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From Russia with love

I think I already had a pre conceived idea of what Russia would be like, gloom, poverty and widespread political repression. However I was blown away by how different the reality really was.

My tour was a short 8 day hop around the enigmatic country, starting in the gargantuan capital of Moscow. Considered one of the greatest capitals in the world this vast and diverse city has it all, glamour, gloom and old world architecture in stark juxtaposition with audacious modernity. Moscow is home to the famous sites of the Kremlin, Red Square and Lenin’s Mausoleum. These sites were every bit as spectacular as I had imagined they would be but it is in fact the less well known attributes of the city that caught my eye, the stunning Metro system, known as the “palaces of the People” and Gosudarstvenny Univermag (GUM) the architecturally eye popping state department store on the east side of Red Square.

All too soon it was time to leave this diverse city and move onto Suzdal, the old capital of Russia and perhaps the most startling contrast to the city we had just left behind. The place that time forgot is an apt way to describe this enchanted city. Abundant with Russian history, rustic lanes, medieval monasteries and cathedrals this was the ‘real Russia’ I had wanted to experience; one that hadn’t been spoilt by 20th century modernity and pollution. It was here we met Lena our local babushka who delighted us with her cookery skills, vodka drinking etiquette and love of Boney M! Two days of the unspoilt beauty and charm of this place had left me wanting more.

The next day brought about an experience I had been truly excited about, the overnight train from Moscow to Novgorod. The compartments on the train were clean and comfortable and gave me an opportunity to participate in the local experience.  You will find the train attendants or provodnik or provodnitsa will not smile too often but do not take offence at this as they are the most attentive people you could ask for. The train journey was a unique experience and one where I got to experience the local culture a bit more and even try out some of my new found language skills. 

A very early arrival in Novgorod meant a quick nap for all but the exploring soon started with a tour lead by a university educated local lady called Nina. Her stark honesty and open contempt for the Russian government was hugely interesting and saddening at the same time. The tour took us through the streets of the oldest city in Russia to the quaint gardens of the riverside Kremlin. All the while Nina described what it was like to grow up in Russia in times of communism and how it is to live in the new democratic Russia, we all left the tour with a humbling sense of how lucky we were to leave in a fair and non-corrupt society. Novogorod gave us perhaps one of the most culturally traditional experiences of the whole tour, a Russian Banya (bathhouse) after a couple of hours in the intense heat and steam and some close experiences with a birch branch we were ready for our local honeyed mead, a speciality of Novgorod.

The next day brought about our last stop on this tour, St Petersburg. This city is considered the shining star of modern Russia and certainly felt very cosmopolitan and European compared to the other perhaps more traditional cities already experienced on the tour. This city has endless sights, monuments and museums to explore and our short time there unfortunately did not make a dent on the delights that the city held. A visit to the Barricade museum a climb to the observation deck of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and a glorious boat trip on the River left me with the desire to return to this fine city.

And so it was time to say ‘do svidaniya’ to magical Russia, a country not only holder of great surprises and truths but a place of warm hospitality and local affection. I started the tour with perhaps a western view of the country and left with a complete change of heart….I fell in love with Russia and one day I will return.    

Unpublished
From £828pp exc flights
Trip type: 
Cultural
Adventure level: 
3. Moderate
Max group size: 
12

Russia Highlights

Asia | 8 days
Trip code: 
WBSR
Church of the Resurrection, St Petersburg - Russia
A short trip visiting some of Russia's key cities.

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