Last day in Russia

We had a big day planned so got up and hit the ground running, walking to the Church of the Spilled Blood via the Milhaulovsky gardens. It was lightly snowing big fluffy flakes and the temperature was not that cold so we were pretty happy. Blue sky would have been the ultimate but you can’t have it all! Aftertaking our obligatory shots of the outside with the snow we headed inside. I was dumbfounded when I walked in as I was expecting something similar to the rabbit warren of St Basils in Moscow. So not the case! It was one big room with the walls and ceiling covered in paintings of Jesus which is normal but this was done in mosaics. The tiles would have been no bigger than 1 cm squares. They were that good that you really had to look to make sure it was out of tiles and not painted. A really really stunning church.
Next was the museum of political history. This was on the other side of the river so we walked across which should have given us wonderful views back but unfortunately the weather was a little nasty by this stage and the snow was coming down a little harder so everything was grey. We were pretty excited about the museum as it was going to fill in all the little holes we had but when we got there we discovered it shut on the last Monday of the month. Really not impressed! But we still had lots to do so continued on.
Peter and Paul fortress was next where the city of St Petersburg originally started. Also the last of the Romanovs have been buried here in the cathedral. Next we walked back across the river near the Hermitage where we got stunning albeit grey and cold views of the riverside buildings and back toward the fortress where there is a sand beach apparently great for sunbathing. Hahaha good luck getting me near that water even in summer! We then went back to St Isaacs cathedral. Where we climbed to the top for great views of the city. The inside was impressive as it is massive and the frescos beautiful on such a high ceiling. It would hold thousands of people inside. 
By this stage the weather was horrible with sleet like snow blowing right in our faces so we headed home. We have loved St Perersburg and regret not spending more time here. In hindsight we wouldn’t have wasted our first half day just walking around as we had left ourselves short. In saying that I think we could have spent very easily another week discovering St Petersburg and would not have got sick of the place. S

Church of the Blood through the park.

Inside th church showing just how amazing the mosaic work is.

All of these pictures are done in mosaic. Unless it is pointed out you wouldn’t be able to tell in the picture.

The summer garden. Not looking so summery though.

Peter and Paul’s fortress.

The view looking back to the fortress. Not the greatest of weather. You can see the beach which is apparently great for sunbathing.

The Hermitage and surrounding river buildings.

The view from the top of St Osaacs.

Inside the church. Not mosaics but impressive none the less.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg

It’s silly the little things that can surprise you and make your day. We often have free breakfasts which usually consist of bread and occasionally egg but today we found out that our free breakfast was in a cafe downstairs and when we sat down we got proper coffee, fried eggs, bacon and sausage! Well that set us (me) up for the day perfectly!
Plan of attack today was to walk down to the Hermitage and spend pretty much as long there as was required. It was a bit of a grey day but warmer than we had been in Moscow at least and we didn’t mind walking around the centre of St Petersburg especially as the streets are lined with such amazingly beautiful buildings. I think it would be amazing to see this place with blue skies but grey seems to be the order of the day for us!
First major sight today was St Isaac’s Cathedral but we just did a walk by as we wanted to get to the Hermitage. The pedestrianised Square outside the Hermitage is fantastically huge and houses the Winter Palace and the General Staff building both of which are full of grandeur and in the centre is a column commemorating Alexander I and his victory over Napoleon in 1812.
By the time we got to the Hermitage there were already massive queues but we noticed a couple of electronic screens in one corner of the square and sure enough we managed to get our tickets and jump ahead of everyone which made us feel pretty chuffed. The scrum continued inside the entrance with everyone trying to check coats and buy audio guides etc but once we were through that bit everyone disappeared. The place is so big that everyone spread out and we were able to wander around often all alone.
First things first the place is absolutely huge with over 360 rooms and most of these are absolutely amazingly ornate in their design. In fact some rooms didn’t even need artwork on the walls as they were a work of art in themselves!! The detail and opulence was on show right from the start and we were both oohing and aahing from the moment we walked up the first staircase. We were in danger of getting lost so we downloaded an audio guide and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day wandering around the huge interior seeing what felt like all 360 rooms!
Time passed quickly though as the artworks on show along with the building itself were really spectacular and to top the day off there was a Dali exhibition opening that day which was nice to finish off with some modernism after looking at paintings from the 1600s for most of the day.
The Hermitage and the Winter Palace have been a combination of Museum and residence of the Royal family for centuries. The Hermitage has been open to the public as a museum since 1852 and I have to admit that it was a day well spent even though we were both exhausted by the end and when we finally got out of the place it was pretty much dark! We had wanted to try and see a couple of other places today but it was time well spent and we will have to just walk a bit further tomorrow!! T

St Isaacs’s Cathedral, one of the larger churches in Russia and a very enterprising man right outside.

Some loon leaning into the wind outside the Hermitage.

They weren’t necessarily the most impressive aspect of the Hermitage but the patterns in the wooden floors were fantastic.  Also considering the amount of foot traffic they have been subjected to they are in amazing condition.

In one hall the floor patterns mirrored the ceiling but as you can see from the photos above and below it was a difficult thing to capture.

It was very difficult to pick favourites but these were certainly up there.

You can’t have enough red velvet and gold trim!

The rooms all had imaginative names like, “The Gold Room”.

Or “The Gold Hall” 

The odd piece of artwork is here too! Rembrandt being one of the more famous.

Russia’s latest ballerina!

The detail in some of the halls was just ridiculous.  The one above is actually modelled on one from a hall in The Vatican.

St Petersburg 

Our luxury train arrived early in the morning but not before a lovely hot breakfast served to our cabin. I could get used to this kind of traveling! The train station was only about 1 km from our hotel so we strapped on our bags and headed out on foot. 
We were staying just off Nevsky Street which is the Main Street leading to the Hermitage lined with restaurants, bars and shops. Again the architecture was just amazing with building after building of stunning design. St Petersburg also has canals throughout the town which add a real European flare to the city.
We walked past The Church on Spilled Blood which is similar in design to St Basil’s with textured, colored onion spires on one of the mentioned canals. I am sounding like a broken record but Wow! Next we headed towards the Heritage and surrounds. We didn’t feel up for exploring the 360 rooms in our sleep deprived state so decided to save that for another day. We then headed back but on the way stopped off at the Faberge museum. Okay so I will confess my ignorance here. I knew about Fabrege eggs and that they were works of art. But I didn’t know that only 65 eggs were made in total with 50 of those for the Russian royal family. We were going into the museum expecting rooms full of eggs and were slightly disappointed when only 9 eggs were on display! 
But we soon realized our error. They really are works of art and the descriptions of the suprise inside and what some of the later eggs did were crazy. The rest of the jewelry was nice but not what we went to see. So we have seen over half of the Royal eggs without even trying as 10 are at the Armory in the Kremlin in Moscow. We nearly missed them hidden within rooms and rooms full of opulence. 
We then went and checked into our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Venturing out at night for some dinner and walk to see the Church on the Spilled Blood under lights. S

Venice meets Russia!

Another beautiful street.

The Church of the Spilled Blood.

The Coronation egg. The carriage is apparently an exact replica of the carriage used to drive the Emporor and Empress to the Palace. Down to working axels, a step that descended when the door opened and curtains etched in the glass.

This egg wasn’t one of the royal eggs but was made for the wife of a rich Russian. The cockerel came out of the egg on the hour and moved its feathers and beak. 

This egg didn’t actually do anything because the outside was so intricate. Fair enough really. Each egg would apparently take a year to make.

Worth braving the cold! Luckily we had our hip flask with Vodka!

Last wander around Moscow

We had done pretty well ticking things off the list in Moscow but there were a couple of things left. Obviously walking around was going to be involved and it had “warmed” up to about zero degrees so still wasn’t exactly pleasant but off we went anyway. First stop was going to be the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and as we walked towards it we could see it in the distance even when we were over a kilometre away.
It wasn’t until we got close though that we realised just how enormous it was! It absolutely dominated the block it stood on and we were excited to get inside. The interior was amazing (unfortunately no photos) but the paintings stretched all the way to the domed roof and we wandered around craning our necks upwards in wonder and delight! It was a very impressive sight but it puzzles me as to why there can be a shop inside a Cathedral but you can’t take photos?
We decided from this point onwards to utilise the magnificent metro system rather than suffer in the cold. The metro system is not only cheap and regular but the stations are works of art in themselves. They are marble clad and have an opulence that is so unusual to see in public transport. Unfortunately there is only cryllic written but we managed to make our way around fairly easily and considering $1 got you anywhere it wouldn’t have mattered if we took a wrong turn somewhere.
Gorky Park was one of the other items we wanted to see before we left and it must be said that a cold and grey day is probably not the best time to see a park but we didn’t have much choice. I would love to say that we strolled through the park enjoying all the various sculptures on display but we must have visited during a rebuilding stage and so we got diverted to the riverside and didn’t really see much other than a construction site. Oh well.
We continued our wandering over a bizarre footbridge over the river which was covered in gold glass and then got back underground to see some more metro stations. We had a wander down Arbat street which again unfortunately wasn’t overly inspiring and so made our way home. We thought on the way back to our hotel that two or three days was probably enough time to spend in Moscow. While it’s been great to see a few of the sights it hasn’t really been a city we have fallen in love with. It hasn’t been unenjoyable by any means it just hasn’t been absolutely encapsulating but I wonder whether our terrible hotel hasn’t tarnished our experience a little.
But on to Saint Petersburg! T

It’s difficult to show how enormous the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour actually is.

That’s me at the door from the previous photo.

Stately buildings on the river in Moscow.  The bridge on the left is the unusual footbridge we crossed.

Still smiling even in the bitter cold in Gorky Park.

Some more shots of the work of art that is the Metro in Moscow.  Amazing beauty.

Now this is luxury, even including the kitchen sink!

Fashionable and comfortable!

Ready for a good nights sleep!

Snow in Moscow

Today the weather was bad. So bad in fact that it may have got to me and I may or may not have been a little cranky this morning traipsing in the cold with snow blowing directly into my eyes. My husband would probably like to add to this but it’s not his blog so the accusations can not be confirmed. In my defense the weather really was bad and we didn’t get too much sleep last night in our room in the reception area of the hotel.
So anyway our plan of walking a few kilometers to a cathedral and then onto a big park were abandoned very early on and instead we found ourselves in a cafe drinking coffee. Well I had coffee, Tim tried the local blackberry tea which was really very nice but the lack of caffeine didn’t cut it for me.
But after that we decided to make it museum day and visited the museum in St Basil’s Cathedral first. We didn’t realize that each spire was a different church, we though it was just one big one. But instead we were greeted by a rabbit warren of hallways into different churches with the walls painted in amazing patterns. We also got to hear a 3 piece choir in one of the chapels. They were really amazing and sounded like 20 people were singing rather than 3.
Next up was the state museum which was the giant red brick building on the north side of Red square. Well this place was monstrous with exibitions from the Stone Age. The rooms were the highlight with most being specifically styled for a particular era or fashion. The mosaic floors were beautiful. Unfortunately when we got to the interesting exhibitions from around the 18th century all trace of English disappeared. Then the exhibitions stopped well before the revolution. 
Next we caught the metro to another museum. The metro stations are phenomenal. Works of art in themselves. Marble, slate, stained glass. Really very cool and almost Museum like in themselves. The museum we were going to was the Gulag museum. When the socialist revolution happened Lenin was the leader but then he died in 1924. Stalin took over and he was a monster to put it simply. He either executed his opposition or put them in concentration camps called Gulag camps. But it wasn’t just his opposition it was the general public as well, scientists, writers or anyone who even remotely was in suspicion of anti-Soviet sentiment, with over 1.5 million people imprisoned. This museum told the story of the Gulag camps. Scary. I really did not know the full story. To make matters worse the Second World War was also happening. It must have been a horrible time to live in Russia.

By this stage it was late afternoon so after a quick shower we headed back out again. There was a funky pub/hotel right near our hotel so we splurged and had a lovely dinner there and a nice bottle of red. By this stage the snow had stopped. See, a good bottle of wine really does make everything okay! S

Snow on the roof top!

The inside of St Basil’s. Such wonderful frescos.

Some shots from the Metro stops.

Tour of the Red Square and the Kremlin

After a fairly broken sleep thanks to the papier-mâché walls at the hostel coupled with the fact we were more or less sleeping in the reception area we woke up still keen for a walking tour of the centre of Moscow. We have done a few of these free walking tours now but none when it’s been this cold so we prepared ourselves by pretty much wearing every item of clothing we had and set off to meet our guide.
There were only about a dozen others there brave (or stupid) enough to go sightseeing when the temperatures weren’t going to rise above zero and the wind was cutting through the layers we were wearing even before we started!! Still our guide was great and was soon entertaining us with some good stories and titbits of history. The walk started just outside the city centre proper and we walked towards the Kremlin.
In the beginning history of Moscow the only stone buildings were the ones inside the Kremlin itself and those outside were all wooden. The city of Moscow is also built in a circular manner with the Kremlin at the middle and everything spanning out from there. The centre is filled with stately buildings and a seemingly endless number of churches with “onion spires” on top.
The walk took us passed some of the older churches including the Romanov’s own private church and residences but unfortunately there is a fair amount of construction going on around them at the moment so the views weren’t fantastic. However the park which is being constructed looks like it’s going to make the whole area very spectacular so maybe we will have to come back after 2018 when it’s finished. It was interesting to find out that during the communist era the churches were closed as religious buildings and used for other functions instead. Some were schools and others state buildings but some were used by the KGB!
The tour took us back to the Red Square but it was nice to go back and this time get the history of the buildings even if by this stage we were absolutely freezing cold! We got to see St Basil’s cathedral again but this time found out that it was built by Ivan the Terrible and named after a homeless man called Basil who used to preach to people in the area. Ivan also ensured that the cathedral wouldn’t be surpassed by blinding all the architects who were involved in its construction!! Not the first time we have heard this tactic being used.
Luckily we then were able to warm up in another of the buildings lining the Red Square which is known as the Gum building (short for something Russian which I can’t remember) but it was originally built to house the markets which used to operate in the square. It has gone from being a place for the people to shop during the communist era to being bought out by all the top brand shops now. In fact this has happened all over Moscow with hotels buying old apartment buildings and the area we are staying in is the Mayfair of Moscow full of designer brands and flash restaurants. It has to be said though that a lot of the restaurants aren’t as expensive as other major cities around the world.
The tour finished and we had to get inside to warm up and so went to a Soviet style restaurant which is similar to a canteen where you pick what you want and usually have a few courses. It’s pretty cheap and very popular with the locals and in no time we were defrosted and ready to head back out again to see the Kremlin.
The tall red brick walls surrounding the Kremlin are quite imposing and you certainly feel like you are entering a secured area as you pass through metal detectors and police cordons. Once inside I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It is actually a functional area and Putin still holds office there. It is said that when the flag is flying on the state building he is meant to be inside the Kremlin but our guide reckoned that she has never seen the flag not flying and that a better indication of his whereabouts might be the presence of his helicopter on the newly built helicopter pad.
Apart from the state buildings the main sights are the Annunciation, the Archangel and the Assumption cathedrals. These are splendidly white topped with golden onion spires but unfortunately for us there was a little bit of scaffolding around the place too but it didn’t really detract from the impressive nature of the cathedrals. The most impressive part of the cathedrals was the interior anyway as they were all covered from floor to ceiling with fresco paintings.
Ivan the Great Bell Tower was meant to be worth climbing for views of the city but unfortunately was shut so we contented ourselves with a short walk through the gardens on our way to the Armoury. This building housed a collection of artefacts from Russia’s history. We got to see loads of artefacts. Some of the most impressive were some splendid horse drawn carriages from the 1600s which were incredibly ornate. The guns they used were more works of art than I would have imagined and the designs were really quite intricate. We got to see some Faberge eggs and a whole host of extravagant cups, chalices and other decorative items.
On the whole it was a great, if not cold, day and we have still only seen a few square kilometres of Moscow’s city centre but perhaps some of its most famous square kilometres. I have to admit that I have always wanted to visit the Kremlin and the Red Square. It certainly has been an impressive sight and definitely has an aura of Communist power about it whilst also being beautiful in its appearance. T

The private church of the Romanovs.

St Basil’s from behind.

Lenin’s mausoleum in the Red Square.

It’s difficult to imagine that this building was once built for markets its opulence seems to lend itself more towards the flash shops which now inhabit it.

The Archangel Cathedral.

The Assumption Cathedral on the left and Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

Shame they weren’t doing their goose step march.

The park in the Red Square.

One of the opulent carriages.  No more photos though as we got told off for taking photos just after this shot.  Boo.

Arrival in Moscow

First class luxury on the overnight train again to Moscow! We arrived at 7am to a beautiful pink sky when we walked out of the Metro stop. As we were walking to our hotel we realised that we were staying in the swanky area of Moscow. Mercedes were the norm and Gucci and Chanel lined the streets. Out little hotel was tucked away in a court yard which took us a little while to find. We couldn’t check in yet so dumped our bags and went for a walk around. Red square was only about 15 mins away so we headed there first.

Along the way were gobsmacked at the buildings around us. It’s very majestic and made more so with very wide streets which allows you to see a lot more around you. We entered the Red Square and had St Basil Cathedral being hidden behind a blinding sun. But when we turned our backs the state museum in front of us was spectacular.
I really love the red brick detail. We walked along the Kremlin wall and soon got our first real view of the Cathedral with the sun behind the Kremlin wall and it was amazing. The Russian architecture is just so unique. The different coloured and textured onion spires seem too crazy to be on a church. We were worried that after the others we had seen we might get to Moscow and St Petersberg and be a little underwhelmed but that is not so. They just keep getting bigger and better! 
The man himself Lenin’s mausoleum is in Red Square where you can view his actual body which has been on display since 1924! I don’t know what it is about mummifying Communist leaders and putting them on display but we lined up and made the procession past his body like all the rest. Very weird. I will say one thing though, the statues that we have seen of him really accentuate his chin whereas in real life it was smaller. 
After walking around the Red Square we headed for some food and then headed back in the direction of our hotel with a few museums to visit along the way. Well we couldn’t find one but managed to find the museum of modern art quite easily. The exhibitions were good and centered around the abstract art movement through the communist years in Russia and the struggles that the artists had to go through, especially when funding was cut because those in charge didn’t like their work. 
We then headed back and checked in and proceeded to be lazy for the rest of the afternoon. But we did venture out into the cold to see the Red Square and St Basil’s cathedral etc at night and it didn’t disappoint. We then had to make a wine pit stop before dinner as we were cold to our bones but the wine dos the trick and warmed us nicely. Dinner was a funky dumpling restaurant near our hotel that lived up to the hype of trip advisor. We will definitely be going back for round 2! S

Our first glimpse of Moscow as we came up from the Metro

The War Museum just outside the Red Square.

The History Museum at the northern end of the Red Square.

St Basil’s cathedral.

One of the upmarket pedestrianised streets around where we are staying.

A typical street shot in Moscow.

A couple of the many churches around Moscow, these were just opposite the Museum of Modern Art.  The colours are just fantastic.

Such unusual designs.

The skyline looks like a theme park.

St Basil’s at night.  The more you look at this building the more you see.

Red Square, not exactly packed!