The Russian Romance
The second world is a captivating vast country which stretches across two continents. It would require a month to explore the country. I just had 9 days- 9 days of Moscow and St Petersburg. So here’s my story.
Moscow summer is lovely. It can get quiet hot under the clear sky and bright sun. And chilly in the winter with snow.
St Petersburg however is windy and rainy most of the summer with heavy snow in the winter. They say St Petersburg has two seasons- a season of expectation - that life would be better when summer arrives; and a season of disappointment- their actual rainy windy summer.
The wind does not blow in a south-north direction; it blows in your face direction; no matter which way you turn, its in your face.
Places to see in Moscow:
Red Square: Kremlin
Red Square: St Basils Cathedral
Red Square: State Museum
Red Square: Kazan Cathedral
Red Square: Iberian Gates
Red Square: Gum
Tsartsyno Palace Museum- Reserve
Places to see in St Petersburg:
Peter and Paul Fortress
Church of Saviour on Blood
Yusupov Palace- Rasputin museum
Neva River Cruise
I landed at Vnukovo airport and took a cab straight to my hotel Azimut Smolenskaya. This hotel is located really close to a popular street in Moscow- the Arbat Street. Our hotel had an awesome view of the city and I was ready to head out.
Arbat Street is a long stretch of stone road with shops on either side, plenty pubs and restaurants and street musicians performing every few metres. It is a lively place in the evening and perfect to hang around. My journey with Russian Vodka started in this street. I met my friend and we walked into a parlour which looked like a fruit juice cafe. My friend ordered a drink and enquired if it had any alcohol in it. The waiter was quite disappointed at the question and made it a point to let us know we are in Russia- ofcourse the apple juice had vodka in it. What followed was a night of multiple apple juices and blurry cab rides and bright lights and at some point some very pretty women shared a shisha with us at Golden Girls. The rest would be, what happened in Russia, stayed in Russia.
The following day with a mild hangover we headed to the Red Square. It was bright and sunny and we managed to walk around the square for a while and visit St Basil’s Cathedral- it is a must to see the inside of the cathedral which is just as beautiful. The Kremlin, GUM, State Museum and Kazan Cathedral make up the square. You can spend hours at each attraction exploring the history of this beautiful country. Each attraction requires a ticket and it would be best to pre book tickets online as the queue can get really long. We headed to GUM which is their fanciest shopping mall and the architecture is gorgeous! It is mandatory to have a Russian ice-cream while at the mall.
As our health got a bit worse due to the heat, we headed to Mummiy Troll Bar near the Red Square and I met two more friends. Beer is probably the best cure to a hangover and thus our second night at Moscow started with a lot of laughter and delicious beverage. What followed were a bit more of a blurry night and a salsa performance at Liberty pub. Russian beer was just as good as their vodka with price ranges from 200-400 rubles a pint/shot.
Russian food can be very bland. However some of the places we did find good food were:
John Bull near Arbat Street
Bosco cafe in Red Square
Mummiy Troll Bar near Red Square
Stolovaya 57 in GUM Red Square (pre booking a table is recommended)
We found an interesting palace in Moscow set within a forest park. We took the metro to Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve. It costs about 55 rubles one way from Moscow to Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve. Entry to the forest park was free and it is a beautiful walk on a sunny day through the trees. The palace is in the centre with a gorgeous fountain few steps away. I would highly recommend visiting this beautiful palace and the forest park.
Luckily while I was at Moscow, the international military band competition was about to start. My friend and I purchased tickets for 400 rubles each and attended the show. Military bands from Russia, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Sri Lanka performed in complete pomp and glory and the night ended with breathtaking fireworks over the red Square. A sight etched in my memory forever. The bands then walked into the streets of Red Square and celebrated with people while playing into wee hours of the night. The electrifying ambience of the Red Square continues resonating in my heart as I type this blog weeks after having been there.
We took the fast train to St Petersburg. Sapsan trains are really good with comfortable seats. It took us a little around 4 hours to reach St Petersburg and there the rain and wind greeted us with a big hello right to our face.
We stayed at the Western Hotel Plus opposite the railway station. It was right on Nevsky Prospect and had an amazing restaurant at the ground floor- Du Nord cafe. I had some of the best meals at Du Nord. Must try Joues de veau- veal cheeks stewed in Grenache Noir wine, with ptitim and spicy cherries.
Nevsky Prospekt is one of the best places to stay at in St Petersburg as it is architecturally amazing and historically an important street for St Petersburg. Although it rains most of the time, the sunset after the rain transports you to a magical golden land with beautiful people and warmth from the setting sun. It will make you stop on your tracks and just appreciate the sheer beauty of this beautiful country.
There are a lot of things to do in St Petersburg- The Peter and Paul fortress is a whole day affair as it is located on a nearby island connected by bridges. The Peterhof palace will also take 4-5 hours to explore its beautiful parks and fountains. The must visit is ofcourse the Winter Palace. I would suggest booking a tour online to skip the line and enter the palace with the guide. The queue can get massive and pre booking is the best way to get in. It takes 4-5 hours to explore the palace so rich with history and absolute breathtaking golden interiors. We had an amazing guide- Kirill Zimichev. I highly recommend booking him- email@example.com
We spent almost 5 days in St Petesburg with each day dedicated to one prime attraction. The evenings we spent wandering around Nevsky Prospect, spending time at pubs and clubs. The midnight river cruise is a wonderful way to explore the city at night. The opening of the Palace Bridge is a popular tourist attraction. It can get quite chilly on the cruise, warm clothes and scarf is advisable.
Every evening we spent a few hours drinking Vodka at the local pubs and clubs and befriending other travellers and locals. Weekdays are usually dull with not many people coming into nightclubs. By Friday, the tempo goes up as the city gets down to party over the weekend. What started with a shot of vodka soon blurred into several drinks, a high restaurant bill and some enthusiastic dancing on dance floors and bar counter tops. Coyote Ugly allows women to get up on the counter and dance the night away; a provision several women took up and dragged me up to perform. Rest assured, the photos would never see the light of day. I met people from all over the world at the clubs; looking to have a good vacation and a good night out and for the 9 days in Russia, we had the time of our lives.
We found some amazing places to eat and drink at St Petersburg:
Gosti - highly recommend
Beer Family -most relaxing place for a drink on Nevsky Prospect with amazing view
Du Nord Cafe- highly recommend
Money is Honey- Old english rock music pub
Nebar- great nightclub
Russian people are friendly, polite and helpful. Communication could be challenging if you do not speak Russian, but we managed fine with the help of google translate. The architecture in their metros is one of the best I’ve seen although the trains can be a little old. Russians celebrate life with a lot of laughter and Vodka and for 9 days it felt like home to me. As a traveller if a city welcomes me and makes me feel like I belong there, it is a city I would fall in love with and want to go back again. The Trans Siberian rail starts at St Petersburg and travels all the way to Beijing in 7 days. This would be next on my bucket list as I could not fit into the itinerary this time.
Best way to travel is the local taxi app- Yandex. Do not take any taxi from the road as they will cheat you. Yandex is the safest, easiest way to travel.
Buy a sim card from the airport as you would need internet to translate Russian to English or vice versa often. Sim cards are available in 400 rubles with unlimited internet.
Tips are not included in the bill and it is expected to tip the waiter. We tipped around 20-50 rubles depending on bill amount.
Stay hydrated, always carry a small bottle of water.
Hotels were booked through Booking.com
Winter palace walking tour booked with firstname.lastname@example.org