built to be viewed from the water. During the short trip (1 Hour 15 minutes), we navigated through 5 of the city's rivers and canals. Saint Petersburg, at times is also called the 'Northern Venice' because of its several canals and the amazing visual affect from water.

View of the Hermitage Museum from the Boat ride

Photo of Fontanka river embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Animesh Sood

After a long and and an absolutely stunning day, we booked the taxi and reached back our Hotel.

Day 5

On the final morning of our trip, we bid adieu to the city of Saint Petersburg. After this breathtaking trip, the country of Russia will have a permanent place in our hearts.

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