Holidays yet again and we had decided on Russia as our destination for 11days. Neither of us knew a lot about the cities there and were happy just to find out as we went along. We sorted our visas early (and expensively), booked some cheap accommodation and set off. The weather was cold but sunny in Moscow and we chose to take the free walking tour to get our bearings in the city. Our guide was great and we learnt a lot about the history of Moscow as well as getting to see the major sights and being recommended some good places to eat.
What struck us the most in Moscow was the sheer size of everything. From the glorious metro stations to giant unused buildings to the Seven Sisters, the city was built on a bizarrely grand scale. We spent our days wandering various parts of the city. This included parks with huge sculptures and buildings, the Space Museum, Moscow State University, a wooden village with castle-like turrets and a tourist market inside and of course Red Square and the area around the Kremlin. All of which were extremely impressive and interesting. We were lucky not to see a drop of rain (or snow) during our 5 days and had really enjoyed our time in the city. We were ready to board our overnight train to St Petersburg!
We didn’t know what to expect from a night train through Russia but ended up with a comfortable, trouble-free experience. Despite the snoring of a fat Russian man below us, we both managed to get a little sleep and arrived in St Petersburg in the early morning ready to meet our couch surfing hosts who we would be staying with for 3 days. Like all our other hosts we have stayed with these guys were wonderfully friendly, hospitable and helpful. They took us on a walk around the centre of town to acquaint us with the main areas and the following day took us to a different neighbourhood to see some lesser known sights and learn about the history of St Petersburg. We also enjoyed a lovely evening eating with them and a friend and playing board games.
We then decided to treat ourselves to a hotel (which was actually very cheap) and stayed in the city centre for 2 nights. We took a day trip out to a town called Pushkin, home of Catherine Palace which houses the famous Amber Room. Unfortunately the queues were up to 2 hours long so we decided to skip that and enjoy the grounds in the sunshine.
We spent our final day wandering to Peter and Paul Fortress where so crazy Russians were sunbathing nearly naked in the 10degree heat. Some even went one further and went swimming in the river which was still half covered in ice!
We then reserved a good few hours for walking around the Hermitage Museum and boy did we need it! This is one of the biggest museums in the world. It not only has exhibitions covering all of ancient history and art from all over the world but the building itself is a former palace and has some of the most spectacular rooms. Photos don’t do it justice. We were exhausted after over 3 hours walking around but thoroughly enjoyed it.
We really enjoyed Russia and going with very few expectations left us to be pleasantly surprised by the friendly people, spectacular buildings and affordability. We would love to go back in the summer months to see the beautiful gardens and fountains.