While wanderlust has been a permanent fixture of my personality, looking at avid travelling , is something I am only now testing the waters with. So when my friend suggested we visit Russia in the winter, I was not the most excited. The prospect of trudging along in the snow in subzero temps was not the reason I had gotten out of bed that morning. That was until I did a quick google/youtube/instagram search of Russia and found the most incredible art, architecture and local culture.
First of all, the Russians are good , hardy people. They are sincere, untouched by excessive tourism and friendly to a certain degree (you probably wont have life changing conversations as the average Russian does not speak English all that fluently. ) This is important to know as the best and easiest way to get around in Russia is by Uber . If you have read about cab drivers being dodgy , or rash drivers (not completely false) be informed that cabs , specifically Ubers are a hassle free way to get from point A to B. So make nice with your Uber driver and enjoy pleasant commutes. Do pay in cash, however.
Let’s backtrack a little. How does one get to the Kremlin?
Well , if you are an Indian passport holder such as myself, here is a checklist of things you will need to obtain a Russian visa:
Ø PASSPORT: Original Passport with validity of minimum six months and minimum two blank pages for visa stamp. Attach all your old passports
Ø VISA FORM :-Visa application form has to be filled online on portal at Russian Consulate .
Ø PHOTO :Two recent click photographs with matt or semi matt finish, 60%-80% face coverage, white background and without border (Size: 35mm x 45mm)
Ø BUSINESS DETAIL: Current Occupation with Address OR Visiting card
Ø HOTEL VOUCHER : Confirm hotel Booking in Russian Language
Ø AIR Ticket: Return Confirm Air Tickets.
Now, when we made our hotel bookings in Moscow and St.Petersburg, one of the hotels charged a fee for a booking from them. They made a very official looking document . So props to them but we were not thrilled to have to pay for the document we got for free from the other hotels, but they endorsed our stay and we got our visa effortlessly. So it all worked out in the end but just keep an eye out for that .
After having landed in Moscow, and a one hour drive into the city later, we checked into our hotel and ordered dinner. We went with a local fave , Stroganoff . And I kid you not, they served it with a shot of neat Vodka. I guess thats how they do it in the Soviet . Nonetheless, it was a light hearted way to start off , what would turn out to be, an epic trip.
We made our way to the Red square, which was a stones throw from our hotel. At the Red Square, is the St.Basils Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the State History Museum, a beautiful red statuesque building in the gothic style.
The St.Basil’s Cathedral is easily one of the most iconic and photogenic buildings in the world. Catching the first glimpse of it , I let out a gasp of excitement. It was so enchanting.
The technicolour ‘onion’ domes of the building in their swirls was truly something magical to witness.
The inside of this building is as magnificent if not more. Covered in colourful murals , this church is truly majestic. We also were lucky enough to catch the monks choir singing. You can watch this and more on my vlog:
After which, we popped over next door for some casual shopping. Just kidding, next door was the incredible GUM. A high end luxury department store that houses every large fashion brand there is to covet and collect. We were a little low on energy from traveling the previous night so we refuelled with some wonderful coffee at Bosco’s. You will also find their in- house gelato stands scattered through the mall.
I decided to treat myself to something .That was my first luxury purchasing experience, I thought they would offer us champagne but it was just water. Cue in the disappointment.
Post GUM we went back to the hotel and took a nap. We had an Airbnb experience lined up later that evening. We were to go bar hopping with an experienced local .
We first stopped for some sake and salmon sashimi at Nobu. What a delectable culinary experience! We ordered an array of sushi and sashimi as well as some warm sake . After which, we met our guide and a couple of other travellers from Copenhagen and went on a fun night exploring some off -the -map bars.
The first bar was in a war bunker , the second was a jazz style speakeasy bar and the last was an Israeli bar with curious concoctions. We went home having had a very full first day in Moscow.
Woke up with pounding heads! We decided to take it easy and make up for lost time the day after. We did brunch at Cafe Pushkin. It had a real old world charm and a very extensive menu with Russian faves. We then opted to walk off the hangover in Arbat Street., lined with shops , trinkets and souvenirs. After which some recouping time was in order.
Feeling fresh and ready to take on a new day. We had a good breakfast and headed off .This time we did a hop on hop off bus tour. We got the see the sights and sounds of Moscow from the comfort of our bus and front row seats.
We did however get off at the Cathedral of Christ Saviour. It was just our luck that the site was closed for renovations! womp womp womp!
Our short but eventful tryst with Moscow had come to an end but it was time for part 2 of the adventure. Russia: St.Petersburg edition!
How we got there: We took the Sapsan Train to St.Petes , which was a 4 hour journey. They served drinks and food . I could have passed on that food, it was very bland. The train station had a lot of fast food stalls, so make sure you pack a snack for your trip.
Day 4 : Hermitage
Do check out my youtube video for more info on the Hermitage.
My quick take? It is stunning and pales Paris’ Louvre in comparison by a mile. The sheer opulence and detail that has gone into each exhibit is incredible. It was wildly inspiring. The following are some images from the Hermitage:
After all that visual stimulation at the Hermitage, we decided to cover all the spots as quickly as we could so we didn’t miss out on anything later . Our next stop : Saviour on the Spilled Blood.
This beautiful , no stunning! building blew me away. From outside it looked like a bejewelled music box , on the inside, a most extravagant homage to Alexander the second, and his tragic demise. The name comes from the gruesome and literal spilling of blood on this exact spot. Do check out the vlog for more.
The interiors were completely covered in wall murals made from tiny mosaic pieces. What blew me away was the different styles of byzantine and gothic and other influences coming together so beautifully. It will absolutely take your breath away.
After some back and forth we decided to make an excursion outside of the city to the Peterhoff Palace. No prizes for guessing. This palace was STUNNING. And we went at the brink of winter onset so despite not being in its full fledged glory, it still looked so regal .
It is said that ” Peter the first, founded Peterhof in 1709 as a country estate. After visiting the French court in 1717, he decided to make Peterhof into an imperial residence that would rival Versailles. The Baroque Grand Palace (1714–28) was designed by Domenico Trezzini and the palace’s gardens by Alexandre Le Blond; Bartolomeo Rastrelli enlarged the structure in 1752. “
On our last day, we got a nice late breakfast. Went shopping and did some strolling about. At night we wanted to get a feel for the nightlife in St.Petersburg. As it was a week night, things were not too festive.
But the people were friendly. Our first stop was a really great Jazz bar, the atmosphere was electric with the sound of actual patrons and the incredible live band. We decided to check out the neighbourhood but most places were closed. Having had a couple of drinks, I was in the mood to karaoke! We went to a bar infested with college kids listening to hits from the 90s. Almost felt like a time warp! Decided the jazz bar was more our style.
And with that we come to a glorious, if low key , end to a very lovely and well paced trip.
Do check out my video on youtube for more info and footage on the sights and sounds. Leave a comment or critique (constructive) and I will come back with more content real soon!