Tour of the Russian Wonders: Moscow and St. Petersburg in 5 days

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than in miles – Tim Cahill

We had met in Delhi after a gap of 25 years on the occasion of silver jubilee of passing out of college. It was then that four of my classmates and I had decided to go on an all women’s trip to relive our old camaraderie in a new place, in a different city, maybe in a different country.

 

Thus, began the search for a tour company and we got in touch with SOTC holidays for their World Tour Packages.

For us Indians, Russia generally does not come across as a top destination of choice for tourism as it is perceived as a cold and distant place, off the radar. But, that was precisely the reason why we chose Russia.

As Aldous Huxley has said –

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.

SOTC Holidays suggested a customized tour package for us to two Russian cities – Moscow and St Petersburg. We decided to grab this opportunity to see the present capital and the past capital of Russia. It took us about a month of planning and coordination to finalize the tour and finally in the 3rd week of August, we set off on a five day trip to St Petersburg and Moscow. Our itinerary included 3 days of stay in St. Petersburg and 2 days in Moscow, with guided city tours scheduled on the 2nd and 5th day of the trip.

Delhi was the starting point of our group tour (three of my friends stay in Delhi). Boarding the early morning flight from Delhi, we landed in Moscow. From there we got onto the flight for St. Petersburg. Strangely, we had to check out our luggage at Moscow and after completing the immigration, check in again on the flight to St Petersburg. It was a short flight. In one and a half hours, we were in St. Petersburg, the city known for its art, splendid architecture, beautiful gardens, magnificent cathedrals and the largest museum in Europe,

Arrival at St Petersburg

A young lady named Jane received us at the airport at St Petersburg and accompanied us to our hotel in the van. On the way, she briefed us a little on the city. The driver spoke only Russian though. The weather was pleasantly warm. We reached hotel Marco Polo by 1.30 pm and checked into the two rooms that were booked for the five of us. By 4.00 pm, we were all set to go out and explore the port city, which is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North.

Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum across River Neva

The hotel was of old construction. It did not have a lift, but the staff arranged for our luggage to be carried up to our rooms. The lady at the concierge spoke English. She kindly offered to take us around to a currency exchange counter, where we exchanged USD for Rubles. She also booked a taxi for us that took us to the Hermitage, one of the world’s best and largest museums — considered at par with Louvre in Paris.

Hermitage Museum

With the tickets that we had booked online, we entered the Winter Palace of the museum, which had for long served as the official residence of the Russian monarchs. The palace, with its enormous halls, famous marble staircase (Jordan Staircase), gilded wall mouldings, dazzling white marble statues is an epitome of elegance and luxury. Parts of the palace still retain the original 18th-century style. It gave us a glimpse of the ostentatious lifestyle of the Tsars.

Winter Palace Hermitage
Winter Palace Hermitage
Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg
General Staff Building, Palace Square

After the museum closed down at 6 pm, we strolled around in the Palace Square. While I was admiring the enormous curved façade of the museum, I heard two of my friends discussing the design of rainwater pipes. Civil engineers never miss a chance to talk about drainage! We took a taxi back to the hotel. The next day was marked for the guided city tour.

 

Guided City Tour of St Petersburg

“Dobroe utro!” greeted our tour guide when we met him at the hotel reception on the next morning. At 10 AM, we set out for our city tour in a minivan. Our guide briefed us on the historic significance of the various places that we crossed, stopping at the spots from where we could get the most picturesque views of the city.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Kazan Cathedral

After a couple of clicks by the side of River Neva, we proceeded to Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The tour included a view from outside, but after seeing the beautiful medieval Russian architecture on the exterior of the cathedral we were tempted to purchase the tickets and have a look inside. I was glad that we did so, for the entire interior is covered in beautiful mosaics depicting many scenes from the bible.  Out of the Cathedral, we walked through the cobblestone street with open shops on one side selling souvenirs and the canal flowing on the other.  On a footbridge, we clicked some pictures with characters in costumes.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Kazan Cathedral St. Petersburg
Interior of Kazan Kazan Cathedral

Just across the road was the impressive Kazan Cathedral, built in a distinctive European style. The entrance to the Cathedral is free. Here, too, we got to see some fabulous interiors, with numerous sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the times.

St. Issac’s Cathedral

The next stop was at St. Issac’s Cathedral, which is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. Our guide purchased the tickets and took us inside. That was a sight to behold! In the grand hall were several brightly coloured mosaic pictures covering every inch of the walls and ceiling of the cathedral. Tall green and blue columns of Malachite and Lapiz Lazuli framed the iconostasis.

St Isaac's Cathedral St. Petersburg
View from the Colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral

After the visit to the cathedral, while the rest of the group went for shopping at the Nevsky Prospekt, I along with one friend decided to stay back and go to the top of the Colonnade. A climb of about 300 spiral steps leads to a landing. From there, a straight staircase with transparent sides goes up to the top. From the midway of the last flight, when I looked down, I did feel a little jittery but the climb was definitely worth the view.

After the city tour, four of my friends decided to go for the circus, while I went back to the Hermitage to see the General Staff Building and Menshikov Palace.

Peterhof Palace, Russian Folklore Show

On the third day, we were on our own. We ventured out to Peterhof Palace, which is situated some 25 km west of St. Petersburg. Taking the Metro, we changed lines and managed to reach the place without the slightest knowledge of Russian. The huge palace garden decorated with fountains and statues was extremely soothing to the senses. Suddenly, the weather cooled down a lot and it started raining. After some time, we made a retreat.

Nikolaevsky Palace
Nikolaevsky Palace

In the evening, the clouds had cleared. We went to see a Russian folklore show at Nikolaevsky Palace.

City tour of Moscow

Early next morning, we were driven down to the station. Taking the SAPSAN train at 7 AM, we reached Moscow in four hours. With its modern steel and glass buildings, Moscow appeared to be starkly different. But after we went to the Old Arbat Street in the evening, we got a flavour of the old Moscow, with its historical buildings, outdoor cafes, souvenir stores, and street performers.

Azimut Hotel Moscow
Azimut Hotel
Arbat Street Moscow
Arbat Street
Arbat Street Moscow
Arbat Street

Red Square and Kremlin

The guided city tour on the next day included a visit to the famous Red Square and Kremlin Territory+ Cathedrals including Bell tower of Ivan, Tsar Bell, Tsar Canon. The first spot where we stopped during the guided city tour was the Red Square, Kremlin area. Our guide Nataliya told us that the name Red Square is derived from the word ‘Krasnaya’, which means ‘beautiful’, and ‘red’ in Russian. She purchased the tickets and we went into the adjacent Kremlin Territory, where we saw the Tsar Bell, the Tsar Canon and four Cathedrals.

Red Square Moscow
Red Square
St Basil’s Cathedral
St Basil’s Cathedral

We walked over to the legendary St Basil’s Cathedral, which is one of the most photographed sights in Moscow, after which we entered the GUM mall, the largest shopping mall in Moscow.

Metro Stations in Moscow

Taking the Metro, we went to Arabat Street where our van was waiting. Moscow has some of the most beautiful metro stations in the world that are a must see for any tourist. With its chandeliered ceilings and Baroque-style decor, Mayakovskaya station resembles a grand ballroom, while Kiyevskaya station is decorated with classical paintings. Then we drove down to Poklonnaya Hill and stopped at the Moscow State University.

Moscow Metro
Metro Station
Poklonaya Hill Moscow
Poklonaya Hill

The guided tour concluded at 6 pm and we got down at a restaurant for dinner. All of a sudden it started pouring so heavily that by the time we reached the hotel we were completely drenched.

On the third day, we went around and explored the neighbouring areas before taking the flight back.

Since our stay was of a very limited duration, the customised package worked well for us. The guided city tour ensured the efficient use of time, while the free days gave us the chance to explore on our own. The choice of hotel in St Petersburg was good and in Moscow was excellent. The guides and the girls who accompanied from airport to the hotel and back were very friendly, enthusiastic and helpful. Overall, it was a wonderful experience to explore new places with old friends and create new memories while reliving the old ones.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” 

To plan your holiday trips with SOTC Holidays, find their Vacation Packages here.

 

Travel tips:  

  • It is advisable to book the tickets for Hermitage Museum and the folklore or ballet shows online to avoid the long queue. 
  • Booking taxi from the hotel is recommended. Uber taxis are also available. For other taxis, it is best to negotiate the price before getting into the taxi.
  • It helps to carry a Matrix Card from India for making local and international calls.
  • If you want pictures with characters dressed in costumes, negotiate the price per picture before clicking.
  • Sturdy walking shoes and umbrella are a must along with hat, cap, scarves or mufflers and appropriate woollens for the season. 
  • Euro and USD can easily be exchanged for Ruble. Try not to exchange much of your money in and around the airport. Better exchange rates can be obtained from banks or from currency exchange counters. 
  • A universal adapter comes in handy for charging the electronic devices. If you need one, just scroll down to get it on Amazon. 
  • author's avatar

    By: Somali K Chakrabarti

    Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle – from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

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39 thoughts on “Tour of the Russian Wonders: Moscow and St. Petersburg in 5 days

  • September 2, 2017 at 9:26 am
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    What a trip to Russia, and I really enjoyed the photos you have been putting up on IG. A good trip with great company is always worth the wait. Have to agree on your initial perception of Russia – cold and distant but off the radar – it’s what I think of too, but at school I had so much fun learning the history about the country. The interior of Hermitage Museum looks stunning, especially with the gold-coloured wall mouldings. Also that is a great shot of Palace Square – it look so grand and majestic, and bigger that meets the eye.

    The characters on your IG feed look so happy to pose for you – maybe that makes them feel famous 😀 It is lovely to hear you had some days for yourselves, and your group was happy to split up on some occasions to see different sights that tickle your fancy, both in St Petersburg and Moscow 🙂

    Reply
    • September 2, 2017 at 6:28 pm
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      Thank you so much, Mabel for sharing your feedback. Back in the 80s, we knew of Russia as a superpower and a part of the Soviet Union, but since the 90s the image gradually faded away. In school we also studied some Russian history, and knew of St. Petersburg as Leningrad. The city is so well planned and showcases the best of Russian and European architecture.I haven’t seen a museum as grand as the Hermitage. ( I haven’t been to Louvre yet.)
      We saw characters in costumes near the Red Square area as well, but by that time we already had our pictures with similar characters in St Petersburg. Btw, in both the cities, there were many tourists from China, who came in large groups.
      Thank you, Mabel once again for the lovely discussions . So happy to know that you loved the IG pics as well. 😀

      Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 11:07 am
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    A thoroughly enjoyable reading with valuable information on St. Petersburg and Moscow.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm
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    बहुत सुंदर फोटो और ब्लॉग. वैसे तो दोनों ही खुबसूरत शहर हैं. पर पीटर्सबर्ग तो पहले नंबर पर है. बहुत ही खुबसूरत! मेट्रो स्टेशन भी बहुत सुंदर बनाए हुए हैं. दोनों शहर देखे हुए हैं फिर याद आ गए. धन्यवाद

    Reply
    • September 2, 2017 at 6:37 pm
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      Many thanks for stopping by. Pleased to know that it reminded you of your trips to both the cities. I also feel that St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities that I have seen, with a fine blend of Russian and European characteristics.

      Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 3:04 pm
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    Somali, I have been waiting for this post of yours, knowing well that you will as always come with your wonderful perspective and beautiful narration that seamlessly takes us through your travel journey as if we were going along with you…I must start with the end where you brilliantly summed up the true essence of such trips with old friends.

    Old friends in new places to create new memories and relive old memories, nobody could have put any better given the context of the trip. Occasion of 25 years, never never never easy to have so many of the college friends finding drive to squeeze the common time for such trip. Many of our friends have been planning and we have been doing so for many years but never as a big group we are able to make it happen, still continues to be in planning stage. I am so glad you as a group could do it and do it in such classy fashion, choosing a place like Russia was great idea, generally not in our top list and no doubt the place is in the top list of the historical significance and the architectural brilliance, from the Church to the Cathedrals to the Palaces, looks mesmerizing along with the fine interior works to picture perfect gardens with such myriad colored flowers…reminded me of what we had read about Russia in our history chapters.

    ….the extended comment box is not showing the “post comment” in the bottom…

    Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 3:05 pm
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    I always like to try different modes of transportation in such new places to get to know the different side of the city and get an altogether new dimension to the various landscape and path which we would have otherwise not taken…Metro station, inside it looked like a patch of our Palaces here in India. The 4 hour train journey from St Petersburg to Russia must also been a wonderful experience to see so many sights and natural beauty otherwise remains away from our reach. The first thing that comes to our mind the moment we hear about Russia is Red Square and Kremlin…in this beautiful Moscow picture at the background, you are missing that amplified the beauty of the picture with your lovely red umbrella picture in facebook…
    When I visit such places abroad I wonder why we have not built such grandeur and such magic in the architectural design and not just one or two building here and there, these structural designs are everywhere and you look at any such structure you see a pattern and you see a perfection, that we grossly miss out in India. Reading the post reminded me of the Russian literature and the classic arts and paintings that are in magnanimous display and we can spend days and weeks to understand how the artist behind or the writer behind has gone through to come out with such masterpieces. By the way all your pictures have been captured like a professional photographer and pictures tells a thousand story, here it does which makes the composition truly beautiful.
    I cannot have agreed more when you said; we travel not to escape life but not the life to escape us…so glad that it went off as per your plan and all of you had a gala of time.
    Have a wonderful Sunday Somali and time to sit back reflect on those lovely pockets of memory that must be so afresh in your mind.
    😀

    Reply
    • September 2, 2017 at 7:41 pm
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      Many thanks, Nihar for going through each of my travelogues.
      This has been a period of silver jubilee meets for us. After my husband attended his college silver jubilee meet last year, he encouraged me to attend mine this year. Since then, we have been having smaller meet ups from time to time with old friends who are in town. So, this trip somehow worked out as a natural progression. But, yes it is rare that 5 classmates living in 3 different cities get together for a trip after 25 years of passing out. So, this will remain a special one for us. 🙂
      Glad to know that you found the pics good. I have developed this habit of clicking pictures, since I figured out how to use Instagram, and am enjoying it.
      You are right in pointing out that overall architectural planning is mostly missing in our cities, and the beautification is found in pockets. I too wonder how these countries have conceptualized the city plan and have scaled it up while maintaining the uniformity in design. …

      Reply
      • September 2, 2017 at 7:42 pm
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        Think this comment plugin is not very compatible with the theme. It doesn’t even display properly but it protects well from spam. So I just let it be.

        Oh yes, I also like to travel by different means. That way you get to know a city better. Some metros in these two cities were about 70 – 80 m below the ground. The escalators were moving quite fast as compared to other places.
        Thank you once again for an engaging discussion. Enjoy the Sunday.

        Reply
      • September 3, 2017 at 3:28 am
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        Somali, I can see through your additional love for Instagram where you have a beautiful kaleidoscope of such lovely moments so deftly captured by your lens.

        I know how difficult to get the friends agree and agree for a common date for such adventure, and the way you all have done is kudos to you. This definitely be an inspiration for many others like us who can garner the courage to take a plunge for planning such classmates long pending meet.
        I think we as country lack that aesthetically sense of building and appreciation for the beauty of structure and nurturing nature…hence we see beauty in other country in awe and wonder.
        Always my pleasure Somali reading such lovely piece of travelogues from your desk.
        Have a wonderful Sunday.
        😀

        Reply
  • September 3, 2017 at 1:33 am
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    I was waiting to know about your Russia trip after seeing your pics on Instagram. As usual stunning photographs, and wonderful narration. The gold and white decoration at winter palace hermitage is so lovely.
    Now, Russia is on my places to visit list 🙂 Thanks for the information.

    Reply
    • September 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm
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      Thank you so much Kiran. Somehow, I missed replying. Hermitage is certainly the most beautiful museum I have seen. Btw, the picture of Bergen that you have posted today makes me want to go to Norway. 😀
      Hope you had a great Sunday, Happy week ahead.

      Reply
      • September 8, 2017 at 4:47 am
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        You’re welcome dear 🙂
        Norway is indeed a must visit country. It is one of my favourite destinations.
        Have a great Firiday!

        Reply
  • September 3, 2017 at 4:12 am
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    Very nice picture. Some day would love to visit Russia.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2017 at 4:17 am
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    Wonderful description of the vacation. Russia is out of the mystery and secrecy in the days of the Soviet Union and is definitely a wonderful place to be.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2017 at 10:02 am
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    That is so true. In school I also remembered that Russia was very much dominant and a country to be feared – that they were the strongest in the world back then. These days, the world and political front is changing so fast, maybe for better or not… But at the end of the day, we still have these beautiful places to go to and admire. It also sounded like your tour guides and drivers were accommodating and ready to assist, and in the end it was such a good trip for you and your group 😀

    Reply
    • September 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm
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      Absolutely Mabel, we still have beautiful places to go around and that thought keeps us going. 😀 Hope you had a lovely Sunday.

      Reply
  • September 5, 2017 at 9:34 am
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    Exquisite architecture, and the Metro Station is amazing! Thanks so much for this mini-tour of your adventure, Somali. How great that you were able to hang out with your college friends and enjoy the time together!! How was the food there?

    Reply
    • September 5, 2017 at 1:34 pm
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      Thank you so much Rose for being here. The breakfast was elaborate, lunch was light (say a burger or a wrap) and for dinner we would have something like pasta. Did not try anything typically Russian as vegetarian choices were limited.

      Reply
  • September 8, 2017 at 7:16 pm
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    What a wonderful time.. Such amazing pictures and a wealth of information.. Thank you Somali.. I really enjoyed you sharing these.. <3

    Reply
  • September 12, 2017 at 5:55 am
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    Russia is beautiful, with art and architecture. Your posts depict the grandeur perfectly 🙂

    Reply
  • September 29, 2017 at 1:45 pm
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    Thank you for this virtual trip. I have never been in Russia but your photos motivate me to visit it.

    Reply
  • October 11, 2017 at 3:51 pm
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    This is the first time I’m reading such a detailed travelogue on Russia. Yes, very few people opt for this, but it looks like a wonderful country in its own way! Wonderful pictures and I’m just trying to imagine how lovely the experience was to connect and wander with old friends! You and your friends are lucky to have such an experience… 🙂

    Reply
    • October 11, 2017 at 4:52 pm
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      It was indeed a very unique experience for us. My opinion of Russia was formed mainly by the books of Ayn Rand that I had read during my college days but visiting the country gave an insight to their art, architecture, culture etc. Thank you for stopping by.

      Reply
  • October 16, 2017 at 8:18 am
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    It was really a journey well equipped with grand pictures and informations . I am always attract to Russia due to its history and beautiful architect . Very well written post Somali ji .

    Reply

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