Russia Travel Map
Click on this Russia map link to see the detailed route and the main towns. http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?itinid=191181&tripid=191181
For the full photo gallery for Russia visit http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Russia/
4 July 2009: The Hermitage, St Petersburg
One day at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg was not enough. Lynda set off early and got into the queue AN HOUR AND A HALF before opening time. Pretty happy to be in the first 100 or so people. Got slightly saturated and hypothermic after showers and cool breeze, but hung in there, gratefully sharing umbrella space of nice Russian woman. The queue grew spectacularly long (and stayed that way all day).
Lloyd and Hils arrived one minute before opening and we joined the surge towards the TWO tickets offices. There were no lines, just a massive amount of pushing and shoving. No match for Russians, who are damned good at it, we ended up with tickets 45 minutes later, and were probably around the 3000th people to get in, that day. And we got to pay 350 rubles, instead of the 100 that “Adult citizens of the Russian Federation”. Hmph!
It was just as fantastic and daunting the second time around, got the Audio guides again, and were gobsmacked by the representation of art styles and artists. Hils and I got stuck in the Dutch and Flemish rooms, while Lloyd attempted to do a whirlwind tour. We still missed enormous amounts, but got a little book with many of our favourites to take home. Very lucky to have seen the Hermitage – it alone has made the challenge of getting 3 Russian visas seem more than worthwhile.
3 July 2009: The Hermitage and The Ballet, St Petersburg
Lynda and Hilary went to the Hermitage. Seriously awesome art gallery. One of the world’s pre-eminent collections. You could literally spend days there.
Lynda and Hilary went to the ballet at the Alexandresky Hall. Goose bumps. Just fantastic.
Lloyd stayed at the hostel and worked.....
2 July 2009: Peterhof Palace (Petrodvorets), St Petersburg
We took the metro down south and caught a marshtrutky to the palace. This place, built by Peter the Great in the early 1700’s is just nuts – a huge palace and hundreds of hectares of gardens and fountains. You can’t even begin to describe the scale and opulence. Here is a website with some information: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/peterhof/index.asp
Entry to the front or upper garden was free – and it was absolutely stunning. Classic symmetrical 18th century geometric layout on a huge scale, with ponds, fountains, box balls, hedges, lime tunnels. We joined a queue and waited for nearly an hour to get into the main palace (it was unclear what to do as there were several queues and almost no info we could read). As at other museums, as foreigners we got to pay a special higher price for our tour which was all in Russian!! We tagged along (you have to go in a group with a guide – no free lance wandering) – of course we understood nothing, but looked at what she indicated and nodded knowingly (not). Room after room of portraits, mirrors, and more gold gilding than you can poke a stick at. Even more remarkable was that the place was largely destroyed in 1941 – they have been restoring it ever since: they have done a brilliant job. We finally found a guide book in English at the end of the palace tour and got an inkling of what we had just seen (could not get one for love or money at the entry gate).
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the spectacular gardens. There are 140 or so fountains and streams, cascades and ponds, running down to the Gulf of Finland through gorgeous parkland of enormous shady trees. Even though it was quite warm we were able to stay out of the sun for much of the afternoon. We have seen a lot of amazing gardens in Europe, but this was right up there.
A cool wind whipped up and there was a brief shower with the change, but nothing of consequence. Had an obligatory ice cream in the warm sunshine, in the flower garden of the orangerie. The really interesting thing about the place was a) it was incredibly busy (peak travel time in Europe) and b) the visitors where overwhelmingly Russian. There were a couple of foreign tour groups, but by and large foreigners were not at all obvious amongst the crowds. There must have been 10,000 visitors, but they were well spread out. And we estimated that there would have been at least 100 staff in the palace and at least 200 gardeners working on the day, trimming hedges, raking up piles of grass, sweeping the many kilometres of paths. Unbelievable. Quite an operation.
Every fountain, bridge or seaside viewing spot was filled with families and friends taking photos of one another. We noticed that for photos, girls put on a very straight, unsmiling (sultry) face. Then laugh and smile as they check out the photo and walk on, chatting. Interesting that it seems to be considered the best look for photos. Girls often walk along holding hands. They wear some really creative get-ups and almost always, very high heels. Hard work on cobblestones and gravel.
And finally, some exercise at the end of a long day!!
Caught the bus then metro back to the city on the expectation that the Hermitage was going to be open late. But it was not to be. We wandered past the Admiralty and then climbed up the dome of St Isaacs Cathedral for a birds eye view of the city. It was raining for a while but the view was nice and the air was cool. The staircase of 221 steps was spiral all the way – beautifully carved slabs of bluestone radiating our from a central column – incredible craftsmanship. The columns on the church were marble, 3m diameter and 30m high – we could not imagine how they were made, let alone carried there and erected.
Like Irkutsk, there are swirling masses of fluffy white seeds falling off the poplar trees – it really looks like snow!
Had dinner at a great little place called Cafe Stolle – we all had out fill (with beer) for about AU $18 ($6 each) – best value meal so far!! (in contrast to some of the others). Lots of beetroot, buckwheat and cabbage and the typical freshly made berry drink. Yum. Walked home along canals and over bridges, past the Mariinsky Concert Hall (famous for ballet) then home at 21:00. Another big day down.
1 July 2009: St Petersburg
We love plastcart (3rd class train travel) – cheap, comfy and great people watching opportunities. A great mix of people, especially a lot of young women travelling alone. Almost all Russians. Had a pretty good sleep and arrived at Sanct Peterborg at 9:46. Successfully bought multi-ride Metro tickets and found the correct line. Lynda snuck in a sneaky photo of a gorgeous marble barrel vaulted hall, but got sprung. Had to fill in a form and pay 100 rubles fine. Also had to laugh – didn’t really know if the big, tough bloke in a uniform was for real, but wasn’t going to argue. So it’s true, you really shouldn’t take photos in the Metro! But I’m so glad I have, those mosaics and light fittings and sculptures and tiles are fantastic.
Bought piles of yummy fresh food at the market near our hostel, walked for about 5 hours and did a boat tour (with English commentary) on the canals and river. Saw the spectacular Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, the Hermitage museum (from the outside), Summer Gardens and most of Nevsky Prospekt. Came back, ate well (fresh stuff) and it’s now nearly 1:00 – got to go to bed.
30 June 2009: Moscow
The Comrade Hostel was great expect for the snoring blokes. That and the lack of darkness. Lynda got an hour or so of sleep, Hils and Lloyd did better. Hit the Metro early, emerging near the Kremlin, where we got our tickets, went through security and wandered the grounds. A lot to take in. Particularly impressive were the 800 cannons taken from Napolean’s forces as trophies from his retreating army! Visited several of the highly historic churches, heard some gorgeous plainsong (I think) singing from 5 priests and admired lovely frescoes, icons and lofty vaulted ceilings. Went to Arbat ul, full of nasty souvenirs, but fell for beautiful etchings, and bought one – of Suzdalian churches with a garden and wooden house in the foreground.
Had lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended cafe in the forecourt of the Conservatorium – nice but South Yarra prices. Ouch. Had several choices with Australian beef on the menu.
Next we saw some more awesome Metro stations (more sly photos) and found our way to the State Tretyakov Museum, a treasure house of Russian art. Hilary got stuck right into it, and Lynda loved the landscapes – flashbacks to Siberia, different seasons, painted over hundreds of years, but so many could have been produced now – the scenes were timeless. Religious icons from over a thousand years were fantastic, too.
Spent the late afternoon at Kolomenskoye Estate, a huge park with rolling grassy hills, enormous swathes of apple and cherry trees, herb gardens, old churches, and thousands of people walking, sitting and hanging out with friends and family. Dozed on the grass, stayed till 8 o’clock, then caught the train back to town.
Had scrumptious Armenian food at a place called Noah’s Ark, collected our gear from the hostel and caught our last Metro ride at midnight (more sneaky photos). Arrived at Leningradskaya station and waited in the half light with thousands of people, till we got onto our St Petersburg train at 12:45. Truly bizarre, not really dark, 25 degrees and hordes of people piling onto train after train. We made up our beds and were nearly asleep before the train left at 1:05. Precisely.
29 June 2009: Vladamir and Moscow
Got the local bus back to Vladamir and then piled on a bus that was heading to Moscow. It was packed as well. Cloudy, warm and sticky. Road was 4 lanes but very busy with trucks, buses and cars all the way. Took nearly 4 hours.
Managed to negotiate the incredible Moscow metro to our hostel, aptly named Comrade Hostel. As usual, it was located in a little back lane, but we had good directions. The hostel is friendly, there is a kitchen, a washer and super helpful staff.
Moscow is massive (the book says 10 million). Lots of people and cars heading in all directions. The bus dropped us at a huge market near Kurskaya Station, an enormous modern hub that looked more like an airport. We did pretty well to find the Metro and get our card of ten tickets each, and with the help of a smiling bloke in a scary uniform, launched into the incredible Moscow Metro. Saw absolutely stunning stations, all Art Deco, marble, vaulted ceilings, sculptures, elaborate reliefs in glazed tiles commemorating military endeavours, beautiful lighting, chandeliers – every station was individual and glorious.
Surfaced at Kitay Gorod, and found our hostel, recommended by a German chap in Irkutsk. Couldn’t believe it when one of our Italian friends from Galina’s homestay turned up. We all laughed. Mentioned our interest in seeing some ballet and had two Russian blokes enthusiastically looking online for what is on at the moment. After two loads of washing, tickets booked for “Swan Lake” in St Petersburg, hours of computer pfaffing around and a big Skype session for Hils and Kane, we headed out into the streets of Moscow.
IMPRESSIVE. In every way. We were astonished by every medieval bend in the road as we aimed for the Kremlin. We are in the oldest part of the city and the architecture ranges from tiny churches and monasteries to the most awe-inspiring grandeur. Vast, ornate pastel coloured buildings with columns and arches and sculpture, one after the other, as far as the eye can see. We were actually chuckling weakly, in the end, completely overwhelmed by every new view. Of course Red Square and St Basil’s Church finished us off, the square is enormous, backed by the towering walls of the Kremlin, and the beautiful St Basil’s crazily colourful, topped with dozens of domes, sitting in the middle.
In beautiful evening sunshine, in the stunning Alexandrovsky Gardens, Muscovites out in their thousands, around fountains, lying on the grass, parading in extremely fashionable outfits and looking slim, suntanned and very rich.
We walked until 11:00 pm, when it became obvious that Moscow actually doesn’t go to sleep, a whole other world gets going. Bars and clubs open at nine and close at 6am.
28 June 2009: Vladamir and Suzdal
A beautiful sunny day today – quite warm. Still endless forests and farms and little villages. It has been fun on the train but we have all had enough now.
Piled off the train and caught a local bus to Suzdal, about 35km north of the railway line. This was fairly entertaining as it was packed with locals and we were the only tourists. Suzdal is a small town that is part of the “Golden Ring” around Moscow. There are a lot of churches with golden globes on top – the guide book says there are more churches than inhabitants –could be true. A local said there were either 33 or 330 churches... (still not sure). It has had a long connection with the wealthy in Moscow.
We stayed at a lovely guest house called Likhoninsky Dom, which is a renovated 18th century home. It is a heavy log cabin construction with huge beams and very low doorways (about 1.7m). The lady was very friendly and helpful and we were able to sort out a few things with someone’s niece on the phone, who could speak a little English.
Spent 4 hours walking the town visiting many of the churches and monasteries. There was a great local history museum at the Kremlin, but there was only Russian captions. Ended up back at the Kremlin monastery at an amazing restaurant in the basement. There were vaulted ceilings and the walls were at least 2m thick. The decor was nice and they played nice Russian music. They had an English menu, the food was great, the waiter very helpful. But there was virtually no one else there. Amazing. It was a cracker of a meal.
The Dom had no internet, so Lloyd went off to find the alleged computer club in town that is open 24 hours. It was a very seedy looking room down a very dodgy corridor off a derelict looking courtyard. There was a bank of about 20 computers, but course they had no wifi and their network was setup to stop other computers connecting. The 12 year old who seemed to be running the place had no idea. I gave up and he went back to his computer game.
There was a large storm brewing loads of lighting and thunder. Rained heavily overnight. The weather has been warm to very warm and quite sticky.