Russia

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While Russia may not have been on the top of my list for travel destinations, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the world’s largest country after spending two weeks in Scandinavia with my husband and friends, Mitch and Shannon. Although the process of obtaining the travel visa to enter Russia was time-consuming, and at times a bit frustrating, it was completely worth it. We spent three days in the city of St. Petersburg on the shores of the Baltic Sea, where the architecture mimics many of the buildings and structures from Venice, France, and Rome. We stayed just across from the Winter Palace of Peter the Great, and later Catherine the Great, which also houses the famous Hermitage Museum. The largest collection of Russian art in the world is displayed in the palace’s halls.

The Faberge Museum is a private art museum in the Shuvalov Palace where the art of Carl Faberge and many of his contemporaries is displayed. There are nine Faberge eggs in the collection, which were made for the last two Russian Tsars. The eggs are embellished with precious stones, and each has a special surprise inside. Of course, there were replicas of Faberge eggs sold in shops all over the city, and I purchased a pink coronation egg with a princess carriage inside for my daughter.

We visited the gorgeous orthodox Church of the Savior On Spilled Blood, named from the murder of Tsar Alexander II by terrorists. The church stands in the very place where a bomb was thrown into Alexander’s carriage. There are five onion-domes covered in jeweler’s enamel, and the interior is decorated with mosaics of various semiprecious stones. The beautiful church was vandalized during Soviet rule, and is still being restored.

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We also visited Catherine’s Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, located outside St. Petersburg in suburb of Pushkini. The biggest draw to this palace is the famous Amber Room, which isn’t the original room since it was dismantled during World War II and never recovered. However, it was reconstructed beginning in 1979, and is a beautiful work of art that is worth the wait in long lines with hundreds of other tourists. We had a great guide who had purchased tickets for us that got us an early entrance into the palace, which was fantastic!

We took the the 150 mph modern train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and stayed just a block from Red Square. We had a wonderful guide who showed us the city of Moscow over three days. Here are her strict instructions to us,”You can go anywhere, any time, day or night. It is perfectly safe.”

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Our biggest surprise of the whole trip was how safe, modern, energetic, and exciting both Moscow and Saint Petersburg were. They compete with any city we have ever visited in any country. Both cities have great restaurants with international cuisine or regional Russian food. Our favorite restaurants were Georgian, which feature grilled meats and vegetables, cheeses, and delicious breads.

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In Moscow we visited the famous churches, St. Basil’s and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which were even more beautiful in person than in pictures. Red Square was crowded with tourists during the day, but we walked there just after sunrise one morning and had the whole place to ourselves. It was beautiful at nighttime with twinkling lights and the domes of St. Basil’s lit up like a birthday cake. The Kremlin and its museums were spectacular and full of incredible Russian art and jewels. We saw Napoleon’s artillery, Cathedral Square, Putin’s office building, and a gorgeous exhibit of Bulgari jewelry.

Moscow is famous for being one of the greenest capitals in the world. There are over 100 parks within the city, and each is one is different. We took a nice stroll through Gorky Park, which is reminiscent of Central Park in New York City. Vorobyovy Gory is a beautiful park with panoramic views of the Mosdow River, and the huge sculpture of Peter the Great atop a tower of ships.

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The subway systems in Moscow are fascinating! The construction of the Metro was started in the 1930’s and were designed by the country’s best architects. Our guide took us to five of the stations which were each decorated with incredible art, mosaics, chandeliers, and elaborately decorated ceilings. Each station was completely different, and definitely a highlight of our Moscow experience.

We did not go to the Bolshoi Ballet, but we did eat in the next-door Bolshoi Restaurant which had gorgeous decorations and delicious food. Our service was impeccable but we really enjoyed watching all the other diners. One adjoining table may have set a world record for vodka toasts without becoming obnoxious.

Our favorite restaurant was the White Rabbit, a restaurant that is already rated in the top 20 in the world. It is located on the 16th floor of a building in central Moscow, and has a 360 degree view of the city. We ate there for lunch on a perfectly sunny day, and had a magnificent view, but the food and service were just as incredible! The servers wear white gloves, and serve beautiful modern Russian food in dishes that look like works of art. It was definitely one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had!

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Our Russian adventure was quite a surprise for me. I didn’t expect the prosperity, friendliness, and beauty that I saw. St. Petersburg was certainly more crowded with tourists, and it was quite rainy while we were there. My best memories were in Moscow, and I hope to return and spend more time. I’d like to stroll through the parks again, walk along the riverfront, shop at the GUM Department Store on Red Square, and visit more of the delicious restaurants. I’d take the Metro all over the city, and find a good food tour.

Evan Wei-Haas