Russia: A Visitor’s Dive into Cultural Dynamics
From the grandeur of imperial Russia to the stark soviet era, Russia has a rich mix of heritage and culture to explore.
We had the opportunity to visit Russia a couple years ago, spending four nights in Moscow, two nights in a small town named Suzdal, and another four nights in St. Petersburg. Our trip was arranged through Exeter International which, in my opinion, is the best way to travel to Russia if you are seeking private or small group tours. The special touches added by Exeter throughout the trip illustrates their existing relationships and experience in this part of the world.
After settling into our lovely hotel, the St. Regis, which is literally a couple NYC blocks from Krispy Kreme … and, oh yeah, the Kremlin … we met the first of our two extraordinary guides, a gentleman named Genaddy, a history professor and former member of the military. A fabulous guide adds so much to a trip and we were incredibly fortunate to have been accompanied by two special professionals throughout our trip.
Our stay in Moscow included visits to several art galleries, museums, and historic sites. In terms of highlights, we started our first day by visiting the Cold War Nuclear Bunker, an amazing place that on the outside appears to be a small building in the middle of a neighborhood in Moscow, but actually houses a bunker 200 feet below the city that was designed to sustain government communications in case of a nuclear attack. In order to get a feel for the place, we actually walked down to the bunker, about 14 floors below ground!
That afternoon, we spent a couple hours at the Bolshoi Theater, and were fortunate to be guided by the Director of Public Relations, who shared the history of the Bolshoi with us, and took us absolutely everywhere, including the stage, backstage, rehearsals, etc.
Kremlin, the “Fortress Inside a City”
And, of course, we spent an entire day visiting the grounds and museums of the Kremlin, including the cathedrals, the Armory Museum, and the Diamond Vaults, which houses one of the largest collections of diamonds and gems in the world. It was an incredible day, but the best was yet to come. The highlight was a private tour that Exeter International had arranged for us at the Grand Kremlin Palace, which is typically off limits to tourists, and used by the Russian President to entertain guests. We spent about 90 minutes at the Palace, accompanied by our guide, Gennady, an official guide at the Palace, and a security professional.
Finally, we spent a couple hours visiting the Moscow Metro, where we took the subway train to several stations. This was another fabulous experience, as these stations are decorated with beautiful paintings, frescoes, carvings, statues, mosaics, and chandeliers!
The food was great, and reasonably priced, with plenty of menus in English. It was very safe to walk around at night. And we even had the opportunity to attend the world-renowned Moscow Circus, which was a lot of fun.
Soon, we took a train to the countryside where we visited a town named Vladimir and spent two nights in Suzdal and the surrounding area, which are part of the “Golden Ring,” where Russian civilization got its start. The cities we visited were charming and we stayed at a lovely hotel, but there wasn’t all that much to do. And, I must say, Moscow was a tough act to follow.
Resplendent St. Petersburg
Next, we were off to St. Petersburg via the high-speed train. We spent several nights in the Astoria Hotel, a classy establishment that is very conveniently located. Our wonderful guide was named Anya, a single mother with a teenaged son, who was incredibly knowledgeable and knew every nook and cranny in her city.
During our first day, we visited Palace Square, home of the Winter Palace as well as the Hermitage, which houses the largest collections of art in the world. We were fortunate to be accompanied by Anya as well as one of the curators who was in charge of 17thcentury art, which added so much to our tour.
As if our visit to the spectacular Hermitage wasn’t enough, we also had the opportunity to travel to the museum’s storage chambers where we could spend time soaking in countless items that simply could not fit in the Hermitage. This was followed with a stop at the amazing FabergéMuseum, where we are able to take a close-up view of three amazing Fabergéegg collection.
And the following day, we enjoyed trips outside of the city to Catherine’s Palace as well as Peterhof, the summer palace used by Peter the Great.
Again, our evenings were filled with wonderful restaurants, a visit to the Vodka museum, of course, and terrific seats at the Marinsky Theater where we enjoyed my first ballet, Swan Lake.
This was one of those trips that was perfect —everything worked out as we had hoped, our guides were wonderful, the hotels and food were great, and we got to see the famous circus as well as the ballet. A terrific time in an amazing place!