The Russian Federation - August 24 - September 8, 2016
How wrong can someone be in their perception of another country, specifically Russia? This venture into the former USSR was an eye opening experience in many ways. The country is a lot more modern than most Americans believe, at least in the western portion, near the two largest cities. The country we saw had beautiful clean cities with outstanding public transportation. Apparently their economy is not doing too badly because construction cranes were everywhere, building many high rise apartments or business office buildings. Tourist were everywhere in the major cities and into the countryside at other popular tourist destinations.
Russia contains some of the most beautiful palaces and churches in the world. It is hard to believe that so many of those beautiful historic buildings were tragically destroyed by the Nazis in WWII, and many were neglected or abused by the Communists during the USSR days. But, in the past 20 to 30 years, the Russians have worked steadfastly to restore these buildings to near their former splendor.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Express to Russia Tours portion of our trip. The guides were excellent and the drivers got us to where we needed to be - although a little more aggressively than we would have preferred sometimes.
After our tour, we spent several days sightseeing on our own. That allowed us to explore off the beaten trail and see more details as we desired. In all, it was a delightful vacation.
8/24/2016 [Tuesday] We left home at 1:00 pm for our 6:40 pm flight on Singapore Airlines SQ61 direct from Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Domodedomo Airport (DME) in Moscow. We arrived at 1:00 pm on Wednesday. Singapore Airlines is a wonderful airline to fly on.
Click on the small photos to enlarge them.
[Wednesday] Our Moscow Express to Russia tour driver met us at the airport exit and drove us to The Aquamarine Hotel, in the center of Moscow.
After checking in, we dropped off all our things and walked along the Vodootvodnyy Canal and across the Moscow River about a mile to Red Square and St Basils Cathedral. They were holding an International Military Music Festival from 8/27-9/4 on the grounds, so it spoiled the view of the large open area of the square, where the USSR held all their military shows of weaponry in the years past. After walking back to the hotel, we ate supper in the hotel restaurant.
[Thursday] After we had enjoyed an outstanding breakfast buffet in the hotel, our Moscow Express to Russia guide, Lena, met us in the lobby at 10 AM. Her English was very good. We rode with our driver to Red Square and walked around St. Basil's and Red Square with Lena, as we had done alone the day befor. Today we walked through GUM Department Store, dating from the 1890's, and saw all the upscale shops that are in this beautiful building that is along one side of Red Square. Then we walked past the ultra plush 5-star Metropol Hotel, completed in 1905, and the Bolshoi Theater, which are a short distance away.
We met our driver again and rode to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a little beyond the Kremlin on the Moscow River. This Russian Orthodox church has a storied past. Completed in 1883, to celebrate the victory over Napoleon, it was blown up in 1933 by Stalin, to make way for a Palace of Soviets that was never built. It was rebuilt in 2007 and hosted the lying in state of Boris Yeltsin. Tchaikovsky wrote The 1812 Overture which was first performed here to celebrate the victory over Napoleon. The pedestrian bridge across the river gave a good view of the city as well as the church.
After visting the church, we rode to the Novodevichiy Convent, which was across a small lake from us. We continued on and walked through the Novodevichiy Cemetery where many USSR leaders were buried, such as Nikita Khrushchev and the Russian Federation president, Boris Yeltsin.
Then we rode to Moscow University and the good overview of the city. We walked to The State Tretyakov Gallery and spent about two hours looking at the Russian art. We walked back to the hotel by a very scenic route.
After returning to our hotel, we decided to walk to a restaurant nearby. We ended up at a very colorful and interesting Ukrainian restaurant on a nice Moscow street.
[Friday] Today, with Lena and our driver we rode to the Kremlin and spent about two hours walking around inside the Kremlin walls. We entered the Kremlin through the Trinity Tower Gate. We saw the massive Tsar Cannon and the Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world. We toured inside the Cathedral of the Archangel and Cathedral of the Assumption.
We ate lunch at a bookstore across from the nearby Metro station. We then took a tour of the Metro stations.
After about an hour and a half of the we walked to Arbat Street. At the end of the street we met with our Moscow friend, Irina, and took the Metro to her apartment for dinner. During our visit, we were able to Skype with our mutual friend, Boris, back in Katy, TX. After a great visit and authentic Russian dinner with Irina, we rode the Metro back to our hotel.
[Saturday] Our new guide for the cities outside Moscow, Anna, with driver Alexander, picked us up at 8:30 from our hotel in Moscow and drove us to the city of Sergiev Possad. We visited Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius. Founded around 1335, it is one of Russia's most important religious centers and places of pilgrimage. The huge complex is enclosed by white walls around 1 mile in length, and it's churches are said to be among the most beautiful in Russia. We ate lunch in a restaurant that was previously used by the monks to eat.
After our visit at St. Sergius was concluded in the afternoon, we were driven to the city of Vladimir. Vladimir was founded on the Klyazma River in the late 900's. There we visited The Cathedral of the Assumption (built in 1160), the Cathedral of St. Demetrius (built in 1197) and the Golden Gate (built in 1164).
We went to our hotel in Vladimir - the Voznesenskaya Sloboda Park Hotel - and ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was a beautiful hotel in a very scenic setting.
[Sunday] Today we met our guide and driver and rode to the town of Suzdal for the day. Suzdal, on the banks of the Kamenka river, is the best preserved of the Golden Ring towns. Its clusters of 17th and 18th century churches make this the most beautiful area of the region. We toured the Museum of Wooden Architecture first. It is an open-air exhibition of wooden buildings dating 1700s. The Church of the Transfiguration was built in 1756 without using metal nails.
We walked on a footbridge across the Kamenka River and toured the Suzdal Kremlin, which is older than the Moscow Kremlin. It contains the Cathedral of the Nativity and the Archbishop's Chambers, which we visited.
We ate lunch at a local restaurant and rode back to Vladimir to catch an express train to Moscow, so we could take the Sapsan high speed train that evening to St. Petersburg.
In Moscow we walked next door to the Sapsan high speed train station for our trip to St. Petersburg. We left Moscow at 7:30PM and arrived in St. Petersburg at 11:30PM. Our St. Petersburg Express to Russia tour driver was waiting outside the train car to take us to the hotel. We arrived at The Rossi Hotel & Spa about midnight.
[Monday] Our weather fortune finally ran out in St. Petersburg today. It started raining early this morning and rained all day. We were still able to take a city driving tour with our St. Petersburg Express to Russia guide, Olga, and visit the The Peter & Paul Fortress, which contained the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, with the Boat House in front. After visiting them, we drove to The Church on Spilled Blood and viewed the exterior. Later in our visit to St. Petersburg, we went inside.< Church on Spilled Blood.
Afterwards, we walked along Nevsky Prospect, the city's most famous street, and purchased better umbrellas, because the ones we brought from home weren't up to the wind and rain in Russia.
[Tuesday] It was not raining when we got up this morning, but shortly after it began again. We spent most of the day inside the Hermitage Museum (the former Winter Palace of Tsarina Elizabeth), completed in 1762. It was completely destroyed in WWII by the Nazis and painstakenly rebuilt by the Russians in the years since. Contained within the massive building is the Cathedral of the Image of the Saviour Not Made by Hands (The Great Church of the Winter Palace). This complex is absolutely the most incredible place I have ever seen. Russian royalty really knew how to build beautiful palaces.
After our day with our guide ended, we ate a mid-afternoon lunch at a very good cafeteria (Stolovaya canteen) across from the Sapsan train station. In the late afternoon we rode the St. Petersburg Metro (underground) and the bus, to see a few thousand of our close Russian friends. We walked back to the hotel and after a short rest, at about 8:00PM we walked around the long block near our hotel, past the Alexandrinsky Theater and The Soulmate cat cafe back to the hotel.
[Wednesday] Today we woke up to a bright sunny day. The rain was a thing of the past, although it was cool 60's and windy.
We rode about 15 miles south of St. Petersburg to the town of Pushkin to tour Catherine the first's Summer Palace. We spent the day there with with our guide, Olga. The palace was built in the early 1700s to be the residence of Catherine. Remarkably, it was also destroyed by the Nazi's in WWII and has been rebuilt to it's former splendor. It is a masterpiece of artistic construction.
As we returned to St. Petersburg, we left our guide near the Hermitage Museum. We then located the Hermitage Theater for a future ballet performance we were going to attend.
We then located our favorite cafeteria and ate our afternoon meal. We then rode the #22 bus back near our hotel. After a brief respite in the hotel, we walked along the Fontanka River beside the hotel a few blocks. We walked to the Bolshoy Drama Theater and back.
[Thursday] Today was cloudy and cool, but no rain. We drove about 10 miles southwest of the city to visit Peterhof Palace. The Palace is a series of palaces and gardens laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. These palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles".
Peterhof suffered the same fate as other palaces at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. It was completely destroyed, but the Russians hid almost all the furnishings and restored the palace to its former splendor. No inside photography was allowed, but somehow we have a few here.
Financing of the restorations of palaces in the country is done completely by the Russian government. The government gives some money to maintain churches, because they are considered to be a national treasure also.
We spent several hours here at Peterhof, then after returning to S. Petersburg, we ended our guided tours for the duration of our visit to Russia. The next week we were on our own guidance, using the DK Eyewitness Travel Russia guide book and the large amount of tourist information that was available in English in the country.
After we checked into our new hotel, The Majestic Botique Hotel, we walked a short distance and ate our afternoon meal at Pelmenya restaurant. Then we went next door to the Faberge Museum and spent a few hours. We walked back to the hotel.
[Friday] It was a cloudy and cool 61-degrees this morning. We are on our own from now on without any guides. The clouds diminished as the day continued and it was beautiful and mostly sunny.
We rode the city bus to the Summer Palace & Garden of Peter The Great and walked through the garden. Unfortunately, the Summer Palace was closed for renovation and we were not able to see it. The gardens were open and the large park contained many marble statues and beautiful fountains.
Afterwards we walked to the Church on Spilled Blood and then to the hotel for a brief visit. We walked to a cafeteria nearby for a afternoon meal. We ate a nice warm meal for the equivalent $5.67 total.
We then went into the Metro at Nevskiy Prospekt and rode the Blue line to the Red line, then south as far as Leninskiy Prospekt station. We went outside and walked around. We got back on the Metro and rode north to Narvskaya station and got out and walked around.
We stopped and had a dessert and coffee before coming back to center city and walking to the Church on the Spilled Blood (also known as Resurrection Church of Our Savior). We made it inside just before the closing time. Inside and outside, this is one of the most beautiful and impressive Russian Orthodox churches we saw. A portion of the church extends out into the river, covering the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, and inside is his burial memorial.
[Saturday] In the morning we rode the bus to near The Menshikov Palace and walked along the river. We caught a bus back across the river and started walking toward St. Isaac's Cathedral. On the way Lawson encountered a pickpocket that stole his phone. We returned to the hotel and they called the police. The officer came and took our report. Afterwards we took a taxi to the police station to receive a copy of the report.
In the evening, we took the bus back to the Church on Spilled Blood and took some outside photos. Then we walked to the Hermitage Theater to see a performance of Swan Lake.
[Sunday] This morning the rain returned. After breakfast, we checked out of the Majestic and took the bus to the Moscow Station to ride the 11:10 Sapsan high speed train to Moscow.
We arrived in Moscow at 3:00 pm and walked to the Courtyard Moscow Paveletskaya Hotel. After resting in our room a while, we went outside and walked in a light drizzle to a nearby restaurant across the street from the hotel.
[Monday] The rain continued today as we left after breakfast in the hotel and rode the Metro to near the Kremlin. We bought tickets for the 12:00 entry and stood in the queue to get into the Kremlin Armoury. We spent almost 3 hours viewing the awesome collection of wealth and opulence the Russian Czars collected in the past 500 or more years. Unfortunately, photography was forbidden inside.
After late lunch and a quick stop back at the hotel, we rode the #5 Metro to see a wonderful performance of the Russian National Dance Show 'Kostroma'. It was so good, we bought a DVD of the performance. We rode the Metro back the the station near our hotel, and arrived at the hotel about 10:30 pm.
[Tuesday] This morning was nice and sunny so after breakfast we took the Metro and rode to the stop near the Bolshoi Theatre. We walked through the Metropole Hotel, probably the most luxurious hotel in Russia (built in 1905), then on to Saint Basil's cathedral again for an inside tour. We spent probably about an hour going through Saint Basil's Cathedral, with the seven small chapels that are contained therein.< < < St. Basil's Cathedral.
Afterwards, we intended to go to Lenin's Mausoleum, but it was past the closing of 1:00PM, so we rode the red Metro to the Sokolniki Station, went outside, and walked through some of the shopping in the area, then ate our afternoon meal at the Coffee House restaurant. We then rode back into the city center to the Arbatskaya Station. We walked through the Old Arbat district and bought a few souvenirs. We returned to the hotel via lines 4 & 5 of the Metro.
[Wednesday] We checked out of the hotel and left our luggage with them this morning. We walked to a restaurant nearby and ate breakfast. Then we took the Metro to the Red Square area. We bought tickets and walked through the St. Basil's Cathedral, which is 7 churches build over time adjoining each other. It was commissioned in 1552 by Ivan the Terrible.
We then went to Lenin's Mausoleum and walked through it. We saw Lenin's embalmed body lying in his glass covered tomb, in state.
Next to the Kremlin is the very beautiful Aleksandrovskly sad (Alexander Gardens). These gardens were named after Tsar Alexander I. Next to the entrance is the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWII with the eternal fame. We walked through the entire garden, admiring all the beautiful flowers in bloom.
We went back to the hotel and picked up our luggage and walked to the Paveletsky Railway Station and took the Aeroexpress train to Domodedovo Airport. It took a little less than an hour to get there. We then walked about 1/2 mile to the Aerotel Domodedovo Hotel, to spend our last night in Russia. It was the only hotel at the airport and was pretty old. It had the basic necessities, but nothing to make you want to stay over 1 night. Interestingly, the rooms did not contain A/C cooling. They only had heating, but of course, it was so cool outside in the summer, all you need do is open the window to let the 50 degree nighttime temperatures into the room. We made it fine.
[Thursday] We got up at 5:30 AM and caught the 6:45 AM shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport. On the bus we met a man that was from Oklahoma and had been working in some town outside Moscow for the past 3 months. We spent time conversing with him, since he was also on our flight to Houston.
After getting our luggage checked with Singapore Airlines, and going through the airport security, we ate breakfast and did some last minute duty free shopping and boarded the SQ62 Boeing 777 aircraft for the 12-hour flight back home.
Some Observations on Russia:
Clean streets everywhere we went.
Clean nice looking people. No panhandlers. No obese people. Very few tattoos and piercings.
Almost all young people we saw could speak some English.
Lots of traffic. Many luxury cars - Mercedes, BMW, Audi, etc. A few Fords. Lots of Japanese and South Korean cars.
Pedestrians have the right of way in marked crosswalks and the drivers seem to honor that system.
No stray dogs and cats.
Dual language signs at museums (Russian/English), transit terminals and in many restaurants.
Cellphones and Wi-Fi everywhere.
The driving practices are different there. Our professional tour drivers were very aggressive. Some of their practices would get you shot in the U.S. Most other drivers were very tolerant of their behavior.
The young Russians are wearing clothes (T-shirts) with English language writing on them. American and Western European brands abound.
Upbeat American/Western European English language music playing in all the restaurants.
All the food we ate was excellent. You have either "sparkling water" or "still water" in restaurants.
This draws to a close our vacation to the Russian Federation. We hope you enjoyed the photos and brief descriptions of our activities. God willing, join us again soon for another travel adventure.
Proshchay for now,
Lawson & Kay
But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.(Psa. 59:16 NASB)