While in Mongolia, we budgeted out our time for the rest of the trip and realized that our final days of traveling were quickly approaching. No matter how we worked it, we simply did not have enough days to sufficiently see Moscow and St. Petersburg before our flight home. One of the cities would have to be cut short.

Moscow had the Kremlin, Red Square, and the famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Russia’s Independence Day was also looming and we wanted to spend this national holiday in Moscow. I imagined those legendary military parades like the ones I used to see on the old newscasts with huge fireworks displays and tanks rolling across Red Square.

On the other hand, St. Petersburg is a Mecca for culture hungry travelers in Russia. Churches and museums abound in this historic city. But it was their White Nights Festival that sounded really interesting. We were told that the whole city dresses entirely in white to celebrate the 23 hours of sunlight per day. It seemed like a hard call; where would be the best place to concentrate the short time we had left? We learned from fellow travelers that we could probably see the best of Moscow’s sights in just two days but St. Petersburg wasn’t a city to skimp on time-wise.

We really hoped everyone was right as we booked our final train ticket to take us from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Normally, we would have bought this ticket when we were in Moscow (to give us some wiggle room) but trains were booking up fast. Thousands of people were heading to St. Petersburg for the White Nights Festival. In theory the itinerary sounded great. We’d stay in Moscow for two days, visiting the Kremlin on our first day and watching the grandiose parades the second day. We’d end our travels with four days in St. Petersburg, going to museums by day and partying at night.

Moscow started to go wrong pretty much on our first day. The plan to hit the Kremlin was called off when we showed up at the ticket office. The sign clearly said closed on Thursdays and since it happened to be a Thursday we were totally out of luck. We couldn’t even go into Red Square due to preparations for a free concert the next day. Instead, we kept ourselves busy by touring the city streets. We could hit the Kremlin tomorrow before the parade, we thought. After a nice day of wandering the city we headed back to our hostel so we could get to bed early; it would be a long second day.

Before we hit our bunks we asked when the parade started. The receptionist responded, “What parade?”. Crap, no parade, I guess they got rid of those grandiose military parades when they ousted communism. And to make matters worse, she informed us that the Kremlin would also be closed due to the holiday. That’s just awesome. Who could plan a trip to Moscow and totally miss seeing the Kremlin and Red Square?!?

In hopes that everyone was wrong we went back to the Kremlin the next morning to see if there was some way to get in. No dice, and Red Square was still closed but would open up later in the afternoon for the free concert. Since we planned to catch the train later that night the timeline was tight but hopefully doable. On the bright side, they closed down a bunch of the city streets for the festival. Walking down the middle of these huge Moscow roads was actually a lot of fun. What normally was a major throughway was completely deserted. Upon returning back to the Kremlin we saw that Red Square was finally open. Hundreds of people streamed through the gates and into the square. But unfortunately you needed a ticket that we didn’t have, strike three. Finally it was time to leave so we headed for the train station soundly defeated.

The train to St. Petersburg was totally first class. There were nice beds, and they even gave us some free food. Our roommates ended up being a nice young Russian couple. We exchanged a few niceties but it was really too bad that Jodi and I were so tired. We soon found ourselves unable to stay awake. Next stop, St. Petersburg.

Reflection

I long ago pictured St. Petersburg as a typical communist era city, drab concrete buildings bustling with beet-picking women sporting scarves on their heads. But St. Petersburg wasn’t anything like I imagined. It had a definite European vibe. The architecture was top notch and the site seeing was outstanding. Along with the many churches around the city we also visited the famous Hermitage museum and the Grand Palace in Peterhof. We only had one day at the Hermitage but what a day it was. Arriving before opening we didn’t leave until they literally kicked us out. And we still didn’t see everything that it had to offer. There were Egyptian mummies, Greek statues, and thousands of paintings from artists like Picasso, Monet, and Renoir. A docent helped us escape a near tragedy of missing the area where the most famous painters’ works are displayed. She overheard us talking about skipping the French wing (or whatever it was called) and rushed over to tell us under no uncertain circumstances could we skip that wing. Thank goodness, it was my favorite part of the Hermitage. We could have (and probably should have) spent many days wondering the halls of the Hermitage. The sheer size of their collection was really impressive.

Another highlight of St. Petersburg were the fountains of Peterhof, over 150 fountains help make up the impressive palace grounds. There were more fountains in this one place than I’ve seen in my entire life. Fountains that resemble chessboards, gardens, and even one that looked like an umbrella. Plus hundreds of golden Greek statues adorn many of these fountains. Due to the cost we decided not to actually go into the main palace, instead we just walked the grounds and admired all of its beauty.

We enjoyed our last day in the city and looked forward to a last farewell with our train buddies. But before we could meet them, St. Petersburg had one parting gift for me. When boarding the subway from Peterhof, I suddenly felt like something was missing and upon checking my pockets noticed that my camera was gone. Unbelievable, the very last day of our trip and my camera was stolen. After nine months of travel, one very good pickpocket got the best of me. It really didn’t bother me too much; I downloaded photos recently and I was actually amazed that it had survived that long. We heard so many stories of cameras being stolen that I was sure it would only last a few months before needing to replace it. I had an amazing time in St. Petersburg and cannot wait to get back there again someday.

One Response to “From Russia with Love”

  1. ivanci says:

    My pocket was emptied the very first morning we arrived to Irkutsk – paid for the tram ticket and next minute my wallet was gone … with 6000 rubles, VISA credit cards and Ausie driver’s licence … bummer!!!
    Lake Baikal had awesome scenery but the rest of Russia was rather disappointing, expensive and almost arrogant. Back to Vietnam or Cambodia? Any time, we love everything there … back to Russia? Never again!
    So what’s your next trip? We are thinking of India and Middle East… see you there?
    Ivan and Ivana