Mother Russia is a cold country, not just the weather (duh..) but also the people. There weren’t many locals who could understand or speak English. Even the Russian alphabet just kinda look like a mixed-up version of the Latin alphabet, like it was written for codes and exchanging national secrets in war time, an Imitation-Game-kinda-thing. During the trip, we communicated using body-language, hand-signs and distinct eyebrows movement with the locals; often with no good outcome in the end. Most of the museums and Metro stations do not have English signage; but thank God some museums have English audioguides. We did managed to find KFC and McDonald’s outlets that have English menu and some good pricier (but still affordable) restaurants, international cafés have also English menu, so dining is not a big issue for us. Strikingly, most of the taxi drivers we got there, were the ones that quite easy to talk to and they sounded well-informed about Jakarta, Indonesia, being the largest muslim country and all, even the story about East Timor. In fact, we exchanged contact details with one named Andrei since he was so eager to go to Bali, Indonesia. People could surprise you, we think.
If it was that cold, why Russia then ? Well, Russia has always been in my (The Wife) bucket list for far too long, since I was a little girl to be exact. I had a faint memory of two colorful matryoshka dolls on my parents’ house put out on a cupboard next to the dining table. The image still haunts me to this day. But seriously, why mother Russia? The answer is simple, my first name and my brother and sister’s first names are all Russian-inspired; Larissa, Ivanov and Ludmila. My late father attended his undergrad school in a city called Lvov located in the Soviet Union back in the 60s, unfortunately now it is on Ukraine side of the border. Only until recently I knew where it is situated; I have always thought that my father went to a school near Moscow, so it was kind of a bummer that I did not get to see his school. I wanted to experience what he felt when he first arrived in the country and what were the things he saw back then, but the coach flight to Moscow or St. Petersburg from Jakarta was always ridiculously pricey, more like South East Asia to United States pricey. Thus the taught of visiting Russia never crossed my mind… Until that one travel fair early this year, the return airfare to Moscow was quoted less than USD 670!! 😃 Read our post about these travel fairs here. We couldn’t just pass the opportunity. Husband and I then decided to purchase the tickets with a 6-months zero-instalment.
Moscow and St. Petersburg were the two metropolitan cities we longing to discover; so many historical places and not forgetting palaces that we needed to unravel (note that we are historian-geek). Yes there are Vladivostok, Novgorod and Kazan and more cities to be seen but the time constraint and budget issue are not favorable to us. We simply wanted to see the most from these two cities in just 10 days. When first arrived, we were wondering how the old buildings, old churches and palaces can be so colorful, vibrant, shimmering in gold and so very very beautifully luxurious at the same time, when all you meet were cold personas? The colors of the exterior and interior of the palaces and churches are astonishing and vibrant. You could see in the gallery above.
It was heart-breaking to see the black-and-white pictures from the World-War-II era showing the devastation of these historical sites, many palaces become ruins and most of the arts and valuable items were stolen; after the war the concerned citizens together with the government needed to do an extensive restoration for all sites and til this day it remained as an ongoing process. We believe the Russian people are very proud nation, fond of art and beautiful pieces, have great respect for their root-history to the extent that they feel independent and do not have the necessity to talk in good riddance with the English-speaking tourists. However we did meet some Soviet Union break-out nationalities such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, etc who were friendlier than the locals.
We divided our trip into 4 days Moscow and 5 days St. Petersburg. We traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg via Sapsan train, the country’s bullet train; we bought the tickets via online here. If you have language problem when accessing the website aka Russian alphabet, we suggest you open the website using Google Chrome and translate the page when the option appears on the left upper side of your window. So many things to see but we have enlisted here our top 5 picks for each city.
- St.Basil’s Cathedral & GUM in Red Square, day time, night time and sunset ;D
- Kremlin, Diamond-Fund Room is a must!
- Tsaritsyno Palace
- Izmailovsky Market, get those cheap but good souvenirs like matryoshka dolls or army caps; do not buy them elsewhere, can cost you double if not triple
- See ballet / opera show in Bolshoi, depends on your budget, or you can go to Planetarium / Space Museum coz it’s cheaper 😀
ST. PETERSBURG :
- Hermitage Museum aka Winter Palace
- Tsarskoye Selo aka Catherine Palace, 25km south of the city
- Peterhof Palace aka Summer Palace aka Russian Versailles, 40km western of the city
- Yusupov Palace, try get into the dungeon, it is known to be the place where Rasputin last seen alive
- See ballet / opera show in Mariinsky, again depends on your budget
If you need a more detailed day-to-day itinerary, please left comment on the column below or simply email us to firstname.lastname@example.org; we’d love to hear your thoughts. Coming soon, more about Moscow and St. Petersburg! The palace hopping! Shopping and dining! Our accommodation review, and of course, the people. Spasibo, Russia! It’s been wonderful! 😘