As quickly as it arrived, my love affair with Moscow came to an end and now I am finding a new love affair, St. Petersburg.
The last few days in Moscow were spent visiting some of the numerous museums, providing insight into the history of both Moscow and the Russian Federation. Most notably the State History Museum, which contains an enormous collection scattered across 3 floors. It includes in its arsenal artifacts dating from the Stone Age to more recent history, including from the Romanov dynasty. There is one room, the Gold Room, which contains relics of golden gild that are likely to impress even the most bling happy, some are even bedazzled in jewels of sapphires, ruby’s, and other precious and semi-precious stones; some the size of my fist.
Walking around Moscow can be a dizzying task but the one thing area that I was most drawn to was a little square just to the north of the Kremlin where I could sit and people watch. Some would call this voyeurism, but I am always fascinated with how people interact with others. I also enjoyed riding the metro. Moscow has one of the most impressive underground systems I have ever seen. Opened in 1935, it is well known for the ornate design of many of its stations, which contain outstanding examples of socialist realist art. I actually rode the metro for about 2 hours just going from station to station. .
No trip to Moscow of course would be complete without a trip to GUM, the huge shopping mall to the east of Red Square. Having only walked thru the complex to get from exit to exit, I finally took a few minutes to do some shopping. From labels such as Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Armani to Russian designers Polina Raygorodskaya and Valentina (not to be confused with Valentino, the Italian designer) there is something for everyone. I found myself wandering through a giant international grocery store which provided me with my much needed Russian vodka. I ended up buying 2 bottles which I hope I can pack well enough so that they do not break in my checked luggage on the return flights.
Tuesday night I proceeded to Leningradskya Train station (Ленингра́дский вокза́л) and boarded the Red Arrow train to St. Petersburg. The Red Arrow first started service in 1921 and has only been interrupted between 1941 and 1943, during the Siege of Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg). In 1949, it adopted the deep red color which it wears today. Traditionally, since 1965, the song “The Hymn to the Great City” plays when it leaves St. Petersburg at 23:55; but it was also playing when we departed Moscow and when we arrived in St. Petersburg. In my berth of 4, were 3 other Russians – with very cliché names. Dmitry, Alexei and Sergei. It was great that we all spoke the same language. The language of Vodka 😉 . Sergei actually spoke pretty good English and translated for the other 2, though Dmitry did speak some English. I seem to remember a fair amount of liquor passing my lips which seems to be what many Russians do, and at 500 roubles (euro 11 / US$ 15) for 500-mL of Vodka, can you go wrong?
Arrival in St. Petersburg was somewhat chaotic. The train arrived and I was met with a driver from my hotel, the Nevksy Grand Hotel. In all of my haste to get off the train I left my sunglasses on the train. So I had to run the entire way back and get them. The N.G.H. is located in the heart of the old city, within easy walking distance to the Hermitage and shopping district; so if I did not have enough shopping in Moscow now is my chance. . .
Yesterday was filled with the Hermitage Museum which houses some of the most impressive collections of art in all of Russia. The main complex is composed of 5 main buildings, the most impressive being the Winter Palace, which from 1732 until 1917 was the official residence of the Russian Tzars. The palace was constructed on a monumental scale which was intended to reflect on the might and power of Imperial Russia. It was designed by many architects, most notably Bartolomeo Rastrelli, in what came to be known as the Elizabethan Baroque style. The green and white palace has the shape of an elongated rectangle. It has been calculated to possess over 1800 doors, 2000 windows, 1500 rooms and 117 staircases. The building is an impressive structure and quite easily will draw breath to those who gaze upon it. Within the grounds it holds some of the most important collections of art in all of Russia. Included are also some art works by famous artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Peter Paul Rubens, Hals, Vermeer, and Matisse to name a few. Also it contains one of the most impressive collections of Greek and Roman statues outside of, well, Greece & Italy. You will also find a fairly impressive collection of Prehistoric artifacts and a small collection from Ancient Egypt. Probably one of my favorite areas was the Jordan staircase. It is the main staircase of the Winter Palace and was created by Bartolomeo Rastrelli and is a great introduction to the opulence of the Russian Tsars. Ten solid granite columns support the staircase which is lined in some of the finest examples of Italian sculptures, purchased by Peter the Great.
The time here is going so quickly. Tomorrow is my last full day in St. Petersburg and I am planning on taking a boat outside of the city either Peterhof Palace, which is the home of the Palace built by Peter the Great or to the city of Pushkin, which is the home of the palace built by Catherine the Great.
Saturday I fly back to Moscow with Aeroflot. I have found out by email that the aircraft has been upgraded from an Airbus 320 to Airbus 330 (the same type that I fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam) and that I have been upgraded from Economy class to Business Class. I wonder what prompted this.