Around February 2019 a bold decision was made by myself and a good travel companion to travel to Russia.
For me, this has been a location particularly fascinating and finally finding a friend with the mutual desire to visit this seemed too good of an opportunity to miss.
The first step was arranging our itinerary followed by the actual physical travel plans themselves.
Saint Petersburg and Moscow were the desired locations to visit (on this occasion anyway). With our flights booked to and from Saint Petersburg with train tickets ordered, our next step was obtaining our Russian Visas and currency. With all of these objectives completed it was now finally time to travel.
We flew out Friday 23rd of April 2019 with Aeroflot from London Gatwick to Pulkovo Airport Saint Petersburg. Being an evening flight and the 2 hour time difference we landed at 22:30 which sadly meant our first evening was spent with a taxi ride from Pulkovo to our hotel in the Centre of Saint Petersburg. Our hotel of choice was, of course, the long trusted by me Ibis Hotels, part of the Accor Hotels chain.
After a Russian beer, it was time for bed, excited at what the prospect of the next day would bring.
Day one – Exploring Saint Petersburg
After a good nights sleep and a slightly confusing breakfast experience, it was time to head out into the city for the first time.
Our hotel was a short 5-minute walk from the hotel to the Ploschad’ Vosstaniya Metro station. A travel card was purchased with 10 single journeys preloaded.
Saint Petersburg’s Metro stations reminded me heavily of Kyiv’s metro stations and brought back fond memories of my time there last year.
Our first stop on the day’s expiration was the Cruiser Aurora a battleship commissioned in 1903, this ship served actively in the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War.
The history of this ship becomes more interesting, being the ship that was used during the October revolution after a blank shot was fired to signal the start of the assault on the Winter Palace.
It was a cool feeling to be standing on the deck of this naval vessel, particularly one that signalled the beginning of the end of the Tsarist era. The lower decks are a museum entry was around 700 Rubles and certainly worth the visit.
Our next stop required a metro ride across the city to the Baltiyskaya Metro station. Why? Well, I’d heard about a museum dedicated to the Russian Railway network (Muzey Zheleznykh Dorog Rossii), bare with me here. For 250 Rubles this was a particularly impressive tour through the history of the Russian Railway network including plenty of Soviet and Russian locomotives and some of the most impressive and largest steam trains I’ve ever seen. If you find yourself at a loose end in Saint Petersburg this is definitely worth a look regardless if you’re a train fan or not.
Next up a trip back to the centre of the city to visit the Winter Palace and Palace Square. The Winter Palace is a beautiful building and an impressive sight that greets you.
The Winter Palace was the home of Russian Emperors from 1732 to 1917. The sheer scale and size of the building is awe inspiring it’s said to contain 1,500 rooms, 1,786 doors and 1,945 windows.
Long gone are the Russian Tsars and these days the Winter Palace is home to the Hermitage museum. An impressive collection of artefacts and many other artwork pieces throughout history.
It also allows you to walk the many and vast rooms inside the winter palace enabling you to admire its beautiful decorations and facades. Finding the throne room and several rooms laced with gold decorations left a lasting impression.
Three attractions down now it was time to prepare for the next step on our Russian adventure, heading to Moskovskiy Vokzal station an impressive site with a wonderful map on the wall of the Russian Railway network.
The objective of this was the next part of our adventure, taking the overnight train to Moscow.
I love night trains, they always bring back fond memories for me as a child travelling on the Motorail to the South of France.
On this occasion, we’d opted to do this properly and paid for a 2 berth 1st class cabin on the Saint Petersburg – Moscow express.
A long train was in front of us at the platform, once we’d found our carriage our passports were checked “bunks 5 and 6” we were told.
In our cabin, we were greeted with a bench seat and a small single seat the bench seat would fold down into the bunk.
Inside the cabin, we were greeted with plates of fruit, chocolate croissants, bread rolls, a chocolate bar each and bottles of water. A small tv is in the cabin also although I couldn’t get it to work.
You receive a small pack each containing soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, some slippers and a small sponge. Each 1st class cabin has a little washbasin and plenty of places to store belongings. For those travelling alone, there are two small safes in the cabin as well to store valuables.
At 11:30 I felt the train begin to move, we were on our way to Moscow! That night I settled into a surprisingly comfortable bed and went to sleep wondering what excitement tomorrow would bring.
Day Two – Moscow
We were awoken around 7:30 the following morning with our attendant knocking on the door, breakfast was served. We’d preordered our meal I’d chosen a cheese and ham omelette (which was more like a quiche), my friend Sam had his first taste of Blini a Russian pancake. Coffee followed after with some apple juice.
We soon pulled into Leningradskiy Railway Station on time at 8:30 I stepped out onto the platform and there I was, in Moscow.
We soon found our way down the platform to the front of an impressive station concourse and soon found the familiar M logo signalling the Moscow Metro.
Moscow’s Metro stations had that beautiful Soviet style of marble walls and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Next stop was Red Square…
A short walk from the Metro station and there I was standing in the middle of Red Square with the Kremlin and Saint Basils Cathedral in full view. One advantage of our early arrival on the train was that Red Square was almost completely empty, we had the place nearly to ourselves.
After a small wander around we decided to head to an attraction that we’d both picked out. The Museum of Cosmonautics.
I love space travel and particularly the space race so for me, this was going to be a real treat.
Another Metro trip to the VDNKh an impressive exhibition ground opened in 1939.
Interestingly on this particular day, the Museum of Cosmonautics was free entry which was a nice bonus.
Inside there was a fantastic array of Russian spacecraft including Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok 1. The first spacecraft to carry man into space and a mock-up of the space shuttle Mir.
Honestly, if you find yourself at a loose end in Moscow it’s worth a look!
After the museum, we decided to head back to Red Square, with the objective of visiting the Kremlin grounds and the Armoury, advance warning the queue for tickets is a long one. It was also quite a hot day by this point and the Red Square area was now very busy and bustling with people.
I don’t have any photos of the interior of the Kremlin Armoury as photos were generally not allowed. But it houses some very impressive collections of jewellery, artefacts, armour, Faberge eggs, dresses worn by various princesses and collection of various Tsar’s personal carriages.
After this, we moved on to a walk inside the Kremlin grounds. The whole area is well presented and very smart indeed. The Tsar Cannon and the Tsar Bell are both proudly on display.
The Tsar Bell was the largest bell ever smelted but was sadly dropped when being placed into the tower the resulting drop broke a huge piece out of the bell. The Bell and its subsequent broken piece are on display to see.
We exited the Kremlin grounds back onto Red Square, by this time incredibly busy and almost completely jammed with people.
As time was getting on we decided to head back to Leningradskiy Railway Station to catch the train back to Saint Petersburg. But a perfect photo opportunity presented its self to get a photo of Saint Basils Cathedral, a truly wonderful piece of architecture.
Arriving back at Leningradskiy Railway Station we headed to the platform to be greeted the Sapsan high-speed train. Our overnight train had taken 9 hours the Sapsan now takes passengers along the Saint Petersburg-Moscow route in just over 3 hours in new high-speed trains on purpose-built track.
On this journey we’d opted for Business class travel, this included slightly more comfortable seats and a three-course meal. Another little travel bag greeted us with more slippers a sleep mask and a comb!
The train soon pulled out of Moscow and we were whizzing along the Russian countryside, I love train journeys just watching out the window seeing the world go by.
Dinner soon came along. A Waldorf salad, followed by Chicken with Georgian rice in a tomato sauce. A coffee and a desert soon followed, after a full-on day and a couple of beers I soon found myself drifting off to sleep, the next thing I knew we were back in Saint Petersburg.
Day 3 – Wrapping up Saint Petersburg
Waking up in the familiar surroundings of the Ibis hotel in Saint Petersburg we now had to plan our final day. We had a couple of key objectives, the Faberge Egg museum and a river trip.
A short 25-minute walk from the hotel found us at the Faberge egg museum cousin an impressive collection of these ornate wonders. Most of these were given to the various Tsar’s as gifts and the value of these treasures are estimated in the millions.
A short walk down the road from the museum was the Savior of the Spilled Blood cathedral another impressive cathedral similar in design to Saint Basil’s and just as impressive.
A simple pleasure followed next that I always enjoy on any trip is a boat trip. This particular one was a trip around Saint Petersburg’s canals seeing the sights, the tour its self was in Russian so sadly I couldn’t understand what was being pointed out. But it was very pleasant all the same!
We were very fortunate to learn that my friend Sam who I was travelling with had friends based in Saint Petersburg so we had extra company at dinner that night. Dinner at a secret restaurant and some bar hopping later we finished off a wonderful evening with new friends with a shot of Russian vodka.
Thank you to Leo and Dora for your incredible hospitality!
Day Four – Home and summary
Our taxi was to pick us up at 11:30 to take us back to Pulkovo so only time for some last minute souvenir shopping and a last brief look at Saint Petersburg before heading back to the airport.
Russia is a truly wonderful place, I enjoyed every second and would encourage anyone else to visit.
If you do come, try and learn some Russian phrases the locals seem to appreciate it more if you at least make an effort. English is not widely spoken and it can be rare to find other English speakers, you are very much in the minority.
Buy a Russian SIM card, I bought one for my phone as my network provider didn’t provide roaming in Russia. for about £10 worth of credit on a pay and go sim I had as much data as I would ever need and allowed me to update my Instagram story, but more importantly, use Google Maps and Google Translate.
But most importantly see Russia see this wonderful country. I’d be back in a heartbeat… in-fact I’m already in the early stages of mapping out a trip on the Trans Siberian Railway…