Looking out the window of the plane as we flew into St. Petersburg, the buildings somewhat resembled Legos. Block like structures all similar in color creating a monochromatic feel against the backdrop of the gray sky. There we were…in Russia.
Even though Russia no longer considers itself a communist state, the impression that its communist past has left on not only the architecture but also its people is still very evident.
We spent four days in St. Petersburg and four days in Moscow before embarking on our week long rail journey across Siberia.
Our hotel had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport in St. Petersburg, which we very grateful that we wouldn't be braving a Russian bus or Cyrillic laden metro toting all of our bags. We stayed at the Rennaisance Hotel which was in a great location and had a very stern yet helpful staff. I initially interpreted their sternness as not being very friendly. Scott assured me that they were indeed friendly and that the sternness was just part of the culture. It turns out he was right. Most of the people we met while in Russia turned out to be very friendly.
Anyhow, we spent most of our time in St.Petersburg exploring on foot. We walked a huge length of Nevsky Prospect, the main drag containing lots of shops and restaurants.
We spent almost an entire day walking through the Hermitage museum. We took a walking tour of the city and made some new friends Vanessa and Ellena. We also walked by the Church on Spilt Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and even through a small market.
We also experienced some of the local cuisine including beef stroganoff, borsch, and piroshkis. Borsch was not exactly our cup of tea, but the stroganoff and piroshkis were delicious!
At the end of our time in St. Petersburg we boarded an overnight train to Moscow. Our train compartment was extremely comfortable (we were hoping this would be similar to the train we'd be on for six nights…you'll have to read our next blog to find out).
When we arrived at the train station in Moscow, we planned on walking to our hotel hoping we wouldn't get lost. However, when we got off the train we could see our hotel towering over all of the other buildings. We would be staying at the Hilton Leningradskia which was one of the seven sky scrapers that was built under the rule of Stalin.
We spent our first day wandering around taking in the sights of the Red Square, St. Basils Cathedral, and the Gum which is a huge shopping mall with a historical background. It used to be the store where people would stand in line for hours to buy all government produced goods during the communist days. Now it houses mainly high end designer stores.
The next day we spent the entire day doing a walking tour of the city, a tour of the Kremlin, and a tour of the Moscow metro.
The next two days in Moscow were cold and rainy. We still managed to do another tour all about the communist history. Our guide was awesome and really nice. After the tour she even took us to a local restaurant that was delicious.
The day before we left on the Trans-Siberian we ventured out to a really cool grocery store to stock up on snacks for our train ride. The grocery store had guilded ceilings and even a painted portrait of the store founder hanging on the wall. The store was actually reasonably priced considering how fancy it appears to be.
That evening we attended a ballet. The ballet was amazing, however Scott claims that it was the soft music that lulled him to sleep.
After the ballet we took some pictures of the Red Square, which is beautiful all lit up at night.
On our last morning in Moscow we walked the length of Old Arbott Street and had lunch at a My My (pronounced moo moo), which is an old fashioned Soviet cafe.
That night we headed to the train station to board the train that would end in a completely different world…China.